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Bertelsmann Exerts Influence Against Internet Extremism

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has criticized the distribution of Nazi literature including Hitler's Mein Kampf via Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com and demanded a halt to shipments to Germany of such material.

German book giant Bertelsmann said that it was powerless to influence US freedom of speech legislation but would use its influence with barnesandnoble. Even as a major stakeholder, Bertelsmann has no direct right to issue directives affecting the decisions of barnesandnoble.com management.

Nevertheless, Bertelsmann has pointed out the legal situation in Germany to Len Riggio, board chairman and fellow shareholder in barnesandnoble.com. It has also committed itself to prevent Nazi propaganda from being shipped to Germany in future.

In Germany, it is illegal to sell writings designed to incite racial hatred, like Mein Kampf. Foreign exporters to Germany must also observe this prohibition. Enabling global communication and global e-commerce is, however, the essence of the Internet. So, German citizens can order books from barnesandnoble.com without problems.

Bertelsmann has a 40 percent stake in barnesandnoble.com and no relationship to Amazon.com.

The one-off ruling taken by Bertelsmann, in its role as stakeholder, does not however solve the basic problem between differing views about the balance between the right of free speech, on the one hand, and protecting democracy against extremist influence on the other.

Political and economic policy must seek to harmonize the legal framework for e-commerce, in order to confront such contradictions and provide the security of law for buyers and sellers, says Bertelsmann.