The Madness of the CPSIA and How Google and Amazon Might Benefit

Last summer Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). While well intentioned, being primarily a result of the toys being made with in China with lead paint scare that swept the country, CPSIA has potential catastrophic consequences for the book world. What's the problem? Any book printed before 1986 becomes illegal in the hands of children.
Author David Niall Wilson sums it up nicely in his post, Burning Books for Consumer Safety:

Under this law...very strict testing is imposed on every children's book published before 1985 (It really did start in 1984 Mr. Orwell...right after) - so strict that Thrift Stores around the country have actually begun destroying and throwing away all children's books written before 1985. 209 years of children's story magic, the illustrations of Wyeth, Winnie the Pooh, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, The Wind in the Willows and Charlotte's Web.

Apparently the regulations that kept lead out of the ink used in illustrations was written long after those denying that same use in paint for toys.

They are getting ready to burn the magic. They are getting ready to destroy something that means more than we can probably even conceive at this early point in the game. There is only one group that can stop them, and we are it.

The testing of these pre-1986 books to see if they are "safe for our children" is cost prohibitive for most businesses rendering compliance impossible.

One misconception is that the lead is contained in the illustrations (think paint) but Allan Adler, vice president for legal and governmental affairs for the Association of American Publishers, told the AP that the lead is "contained only in the type, not in the illustrations," so essentially anything printed before 1986 is not kid-friendly and subject to the wrath of the law.

Librarians must be going nuts trying to figure this one out. There are 116,000 public and school libraries across the country and I bet every last one of them has a "contaminated" book on its shelves.

There is a collectible loophole in the bill as Walter Olson points out in his detailed review of the issue; The New Book Banning. "Older books were pointedly left off the safe list; the commission did allow an exception for vintage collectibles whose age, price, or rarity suggested that they would most likely be used by adult collectors, rather than given to children."

Enforcement; however, seems impossible though with so many people out of work these days the government could easily hire a brigade of lead police to crisscross the country jailing booksellers and other offenders. A whole new cottage industry of enforcement, testing and compliance could spring up over night.

Who could possibly benefit from this ill-conceived law. Well, how about Google and Amazon for starters. Call me paranoid but if you eliminate the opportunity for people to acquire these books in their original form from bookstores and let's assume that the publishers of pre-1985 books are not going to "safely" reprint them then where will you be able to get them. Where will this vast archive of of literary history live? Hmm, Google Book Search should have a copy for your perusal and Amazon just might have a copy for you to print on demand. Now how safe is that for the health of our society?

It is absolutely ludicrous to think for a minute that this is presents a serious issue for our children. Yes, children love to put things in their mouths but that's a far cry from being a bibliophagist!

Jay Dempsey, a health communications specialist at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says of the risk "If that child were to actually start mouthing the book -- as some children put everything in their mouths -- that's where the concern would be...But on a scale of one to 10, this is like a 0.5 level of concern."

So please keep your laws off our books; us booksellers have enough to worry about these days.

A rally is planned for April Fools Day in Washington, D.C.