Pseudonymity ensures the security, in particular physical, of auhtors publishing books or posting on the internet. In France, the case of LGBT activist Mila demonstrates that the law should grant the right to pseudonymity, and prohibit Big Techs like Facebook from imposing the use of real names on social networks. French Minister Marlène Schiappa spoke in favor of this right to pseudonymity.
This issue illustrates the phenomenon of information risk transduction: informational risk develops into physical or life-threatening risk. In Mila's case, the teenager received death threats, and the disclosure of identifying and locating information forced her to drop out of school, and be under permanent police protection. Likewise, in the case of an investigative journalist who publishes a book upsetting an autocratic power, a non-state organisation or jihadist movements, he could be executed even if he took refuge in a South African hotel.
Getting the right to pseudonymity is therefore a vital issue. In terms of law, pseudonymity should not be confused with anonymity: in France, for years, legislation requires service providers to collect the identity of contributors on the internet, even if they publish under pseudonyms, so that this identity can be communicated to the judicial authorities if necessary.
But in practice, Big Techs like Facebook require their users to post under their real name, which has been denounced for years, in particular by some minorities.
The same issue concerns authors who wish to self-publish their books, either because no publisher is interested in what they write, or because the publisher they contacted was subjected to transnational political pressure to reject a submitted book. In this case, they have to self-publish, but this on turn poses a new risk: the practical impossibility of using a pseudonym. For some of them, publishing under these conditions amounts to a death sentence.
It is the functioning of AFNIL which is responsible for this risk: this agency established in Paris provides the ISBN numbers that must identify each sold book. It provides these ISBNs to French and Belgian authors, and to all authors from French-speaking African countries.
As usual, technological innovation creates deficits, either in knowledge or in regulations: this is what happened with the emergence of the possibility of self-publishing on the internet, for example with Amazon services. Traditionally, authors used a publisher, which protected their pseudonymity, since only the identification and location of the publisher were disclosed.
And AFNIL offers a search engine on its website, which enables to find the contact details of publishers from any ISBN. The problem is that when it is an individual who wants to self-publish a book, AFNIL considers the individual as a publisher like any other, and discloses his personal details in its search engine, which any individual on earth can access.
In other words, an investigative journalist having to self-publish an upsetting investigation under a pseudonym must indicate an ISBN on the back of his Book. Then the entity dissatisfied by the published book retrieves this book's ISBN and consults the AFNIL search engine, which reveals the identity of the author. From that moment on, the life of this author may be in danger.
So there is a legal loophole, which causes existing rules for traditional publishers to be applied indiscriminately to self-published authors, and this legal loophole creates potentially life-threatening risks.
In practice, if you are an individual wishing to self-publish a book, you must complete a form on the AFNIL website: as indicated in this archived backup of this form, AFNIL indicates that if you wish to use a pseudonym, your name and contact details will not be disclosed on the AFNIL website.
This claim is outright false. Once you have obtained your ISBNs, even if you specified to AFNIL that you are using a pseudonym and that you don't want your personal data to be published, a simple search with your ISBNs will disclose your actual name to any Internet user. This is the experience I had. After getting my ISBNs I went to the AFNIL search engine, I indicated my ISBN segment (978-2-9579086) and the AFNIL website immediately posted my real name.
When contacted, AFNIL refused to stop publishing this personal data, explaining that the agency has an obligation to provide this data: "Each ISBN agency must allow the search for a publisher (by name for an individual) via the publishers database".
On the one hand, AFNIL claims to allow self-published authors to use a pseudonym and not to publish their personal data if they object to this disclosure, but on the other hand it globally discloses at least their real names since it considers them as publishers like any other: this is blatant dupery.
The security of French and African self-published authors could be ensured by new laws, adapted to the evolution of actual uses and techniques and granting the right to real and effective pseudonymity. Otherwise, many authors will not publish, especially those for whom publishing without a pseudonym would put their lives in danger.