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.

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Companies: mastercard, paypal, smashwords, visa

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Comments on “Paypal Pressured To Play Morality Cop And Forces Smashwords To Censor Authors”

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Machin Shin (profile) says:


Well I guess the sale of bibles is out along with a large part of greek and roman mythology. It also puts into question a lot of history books. You could argue the history books that contain information about roman society to have “themes of rape, incest, beastiality and underage sexual content”. All of that was fairly common before the fall of Rome.

awbMaven (profile) says:

Alternative to US-centric e-commerce financial services disparately needed.

I’ve written about this morality cop and these US-centric e-commerce financial services before from an EU perspective on my blog: and

It is really not on that companies (Paypal, VISA, Mastercard, etc) can have a strangle-hold on other companies when the services they provide have become near monopolies.

From an EU perspective, the EU needs to create it’s own versions of these companies, subjected to EU law and not extra-EU laws & whims.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

balance of power

I think Paypal is already big enough to do that. The trouble is that Paypal would have to be willing to bet their entire business that the card companies would cave. The credit card companies feel confident that Paypal is not willing to kill themselves to hurt the credit cards.

Paypal cannot exist with out credit cards but credit cards can survive without Paypal. Although I bet if Paypal stood their ground they would find a lot of backing from all corners of the net. There are a lot of sites that rely on Paypal.

Yogi says:

Explain please

Can someone please explain how this is any business of the credit card companies and banks? Have they become the new moral guardians of America? Since when, and since when are they qualified, not to mention authorized to censor our culture? and if this goes down, where will it stop?

Talking about slippery slopes! How long before Techdirt is censored too and oput on trial for, let’s say, “corrupting the youth”?

Torg (profile) says:

Any company deemed “too big to fail” should also be prohibited from this kind of thing. If the loss of an organization’s support would seriously damage any company, then that organization should be held to the standards of the Bill of Rights at least as thoroughly as Congress is supposed to be, or all it’ll be good for is stopping a single avenue of tyranny.

Anonymous Coward says:

tear down the censorship wall

On that note, how do you all feel about the use of webcams to oversee voting in the recent Russian election? It’s an interesting solution to some of the perceived electoral fraud problems, but has obvious implications if used in the context of private voting.

Also, while Putin was leading by such large margins that his win isn’t really disputable, there are indications that some fraud still took place (the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that roughly one third of polls they monitored encountered “ballot stuffing and other irregularities”. Source:

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:


“themes of rape, incest, beastiality and underage sexual content”

Guess Game of Thrones and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series are out, too.

Is Paypal going to cut Amazon off for selling printed books, e-books, and DVDs with the same criteria? If not, seems pretty hypocritical since I’m sure Paypal makes a lot more from Amazon than Smashwords.

Call me Al says:

This story seems to be missing something

This is an odd story and there seems to be a gaping hole where the “why?” of the credit card companies’ actions should be explained.

I really don’t see what business it is of theirs but also why they would bother to put this kind of pressure on Paypal. Is there anything about some other groups putting pressure on the card companies?

Anonymous Coward says:

bingo, simple solution

I don’t work with PayPal. The problem is when an online vendor whom accepts payment through an alternate method is forced to block access to all users to continue using PayPal for the site. Amazon has already purged a number of books from its site.

Also, the existence of PayPal’s patent portfolio – along with parent company eBay’s portfolio – limits competition in the realm of e-commerce payment handling.

Anonymous Coward says:

What speech?

So… Money equals speech. Those that control the flow of the former have de facto control over the latter. An example playing out right here, in bold-face, for anyone to see, should they care to but look. Might be an interesting spot to spend a moment considering the (potential?) impact of the Citizens United (SCOTUS) case, and what could happen if certain financial entities that we depend upon were to decide to add some friction to the flow of revenue in the direction of causes of which their masters disapprove.

Torg (profile) says:

This story seems to be missing something

The “why” is simple. The banks are run by old socially conservative men who have somehow gotten it into their heads that it’s bad for their service to be associated with [depictions of] rape and incest. They don’t understand why people would object to getting rid of it, because everyone knows rape and incest are bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

tear down the censorship wall

“Also, while Putin was leading by such large margins that his win isn’t really disputable”

IDK if he is proven to have been cheating, even if he would have won without cheating, he should still not be allowed to win. “Yeah, I committed fraud but I would have won without it,” is not really a great argument.

