Smashwords Update on PayPal Censorship

Mark Coker of Smashwords recently published this follow-up on the PayPal censorship situation:

March 8, 2012 – PayPal today made what I believe is their first public written statement regarding the censorship saga, here:  I read it four or five times. My overall sense is that PayPal is doing their best to responsibly and carefully re-evaluate PayPal content policies that have been in place for many years – content policies that probably could not have anticipated the rise of self-publishing, the rise of indie ebooks (the rise of Smashwords and its authors and publishers!), or the incredible explosion of content availability, diversity and choice enabled by the indie ebook revolution. Prior to this indie ebook revolution, books not selected for publication and distribution by publishers had limited commercial outlet. Long story made short, I’m cautiously encouraged by PayPal’s statements. We’re not yet where we want to be (we want no censorship of legal fiction), but I sense we’re a lot closer now than if we had simply packed up our marbles, flipped ’em the bird and quit PayPal for an alternative as many encouraged us to do. I think their statements today give them the flexibility to do the right thing. They say they understand many people believe PayPal is moralizing and restricting free speech (this is a reasonable conclusion for reasonable people to reach based on PayPal’s actions up until two weeks ago), and they seek to assure everyone that is not the case (now the onus is on PayPal to show you, rather than tell you). Possibly, I’m reading too much between the lines of their carefully worded post. Time will tell. In the meantime, please continue doing your part to move this campaign forward. Tweet, Facebook, blog. Call your credit card company, or the bank issuing your credit card, and tell them you want them out of the business of censoring legal fiction. If you haven’t done so already, also be sure to add your name to the EFF petition. The blog post by PayPal today has a comments section, but it doesn’t appear to accept comments.

In a nutshell, PayPal commented further on the rape, incest, bestiality censorship issue by saying; “PayPal does allow its service to be used for the sale of erotic books… …but we draw the line at certain adult content that is extreme or potentially illegal.” Not many people have an issue with taking a stand against publishing/promoting books that are illegal (ala the recent Amazon vs child-molestation-How-To-guide). Where the real problem exists is with the definition of subject matter that is “extreme.” PayPal goes on to say that one of their chief concerns with extreme subjects in books, “is that this category of eBooks often includes images.”

Okay PayPal, most of us get where you’re coming from but censorship is a slippery slope. Who decides where to draw the lines, and how do you expect to read every new book to see if anything bad exists within it. Take for example the most read book of all time, The Bible, which certainly would not pass the litmus test for PayPal’s verdict on incest.

What about Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Even though both Roger and Jessica Rabbit are cartoon characters, Jessica is a human married to an animal, so that would definitely be bestiality at some level. The example is something of a joke, but you can see how easy it is to argue what defines an extreme case of bestiality. Similarly, what about famous mythology such as Leda and the Swan or Romulus and Remus suckling from a she-wolf? What if an author wrote a sexual psychology book containing all true events that included a scene with an child innocently rubbing a dog’s belly and the dog experienced an erection, which became the child’s first discovery of a sexual nature? Is that something one could or could not print in PayPal’s brave new world?

Many authors including Mark Coker and me are on the record as saying we don’t necessarily enjoy or condone any of these subjects that PayPal is concerned with, but we do recognize censorship is a slippery slope–a decision not to be moved into as lightly as they have.

This also concerns me because I love using PayPal as both a buyer and a seller. They are my online banker of choice, so I truly hope they can work out a solution here that is in everyone’s best interest.

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