Paypal Pressured To Play Morality Cop And Forces Smashwords To Censor Authors
from the censorship-is-obscene dept
We have become quite accustomed to Paypal arbitrarily deciding to shut down the payment services for a website with no warning and little recourse. Usually when it does so, it acts through its own volition. However, Paypal also has to deal with the whims of the credit card companies with which it is partnered. With that business arrangement, when a credit card company says to jump, Paypal must comply. When it does so, it effects all its own customers as well. Ebook publisher Smashwords reports that it has become one of the latest recipients of one such action. Under pressure from credit card providers, Paypal has put in place a policy that it would no longer process payments for ebooks that contained themes of rape, incest, beastiality and underage sexual content. It then decided to give Smashwords less than a week to remove all books that fit those criteria.
On Saturday, February 18, PayPal’s enforcement division contacted Smashwords with an ultimatum. As with the other ebook retailers affected by this enforcement, PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal services. I’ve had multiple conversations with PayPal over the last several days to better understand their requirements. Their team has been helpful, forthcoming and supportive of the Smashwords mission. I appreciate their willingness to engage in dialogue. Although they have tried their best to delineate their policies, gray areas remain.
Their hot buttons are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.
This has put tremendous pressure on Smashwords to comply as it claims that it would be near impossible to change payment processors as Paypal is a major part in not only how it processes transactions but also how it pays its authors. So it has made several changes to its terms of service to account for the types of books that Paypal and its credit card partners are not happy about. Keep in mind, this is hard for Smashwords as it feels that authors of erotica are being unfairly targeted by this move.
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. Erotica allows readers to safely explore aspects of sexuality that they might never want to explore in the real world.
The moralists forget that we humans are all sexual creatures, and the biggest sex organ is the brain. If it were not the case, none of us would be here. Erotica authors are facing discrimination, plain and simple. Topics that are perfectly acceptable in mainstream fiction are verboten in erotica. That’s not fair.
This is an unfortunate set back for Smashwords as well as for indie authors. While the government in the US is not able to censor speech in this manner, 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?
Smashwords then continues by expressing its goal of pulling the credit card companies out into the open to discuss these issues. The behavior of the credit card companies shown here is exactly the type of behavior we advocated against when fighting SOPA/PIPA. Those bills would have given credit card processors the abiltity to kill payment services to companies alledged to be illegal. We warned that such behavior would result in additional harm as legal speech would be swept up along with the potentially illegal speech. Here we see just that. These credit card companies are using their position to censor speech — some of which may violate obscenity laws, but much of which is likely perfectly legal, protected speech. This is a no win situation for Smashwords. By complying, it must censor the speech of its authors. By not complying, it would lose the ability to serve all its authors.
Finally, Smashwords suggests a plan of action. It wants everyone to work together to put public pressure on the credit card companies in order to get them to change their stance. We saw how effective such efforts were with SOPA/PIPA. We managed to pressure Godaddy and the ESA to drop their support. We can do the same for these credit card companies and their policies that result in censorship.