The Fake Visa Corp. says:

Forcing our views...

Ahem. I reject your character assassination regarding us “forcing our views” on others. These are not “our” views, but the views of our society, who have determined that rape, incest, beastiality and underage sex are ILLEGAL. We are simply making sure that we are not part of promoting illegal activities. This is our right, and our duty to the society of which we are part.



The Fake Visa Corp. says:

Forcing our views...

Ahem. I reject your character assassination regarding us “forcing our views” on others. These are not “our” views, but the views of our society, who have determined that rape, incest, beastiality and underage sex are ILLEGAL. We are simply making sure that we are not part of promoting illegal activities. This is our right, and our duty to the society of which we are part.



The Fake Visa Corp. says:

Forcing our views...

Ahem. I reject your character assassination regarding us “forcing our views” on others. These are not “our” views, but the views of our society, who have determined that rape, incest, beastiality and underage sex are ILLEGAL. We are simply making sure that we are not part of promoting illegal activities. This is our right, and our duty to the society of which we are part.



Andrew (profile) says:


There’s a linked post from Selena Kitt which argues that the card companies are trying to force erotic publishers to pay higher rates.

What I discovered was that most merchant-services (i.e. companies that allow you to use Visa and MasterCard on their site) which allow adult products charge a $5000 up-front fee to use their service. Then, they take exorbitant percentages from each transaction. Some 5%, some 14%, some as high as 25%.

Now it was starting to make more sense. The credit card companies charge higher fees for these ?high-risk? accounts because there is a higher rate of what they call ?chargebacks.? You know that protection on your credit card, where if you dispute the charge, you don?t have to pay for it? Well they?ve determined that happens more with porn and gambling and other ?high-risk? sites than others, so they?re justified in charging more money to process payment for those sites.

Paypal doesn?t want to have to pay Visa and MC for carrying ?high risk? accounts on their books. You have to remember that Paypal is a middleman. Sites that carry high-risk material have to pay the high-risk costs of doing business. If you?re going through Paypal, you don?t have to pay that. Until Paypal catches you. And then they insist you take down your high-risk content or lose your account.

The post also discusses the types of material being censored further. While this appears to be somewhat fluid (see linked Smashwords posts), some publishers have gone beyond banning titles that feature descriptions of illegal acts (rape, paedophilia, incest) and have banned books including themes of “pseudo-incest”, “barely legal” (their terms) and BDSM.

Citizen says:

Forcing our views...

Hmm… What about murder? That’s illegal, right?

Are you going to pull all financial support for books which portray murder? Or what about speeding? How many books promote that by depicting it in words? Bank robbery is illegal too. Are we going to ban all books which include bank jobs?

Just askin’

PS: you are repeating yourself.

Anonymous Coward says:

and the next bit of censorship will be against??????????????

this has to stem from one person, so who is it? has that person got the balls to stand up and admit who it is or will they, like with the entertainment industries, just keep loading the gun, letting someone else pull the trigger and perhaps got shot? if that’s the case, i call that person a gutless bastard who should stop forcing their will on to everyone else. if you dont like the erotica stuff, keep away from it but leave other people to make up their own minds on things!

Baldaur Regis (profile) says:

This story seems to be missing something

Following the story links back provides one possible answer: CC companies experience more chargebacks from “high-risk” sites involving porn, gambling &tc. and consequently want more money from the middle-men (i.e., PayPal). PayPal doesn’t want to pay so…..

The problem is that PayPal is big enough, not hungry enough, to reject entire categories of content, not because of morality, but because it’s a hassle for them. What’s needed is a globally accepted, pre-paid card NOT tied to any one CC service.

Anonymous Coward says:


Yes, Smashwords has the right to publish their legal rape and child abuse erotica if that is their desire.

Paypal has the equal right to NOT process for people who are selling material they are not comfortable with.

Smashwords can keep their content, but they cannot force Paypal to process for them.

End of story. it’s that simple.

David Muir (profile) says:


The legality or illegality of the act itself is not what should be at issue. We should be considering the free speech and freedom of expression issue: Is the depiction of vile and reprehensible things in written words, moreover the fictionalized depiction of such things, something that one party should be allowed to force another party to “censor”?

We’ll hear the argument that censorship only happens by the government. So maybe this is technically not censorship. But we’ve seen how little distinction there is between big corporate interests and the government. We’ve also seen how a government-supported monopoly supports a lot of these big corporations (like the patents held by PayPal). So one way or another, this is very much like censorship, if not actually censorship.

