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Book Banning Goes Digital: Libraries Suspending Their E-Book Services and the Complications It Poses For First Amendment Doctrine

Book Banning Goes Digital: Libraries Suspending Their E-Book Services and the Complications It Poses for First Amendment Doctrine – Catherine E. Ferri.  Stanford Technology Law Review, Stanford Law School. Volume 27  Issue 1.  “Book banning predates the United States and has survived and thrived in a splintered twenty-first century political climate. As the fight for the minds of the public continues, state and local governments have ramped up their efforts to ban books in public and school libraries. Public libraries, as limited public forums, must ensure their restrictions on access to information are reasonable and viewpoint neutral. School libraries receive some reprieve under a slightly more deferential Pico test. However, e-book services present a unique set of challenges. Also known as digital libraries, e-book services provide digital access to thousands of books, magazines, and other titles. Frequently, libraries will contract with e-book services, allowing library patrons access to titles beyond what libraries have in physical copy. However, a number of conservative states are attempting to restrict e-book services via legislation or blanket suspensions. This Note aims to make sense of e-book services and book banning against the backdrop of the First Amendment. Part I argues e-book services should be considered extensions of public libraries and public school libraries. It draws analogies from other, more established areas of law to propose e-book services are a part of the library under a nexus theory or another theory of government reliance. Part II argues banning or suspending a full e-book service is comparable to banning or suspending access to a whole section of the library to target one book—a violation of the First Amendment because it is politically motivated viewpoint discrimination. E-book services severely complicate First Amendment doctrine regarding book banning. This Note attempts to clarify the intersection between this new technology and longstanding Supreme Court precedent dictating state officials’ right to ban books and patrons’ right to read them.”

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