Smashwords, an e-book distributor that competes with Amazon, has sent out a letter to the authors, publishers and literary agents that it works with to tell them that PayPal is requiring Smashwords to remove all erotica content on its
platform that contains references to bestiality, rape and incest -- otherwise it will stop doing business with Smashwords altogether. The changes are due to take effect on Tuesday, Feb. 28.
letter -- written by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords -- has been posted on Smashwords' own site, and gives a fuller explanation of what is going on: it all stems from an ultimatum that PayPal issued to Smashwords on Feb. 18: PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal services.
Coker says that other e-book retailers have also been served with the same orders, but he does not name them. He also says that PayPal has been helpful with working out exactly what kind of content falls foul of the new rules, but that gray
areas remain. (For example incest also includes pseudo-incest, ie sex with a step family member unrelated in terms of bloodline).
He also points out that this latest order is part of a bigger push by PayPal to start aggressively enforcing a prohibition against online retailers selling certain types of 'obscene' content.
Regardless of your opinion on incest, it's a slippery slope when we allow others to control what we think and write. Fiction is fantasy... A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved, he writes. We do
not want to see PayPal clamp down further against erotica. We think our authors should be allowed to publish erotica. Erotica, despite the attacks it faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection.
Paypal wrote about their conditions for continued Paypal services:
Remove those items from http://www.excessica.com that violate PayPal's Acceptable Use Policy. Example/s: all ebooks containing themes of rape and incest.
Under the Acceptable Use Policy, PayPal may not be used to send or receive payments for certain sexually oriented materials or services or for items that could be considered obscene.
When I asked if pseudo-incest was included, the Paypal representative confirmed that yes, that would have to be removed. Paypal were also asked: What about BDSM? Paypal answered: That would have to be removed as well.
The opening bedroom scene of Andrea Juillerat-Olvera's new, erotic science-fiction novel Demon's Grace is a classic of its kind. He is on his knees, it begins, worshiping the cavernous female torso.
It's underhanded, unfair and ludicrous, and it bodes badly for the future of free speech and expression, said Juillerat-Olvera, adding that Demon's Grace is now banned by self-publishing sites.
Sadly, for admirers of Juillerat-Olvera, it's about to get harder to enjoy her fruity pose. In what victims are calling the most far-reaching act of censorship of the internet era, Demon's Grace and thousands of books like it have just been
effectively banned. To blame is the online payment company PayPal, which has a virtual monopoly over the business of allowing cash transfers to be made via the internet.
Last week, without warning, PayPal wrote to every major self-publishing website, announcing that henceforth it will refuse to process payments for clients that sell books which contain certain types of what it regards as obscene content.
From now on, the firm said, it will begin aggressively prohibiting erotic literature which contains scenes of bestiality, rape, incest and under-age sex. Ebook websites that sell such works will have their PayPal accounts deactivated.
PayPal's move is hypocritical because its founder, Peter Thiel, claims to be one of America's leading libertarians. In a statement, the Silicon Valley firm claimed:
In general, PayPal does allow our service to be used for the sale of erotic books, but we have to draw the line on certain adult content that is extreme or potentially illegal.
The firm added that the decision does not represent an effort to impose a morality on the reading public. ..[BUT it will anyway]..
Vella Munn, who writes under the name Vonna Harper, said that the guidelines will ban the most successful novel from her back catalogue, Carnal Captives. She explained:
It contains a scene of non-consensual sex. But that doesn't make the book illegal. Given that it sells more copies than all my other books combined, I have to conclude that it's what people want. It's incredible: how can an internet company not
believe in free speech?
Re Paypal's ban on text based erotica and small self publishing companies:
While the government in the US is not able to censor speech, there is little preventing a private company like Paypal or its credit card partners from taking these actions. Yet, Smashwords is not giving up hope. In its latest update, Smashwords
notes that it had managed to get the deadline extended as well as the definitions of prohibited content relaxed. It also wants to clarify that neither it nor Paypal are the real villians in this issue.
A lot of people have been attacking Smashwords for my decision to comply with PayPal's requirements. They're pointing their arrows at the wrong target, and they're not helping their cause. We're working to effect positive long term change for
the entire Smashwords community, and that includes all our erotica authors and readers.
Over the weekend, many Smashwords authors and publishers demanded we abandon PayPal and find a new payment processor. It's not so simple, and it doesn't solve the greater problem hanging over everyone's head. PayPal is trying to implement the
requirements of credit card companies, banks and credit unions. This is where it's all originating. These same requirements will eventually rain down upon every other payment processor. PayPal is trying to maintain their relationships with the
credit card companies and banks, just as we want to maintain our relationship with PayPal. People who argue PayPal is the evil villain and we should drop them are missing the bigger picture. Should we give up on accepting credit cards forever?
The answer is no. This goes beyond PayPal. Imagine the implications if credit card companies start going after the major ebook retailers who sell erotica?
PayPal, which plays a dominant role in processing online sales, has taken full advantage of the vast and open nature of the Internet for commercial purposes, but is now holding free speech hostage by clamping down on
sales of certain types of erotica. As organizations and individuals concerned with intellectual and artistic freedom and a free Internet, we strongly object to PayPal functioning as an enforcer of public morality and inhibiting the right to
buy and sell constitutionally protected material. Recently, PayPal gave online publishers and booksellers, including BookStrand.com, Smashwords, and eXcessica, an ultimatum: it would close their accounts and refuse to process all payments
unless they removed erotic books containing descriptions of rape, incest, and bestiality. The result would severely restrict the public's access to a wide range of legal material, could drive some companies out of business and deprive some
authors of their livelihood.
Financial services providers should be neutral when it comes to lawful online speech. PayPal's policy underscores how vulnerable such speech can be and how important it is to stand up and protect it.