Paul Dyer (profile) says:

Dark Days

I?m a Smashwords author and I think what these self-appointed morality police are targeting are works specifically written to titillate. Anyway you cut it, however, it?s still censorship, and it stinks?and we need to combat it?but I think they?re attacking Erotica as a genre, and the abuse of these themes within the genre, rather than the depiction of these themes themselves. Remember, back in the Seventies and Eighties, when all of these themes were woven into mainstream works, and nobody cared; and some of us only read the dirty bits? Maybe we?re still stuck back there, when you have to splash something with the veneer of art?or literariness?for it to fly. I?m so tempted to write a ?literary? novel involving all these themes, explicitly described. I may yet do that. Or a ?mystery.? Or a ?historical romance? (set in 1982). We have entered the era of coy quotation marks.

Becka says:

Smashwords can say it’s not that simple all they want, but apparently it is.

Or at least one other vendor has extricated itself from paypal and opened its doors to the books that have been banned. Sure they had to work out a workaround with the credit card companies but they’ve done it.

Which of course is great business sense – they’ve cornered a sudden gap in the market and gained a lot of good will.

Anonymous Coward says:


I bet you’re one of the same ACs who was saying people boycotting GoDaddy were taking away their right to free speech and were acting in a manner similar to the actual mafia of past days.

I’m basing this off your current comment. I also bet if others banded together with SmashWords, you’d say they were colluding to destroy PayPal and strong arming it into changing it’s views.

Don’t you get tired of painting the world as simply as you do? Black and white. Right and wrong. Nothing else. No shades or degrees or anything.

PRMan (profile) says:


The Bible contains rape (Shechem’s rape of Dinah in Genesis, for one) and what modern people might consider incest (Abraham was married to his half-sister, but our genes weren’t as messed up back then). It warns against bestiality, but never depicts any instances of it. And I can’t recall an instance of sex under the age of 18 anywhere, although it may be implied in some cases.

I know that Mohammed married Aisha at 9 years of age. I don’t know what holy book of Islam that is in (it’s not in the Koran), but I’m sure very religious people who cover their women from head to toe would be sad to see that go, which illustrates the problems with this sort of thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

tear down the censorship wall

As I understand it, the process of choosing who can run is an even bigger problem than any recent vote fraud in Russia. In the past, as well as in the most recent election, numerous potential candidates were denied a place on the ballot.

I’m not defending the practice of vote fraud, by the way; if you are already winning by such wide margins, rigging the election is pointless, and a sign of a thoughtless and wasteful administration.

Anonymous Coward says:


WTF? Are you on crack?

What happened with Godaddy was pure an simple intimidation, right from the Stalinist handbook. It wasn’t anything else other than direct intimidation to force a company to change a political stand. It showed a total lack of respect for their rights to express the opinion.

For Smashwords, the law is simple – if Paypal applies restrictions of content evenly for all websites, and does not specifically discriminate against them, there is little that they can do. Paypal can say “either the content goes or we go”, and be entirely within their rights.

You understand that Paypal also does not process for completely legal adult porn material. They did for a while, and then got entirely out of that end of the processing business. In a similar manner, American Express also does not process for adult material. With Paypal accepting American Express, they are very likely also tied by American Express’s rules regarding this sort of content.

It’s not black and white, just sometimes it’s pretty freaking easy to see the reasons why. If you ever had a business, if you ever accepted credit cards, if you ever had a merchant account, then you know all that goes into it. It’s straight forward and simple, and the card companies, the clearing houses, the IPSP style third party sub-account processors… they all face the same issues regarding what is being sold. It’s the real world, amazing as it seems!

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


“themes of rape, incest, bestiality and underage sexual content”

As we add up the potential victims let’s not forget Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” as well as a number of his other plays and sonnets.

As well as, yes, works by established authors of historical fiction set in ancient or dark ages times. In fact, just about any time prior to the Victorian age.

Just who appointed Credit Card companies as the morality police? I seem to recall it being one of the side effects of the DCMA and part of the moral crusade of the first term Bush II presidency.

Such fun.

The Pied Piper says:

Emotional response

No doubt this all started when someone, say a higher up at a credit card company, read something posted from, say, the Smashwords site, something purchased by, say an adolescent child of said higher up, and was so turned off by it that, instead of punishing the child who made the purchase, decided he/she needed to punish anyone associated with the site and moved his/her company (and their associates, all aligned under whatever all those credit card CEOs align themselves with, same private golf club/church/cult) to put pressure on Paypal to ‘make it so.’

Actions like this are not based on ‘money’ but on emotion, someone’s emotional response to the content provided. This is where ALL censorship comes from. The risk assessment of porn is not the issue – porn is big business and has been for decades. It isn’t going anywhere. Someone was shocked pornographic/erotic material could be found on a ‘mainstream’ site and the morality gang found a cause.

Notice how this is happening an awful lot lately, across all sorts of varied social groups: the attack on Planned Parenthood via a now former higher up at Susan Komen, the outrageous attacks from the right on the inclusion of gays into marriage laws, the semi-organized actions of the religious Right to counter the language and action of scientists and even atheists, their calls of discrimination now that they are being challenged in the rule-making industry, Limbaugh calling people names, it speaks of a larger desperation out there, a need for control that, yes, evokes Atwood, but also smells of total failure. A great beast is on its side, heaving its last.

Anonymous Coward says:


So if Paypal says “If you don’t agree with my policy then take your business elsewhere,” they are “entirely within their rights.”

But if a consumer says “If you don’t agree with my policy then I’ll take my business elsewhere,” then it’s “direct intimidation.”

Good to know which side you’re on.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


If there is a depiction of sex under 18 it’s found in the Song of Solomon or Song of Songs. A book often reinterpreted as a love song to the church/synagogue etc. Soft core porn is more like it, really.

Given that Hebrew/Jewish children of the period the book was written were married not much later than 14 and often well before then it’s fair to say that book also depicts what we now consider as underage sex. Certainly both partners were beyond the age of puberty which is anything from 10-14, even back then.

BuckRogers1965 (profile) says:

Muder is illegal

But there are all kinds of books about people murdering other people. If it is only in writing, then it didn’t actually happen and it 100% legal, according to the Constitution of the United States.

You can argue otherwise, but then you are going against everyone who ever died protecting the inalienable rights enumerated by the Constitution. While you are at it you can go take a piss on the graves of the founding fathers.

Anonymous Coward says:


Is there any link with the government?
Because if this has any at all and that can be shown first amendments would apply else I don’t believe what they are doing anything illegal, but I’m not sure about the law, I’m not familiar with all the federal and states laws governing financial institutions and other related laws so at first glance, this seems like individual private entities colluding to displace somebody else from the market, which could be an antitrust issue other than that I can’t see anything that could possibly help in this case.

With that said, I believe a better solution is for the market to create new options so when this type of things happen people can just move on and let the colluding people behind, and I want to thank Techdirt for being the beacon of light to put a spot on those issues showing the need for people to do something about it on their own, I shudder to think what government intervention legally or legislatively would be like.

One potential hitch is patents, IP law is becoming a problem for free market and business.

Ryan (profile) says:

bingo, simple solution

Bitcoins are a really nice idea. Definitely not ready yet. But there always have to be early adopters to get it rolling. The real problem right now, I think, is the difficulty in getting BTC to USD and back again. (Well, that and the relatively instability of the BTC market compared to other currencies) You can’t just use your credit or debit card like you can for the vast majority of internet transactions. Right now you have to work with some sort of payment site like Dwolla and have that hook up to your bank account (or use slower or more troublesome methods) and use that to pay a BTC exchange site so you can purchase some and then you can finally use the bitcoins. People are used to and prefer two or less steps to pay for things online.

Dave Zan (user link) says:


Can they sue Paypal over this ?
Are we not protected by Laws on Freedom of the Press or Arts ?

Sure you can, but what can you – successfully at that – sue them for? The U.S. Constitution guarantees that the government won’t necessarily censor one’s right to free speech and all, but does it impose the same standard on, say, a private citizen towards another private citizen?

Can someone please explain how this is any business of the credit card companies and banks? Have they become the new moral guardians of America? Since when, and since when are they qualified, not to mention authorized to censor our culture? and if this goes down, where will it stop?

We should be considering the free speech and freedom of expression issue: Is the depiction of vile and reprehensible things in written words, moreover the fictionalized depiction of such things, something that one party should be allowed to force another party to “censor”?

Awesome, so now banks and credit card companies are trying to censor speech. I would really like to know the names of these banks and credit card companies. They have no right to censor people.