The topics PayPal would ban have been depicted in world literature since Sophocles' Oedipus and Ovid's Metamorphoses. And while the books currently affected may not appear to be in the same league, many works ultimately
recognized for their literary, historical, and artistic worth were reviled when first published. Books like Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover were banned as obscene in the United States because of their sexual content. The works of
Marquis de Sade, which include descriptions of incest, torture, and rape, were considered scandalous when written, although his importance in the history of literature and political and social philosophy is now widely acknowledged.
The Internet has become an international public commons, like an enormous town square, where ideas can be freely aired, exchanged, and criticized. That will change if private companies, which are under no legal obligation
to respect free speech rights, are able to use their economic clout to dictate what people should read, write, and think.
PayPal, and the myriad other payment processors that support essential links in the free speech chain between authors and audiences, should not operate as morality police.
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
Association of American Publishers
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Feminists for Free Expression
National Coalition Against Censorship
Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
PEN American Center
Southern California Independent Booksellers Association
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance
There has been a lot of criticism of PayPal across the web, in the erotica and general fiction communities in the last few days. PayPal responded on their blog, saying:
Unlike many other online payment providers, PayPal does allow its service to be used for the sale of erotic books. PayPal is a strong and consistent supporter of openness on the Internet, freedom of expression, independent publishing and
eBook marketplaces. We believe that the Internet empowers authors in a way that is positive and points to an even brighter future for writers, artists and creators the world over, but we draw the line at certain adult content that is extreme
or potentially illegal.
The problem here is in the weasel words extreme and potentially . How is PayPal to say what is extreme? Or potentially illegal? If they are concerned about facilitating the sale of illegal content they should work with the
community to figure out what to do about it, not impose ill-defined and vague strictures on the publishing and distribution companies that use their services.
Then we have:
Some feedback we're getting is a belief that PayPal is forcing its moral beliefs on others and restricting people's right to free speech. We can tell you with 100 percent conviction that this is not our intention. While we understand that
people don't always agree with our policies, this decision has nothing to do with our personal views on the content or any desire to limit free-speech rights.
It may not be PayPal's intention to censor fiction, but it is the effect of their policy nonetheless. But we didn't mean it like that is a poor response.
Blogger Madeleine Morris, writing on Banned Writers, published a response from Visa to her enquiries about the issues which disputes this view:
Dear Ms. Morris,
Thank you for your email regarding PayPal's recent decision to limit the sale of certain erotica content. First and foremost, we want to clarify that Visa had no involvement with PayPal's conclusion on this issue. Nor have we seen the
material in question. This fact is made clear by PayPal's recent blog post where it states that its own policies drove the decision.
[T]he sale of a limited category of extreme imagery depicting rape, bestiality and child pornography is or is very likely to be unlawful in many places and would be prohibited on the Visa system whether or not the images have formally been
held to be illegal in any particular country. Visa would take no action regarding lawful material that seeks to explore erotica in a fictional or educational manner.
[...] Visa is not in the business of censoring cultural product. We recognize, as courts in the U.S. and elsewhere have long recognized, that this is a challenging topic. Bright lines are difficult to establish. We welcome the input of all
stakeholders regarding our policies as we work to sustain a network that supports global commerce, while respecting the laws of the countries where we operate.
However you look at it, PayPal is imposing its moral position on writers and publishers because it is asking for work to be taken down that has not been found illegal.
Last week, BannedWriters wrote an open letter to MasterCard, asking them if they could confirm or deny whether pressure from them was behind PayPal's move to refuse the sale of erotica books containing taboo subject matter.
Chris Monteiro, Corporate Public Relations, MasterCard Incorporated responded:
Thank you for your inquiry as to whether MasterCard played a role in the recent decision by PayPal to limit certain content belonging to your members. We appreciate the opportunity to explain our policies and hope to provide clarity
regarding this matter. To be clear, MasterCard had no involvement in the decision made by PayPal to refuse to process payments for certain books.
MasterCard maintains a set of standards that prohibit the use of MasterCard-branded cards and systems for illegal activities. These standards require MasterCard's customers to comply with all applicable laws and not to engage in illegal
behavior, or in behavior that would cause MasterCard to violate any laws. In this particular scenario, MasterCard would not take action regarding the use of its cards and systems for the sale of lawful materials that seek to explore erotica
content of this nature.
PayPal retracted its threat to close the accounts of online booksellers who sell works that they claim could be considered obscene.
In a statement posted on its website today, PayPal announced that in the future it will not reject e-books that consist only of text unless they contain child pornography, or ... text and obscene images of rape, bestiality or incest (as
defined by the U.S. legal standard for obscenity...).
PatPal committed to limit its objections to particular books rather than rejecting entire classes. It also said that it is developing a process that will allow an author to challenge a PayPal notice that a book violates its policy.
The PayPal statement does not fully resolve all issues, however. It is not clear whether legal material would be affected by PayPal's policy regarding e-books that contain child pornography, some of which may be legal.
This decision recognizes the important principle that neither PayPal nor any other company involved in payment processing has any business telling people what they should read, said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National
Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC).
Acid Software, the developer of a shooting simulator recently removed from Steam, will now struggle to sell its products online thanks to censorship by PayPal.
The Active Shooter developer said this week that purchases of its highly controversial game were temporarily disabled while it tried to resolve issues with PayPal.
Paypal has confirmed it has banned the account saying:
PayPal has a longstanding, well-defined and consistently enforced Acceptable Use Policy, and regardless of the individual or organisation in question, we work to ensure that our services are not used to accept payments for activities that
promote violence, PayPal said in a statement.
Acid Software spokesperson Ata Berdyev told the Associated Press the future of the game is now in doubt.