Believe it or not, folks, but you too have that same right to censor anyone who uses your stuff, just as PayPal can only censor those who use THEIR stuff. Goodness, we censor what web sites our kids can visit using the Internet WE’RE paying for, we censor potential customers who swear at us within OUR store’s premises, we censor what our friends can do when invited into OUR homes, etc.

It may feel like PayPal’s censoring one’s ability to buy or read whatever erotica they want. Go ahead and try buying or reading one from, say, an offline bookstore or another online store and see if PayPal can stop you from doing that still.

It does suck when someone else is in a stronger position than you, and you can’t seemingly have your way with them. While it does feel good to express moral outrage against somebody you don’t agree with, are you sure you want someone to censor YOUR ability to censor anybody you find disagreeable?

The door swings both ways. Probably whether something is good or not depends which side one happens to be on.

If anything, though, PayPal ought to have at least released a statement explaining why, albeit they’ll still get flagged by many people for it anyway. Heh.

Anonymous Coward says:


“WTF? Are you on crack?

What happened with Godaddy was pure an simple intimidation, right from the Stalinist handbook. It wasn’t anything else other than direct intimidation to force a company to change a political stand. It showed a total lack of respect for their rights to express the opinion.”

Sir, let me just say, the one apparently on crack here is yourself. Then again, doubtful. I’ve met people on crack, none of them thought like you did. They were all more grounded in reality than you appear to be in regards to pretty much everything.

What happened with GoDaddy was in no way intimidation. Glad I had you figured out from the get go. It was both sides exercising their rights. GoDaddy exercised their right to free speech in support of SOPA. The customers exercised their right to take their business to whomever they pleased.

That GoDaddy changed their statements after the fact is NOT them being forced to do so. It is them seeing that their words have consequences, which is something worth pondering before exercising free speech. What you say may offend someone. They might tell you to “f*ck off”, punch you, completely agree with you, etc. But at no point, without actual force, can they prevent you from stating whatever they you want. As such, GoDaddy was anything but intimidated.

“For Smashwords, the law is simple – if Paypal applies restrictions of content evenly for all websites, and does not specifically discriminate against them, there is little that they can do. Paypal can say “either the content goes or we go”, and be entirely within their rights.”

Also, I did not say, that the law wasn’t simple for SmashWords. Read what I wrote. I clearly said if SmashWords got others to band together with them in face of what’s taking place, you’d be jumping on the “intimidation” bandwagon, as you already are doing. And have done, by your own admission just now.

If however, PayPal does this across the board, that is perfectly within their rights, as they are a private entity. But again, you’re talking about something different than what I originally said.

“It’s not black and white, just sometimes it’s pretty freaking easy to see the reasons why. If you ever had a business, if you ever accepted credit cards, if you ever had a merchant account, then you know all that goes into it. It’s straight forward and simple, and the card companies, the clearing houses, the IPSP style third party sub-account processors… they all face the same issues regarding what is being sold. It’s the real world, amazing as it seems!”

Also, I wasn’t saying that this one specific event was or wasn’t entirely black and white. I said that YOU, specifically, focus on the world and all events within it as such. For YOU, things are very much indeed black and white, simple, etc.

Do you have a problem with reading comprehension? Or do you just generally misread people’s comments and then respond to things they DID NOT say? I’m thinking it’s a little of both, if you’d like, I’m willing to donate some money for you and Darryl to both take some English classes somewhere. But only if you both promise to try extra hard to actually pay attention and learn something.

Verywierd says:

Free of Paypal

What a lot of this discussion is missing is that what Paypal is banning includes descriptions of completely legal actions.

– sex with 18-19 year olds
– sex with totally imaginary creatures such as werewolves
– sex between people not actually related by blood

So we are talking about banning things that someone doesn’t like, but is NOT illegal, or in the case of shape-shifters, not even possible.

Are we going back to banning Fanny Hill again?

Gayl (profile) says:

Smell a rat

What about non-fiction books discussing rape, bestiality, under-age sexual activity or incest? What about books on the psychology behind all these behaviours? Self-help books to facilitate survivors healing from these experiences? Guidebooks for parents trying to teach their kids how to identify and avoid predators?

Something just doesn’t add up here — it’s not about illegal activity or they’d be insisting Smashwords remove ALL crime dramas, regardless of sexual content, or all love stories, regardless of the ages of the characters, or all… you get the picture.

Methinks the poster reporting on the premiums demanded by CC companies dealing directly with sellers has it right. CC companies have no problem processing fees for strip clubs, pornography, etc., but if an end user complains the charges are false, somebody has to eat them.

Is the real reason behind this “threat” — that PayPal is trying to pass along this premium to Smashwords? Or is it the CC companies doing this directly? Personally, I’d like Smashwords to come clean on this.

brett (profile) says:

The few ruling the many.

First, as an artist and writer I am solidly against censorship. I have heard all the arguments and find them to be NOT valid.

The it is a sad state of things when the Few are allowed to rule the Many. When a large and influential company is allowed to dictate how another company and it’s customers think, act and live, this country and the freedoms we are guaranteed get tossed out the window.

This is the Moral Majority all over again and remember how embarrassingly idiotic they turned out to be? Especially with their name. They were only a majority in their minds.

Wolfie Rankin says:

What is bestiality?

In fiction, Bestiality could be anything which simply couldn’t happen in real life.
Let’s take an example of the old Beauty and the Beast series on TV (The 80’s one with Vincent, the lion guy) now He and his Lady friend, Catherine, never had sex in the series, however if they did, would it be bestiality?

There could be themes where a woman is in love with a centaur, and have an affair… or it could be a dragon or something.

Should this be banned, in case, you know, people start raping dragons?

kid says:

This smells. It was Paypal who years ago decided not to allow the use of their service for adult products. I don’t know if/when that changed, but it came with a lame excuse about fraud to justify a blanket prohibition on the use of their service to pay for legal goods.

At the time they were just as hardball about it while blaming someone else.

There’s already been one court case confirming that written works of fiction depicting otherwise illegal sex is not illegal.

sandy says:

PayPal censorship

Has PayPal produced a copy of the so-called communication from a bank, credit card processer or credit union stating that PayPal can’t continue to do business with them if PayPal deals in “dirty” books? I think PayPal is flat out lying about any restriction on purchases of anything, anywhere. If you can use a credit card to pay a hooker, I suspect you can use a credit card to pay for anything… as long as you don’t use PayPal. Ditch PayPal – they are the problem.

Does PayPal read the material that is purchased? Think about it. How could they? If they have the time to inspect all purchases to see if they approve of the content, they need to get a life and spend it providing better service. Any transaction I have had them insert themselves into has been a hassle but the credit card always accepted the charge and never questioned or chastised me about what was purchased. Credit card companies want the money. Period. PayPal is making this up.

Jen says:

Response to: Pixelation on Mar 5th, 2012 @ 8:37am

And pretty much every book Virginia Andrews ever wrote – bet many millions of those were purchased with credit cards!
I’ve read some truly dreadful titles – some by Smashwords and some not – and while I don’t think some of the content is appropriate or tasteful, I also don’t see how it us the responsibility of credit card companies to ‘protect’ us from it. If it’s so bad then just open it up to public scrutiny and legislate. Next time I try to pay for fast food with a credit card I don’t want it to be rejected because Visa/Amex/MasterCard have decided my health needs protecting!

Peter Bond says:

One of two sacred rights

In my view, there are only two things sacred in the world: Freedom of Expression and human life.

What Paypal is asking amounts to censorship. That is simply not acceptable.

My solution to Smashwords, let us find another way of paying royalties, e.g. direct deposit to bank accounts. This is what other royalty services do. This way you do to things: You get rid of Paypal, and will never again be blackmailed.

John Yeoman (user link) says:

PayPal Censorship

The essence of this debate is that PayPal is a public utility, a financial company merely – as are the banks and credit card companies. They have no mandate to assume the role of Oliver Cromwell and enter the arena of public taste. (They should remember, Cromwell’s head ended up on a stake.)

Moreover, PayPal is a world-wide utility. The definition of offensiveness varies from culture to culture. If PayPal’s owners operated from Islamabad, would web site owners – whipped to obedience by the culture of Islam – have to visit Mecca before they qualified for a merchant account?

Amie Warren says:

Why Smashwords?

Are other booksellers having to do this as well? Since when do banks have the right to violate the first amendments? While I do not read erotica, I feel that if gangsta rap is allowed to be sold online through credit card companies, then erotica should be as well. I would agree if it were violent erotica, or erotica that promotes underage sex, but all erotica does not fall under those subjects. This REEKS of an attempt to circumvent the first amendment by the corporate religious right. They’ve taken our homes, our jobs, and our futures. Now they want to tell us what to read? What’s next? We need to fight this with everything we have. There are more of us than them. Smashwords should find another pay service that doesn’t censor its business and we should all boycott PayPal until they relent.

Magess says:


Is there anything other than Paypal’s utterly untrustworthy word that Visa/MC/Disc have anything at all to do with this? A memo? A public statement? Anything? Has anyone in the press asked them for one? Because if it’s the policy of the largest payment processors in the world to censor these things, why is it only being applied to small indie publishers? And not, say, the porn industry.

Sounds like Paypal blowing smoke after being caught in *another* PR scandal.

CHC says:

bingo, simple solution

The problem is not PayPal (for once). The big credit card consortia (Visa, Mastercard) are pressuring them to do this. And they, I’m sure, are doing this under pressure from the so-called Christian fundamentalists (the Christofascists) who see Santorums’s popularity (?) as a sign the time is right for them to pursue their agenda.

Hal Williams says:

Censorship is a Government Imposed limitation

First of all – it’s only “Censorship” if imposed by the government. In this case it is a private company choosing not to take part in selling what some people consider objectionable. That’s called freedom. Smashwords has the freedom to tell PayPal to stuff it and go work with a different credit card merchant service company. If PayPal is willing to lose a HUGE customer by taking this stand, that’s their privilege/problem/business.

Come on people–that’s how freedom works. Please stop complaining about it or you’ll encourage the government to step in and say Everybody has to do business with Everybody whether they like or not. That is NOT freedom.

Angi C says:

Forcing our views...

AHEM…. murder and torture are also ILLEGAL. But I don’t see you going after Stephen King or other such authors. Heck almost EVERYTHING written in a book is ILLEGAL. WRITING it is NOT the same as DOING IT. Nor is it the same as PROMOTING it.

And you wanna take a good look at THE BIBLE? Rape, incest, murder … all pretty common themes in that one.

New answer please.

nd says:

this is not censorship

Everyone saying paypal is censoring is making themselves look like an idiot. Paypal is a private company. They CANNOT censor. Only the government can. Paypal is acting within their rights as a private comapny and you have a right not to use them. But to keep claiming that they are censoring is incorrect and making you look foolish.

rowena cherry (profile) says:

Incest Is Legal (except in works of fiction sold via PayPal)

I thought that it was legal for cousins to marry in certain American States… but not in works of fiction.

First cousins allegedly may marry in:
Arizona (but not if they intend to procreate)
District of Columbia
and the list goes on.

Spidersilk (profile) says:


Amazon doesn’t take PayPal, at least not as of last I used it. They’re big enough to dictate their own payment terms and ignore users who don’t have credit cards. PayPal’s main user base tends to be smaller businesses, who are likely to care more about accommodating everyone since each sale counts for more with them than it does with a giant like Amazon.

And unfortunately, they’ve pretty much cornered the market there, because there aren’t really any other payment processors – that I’ve been able to find, anyway – that are available internationally and don’t require credit cards.

Spidersilk (profile) says:

bingo, simple solution

Not that simple. The vast majority of the PayPal alternatives out there right now are US-only, so any business that’s either outside the US or has any customers who are is pretty much stuck with PayPal – or with direct credit card processors that cost a lot more and don’t allow customers to pay by any means other than credit card.

I’d love it if there was an alternative that was available internationally, not credit-card-dependent, and was as easy for customers to use as PayPal, but I haven’t found one yet.

Sassy001 (profile) says:

Why Smashwords?

Smashwords was simply the first to cave in to the pressure.

AllRomance has changed their guildlines as to what is acceptable to be published. They claim the new guidelines only affect .002 percent of the books they carry so “very few are really being effected”.

On a positive note, No Boundries Press, has kicked PayPal to the curb and is currently offering a home to all books orphaned by this situation.

Desert-Brat says:

Morality mess

The heck with history, mythology and the Bible … with today’s fast and loose writing styles, just about any book can fall within these so-called “categories” … including a number of Christian fiction and nonfiction, and self-help or survivor stories.

People can read anything they please into a work of literature. For instance, the ’50s cartoon Mighty Mouse was taken off the air because someone decided the magic dust represented cocaine. Are you kidding me? I didn’t even know what cocaine was at that age. It was a freakin’ cartoon show!

But the same holds true for literature … hunt for “evil” and you will surely find it. The question is, why are financial institutions trying to control our rights? And why isn’t this affecting places like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, who also utilize credit cards and banks … why is it just the independent publishers and Indie authors?

Since we aren’t hearing that the major retailers are facing this same ordeal, could this just be a move on PayPal’s part alone?

Jonnan says:

The keyword is, again, neutrality

I am delighted that this is . . . this time . . . gaining mainstream attention, but this is hardly the first time.

They cut off payments to Wikileaks – not because of any legal finding, but because Joe Lieberman made a phone call. Credit card companies have been cutting off payments to what they consider ‘unacceptable’ erotica providers for years now – nothing illegal, but if Visa and Mastercard won’t do business with you, you’re just as dead as an internet business as if Google won’t list you.

We’ve had financial firms making decisions about what you can or can’t buy for years now, and frankly I was beginning to think they’d have to start explicitly rigging elections with this before people sat up and took notice – I was trying to get the ACLU involved in a similar case two years ago with no response.

So I’m delighted this is finally getting attention

Sassy001 (profile) says:

Censorship is a Government Imposed limitation


Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, MEDIA OUTLET, or OTHER CONTROLLING BODY.(caps mine)

Censor – transitive verb

: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also: to suppress or delete as objectionable

I.E. the radio stationed censored her speech before broadcasting it.

My point: not ONLY governments censor.

Mimi says:

This is just ridiculous! Erotica is perfectly legal and there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with it!

And as one of the comments said rightly: the Bible too is full of sex and cruelty – so: no more selling of it?
Romeo and Juliette? No chance. Sex in there as well.
This goes for a LOT of classics and to say, where it is still tasteful and where it is “erotica” is a question of personal opinion. To be safe, Smashwords and other sellers would have to remove every possible contender!

So: only childrens books allowed for sale in the future?!

This is stupid. As long, as something like this exists, credit card companies will always be able to decide what kind of texts are allowed, and which are not – like they were some kind of dictator!

sxswann says:

PayPal censorship

I’m with you Sandy – I’d like to see this “so-called” evidence that it’s the credit card company and banks making this call. EVERY porn site on the planet seems to be paid for with these same credit cards. Have they seen some of the stuff on those hardcore sites??? Those same booksellers are still taking credit cards. And if the credit card companies were so worried about content, why are they still acceptable methods of payment on those same bookseller sites?

I find it particularly ironic – if it’s true – that the same companies that “rape” consumers every month and “raped” the American public for billions of dollars to bail their asses out are worried about what adults are reading. Perhaps that is why the entire economy went to hell in a hand basket. Maybe they should have been more concerned about inflated mortgages and bad credit risks and paying themselves huge bonuses. Talk about obscene!

sheski says:

It's corporate America, but good grief.

After some of the bills that republicans are trying to pass and the hateful speech that their main drug addicted mouthpiece spouts on the air, I find it hard to believe that corporate America has the balls to censor little fictional e-book authors when they won’t censor their own political party’s misogyny.

Sue Dent (profile) says:

Smashwords to Censor Authors?

Wait a minute. A distributor has that authority? *Sue snickers to self.* Of course they don’t. What’s that? You didn’t know that Smashwords is only a distributor? Well they say so on their site. “We are not a publisher.” So if they aren’t a publisher and if you think an author’s work that they’re distributing needs to be censored, you . . . um . . . should contact the publisher or, in the case of self-published material, contact the author. Let’s see, Paypal is your one-stop shop for transactions. Smashwords offers anyone who can type something into a computer a way to distribute. Welcome to the mixed-up and whacky world of publishing!Reeeallly paypal? Really?

MadeIn Manhattan says:

Why is anyone surprised?

I don’t get why anyone would be surprised by this. Paypal has always done stuff like this and then blame it on Visa regulations. LOL How all of a sudden out of all the porno transactions Visa has accepted is it now a violation to accpept payment for the same only on this site??? Paypal’s up to it’s old tricks again. They almost put me out of business and have suceeded many times at putting others out of business with their practices ( When will we learn????

Greg Turner says:

I Smell A Rat

Something does not make sense. If the credit card companies, banks and credit unions, are behind all this, as this article claims, then how in the heck does all the gagillions of $$ worth of online porn business get transacted? John Q. Public pays for his online porn through all the same credit card companies, banks and credit unions!

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