Authors Can Sleep Easy Now; Paypal Reverses Its Censorship Decision

from the freedom-of-expression-is-not-dead dept

Just last week, we learned PayPal had implemented policies that would limit the types of erotic fiction ebook publishers could sell. This sparked quite the discussion and outrage among those not just interested in protecting erotica, but also interested in preserving the freedom of authors to publish what they want. Among this commotion was a number of movements to put pressure back on PayPal to stop them from implementing these policies. We now know that these efforts have paid off. Mark Coker of Smashwords announced that PayPal has changed its position and will continue to allow the sale of legal fiction through online ebook publishers.
In a victory for free speech, PayPal today announced plans to revise their content policies to allow Smashwords writers full freedom to publish and sell legal ebooks.

This is a victory for all writers and readers. It removes credit card companies, banks and payment processors from the business of censoring legal fiction. It creates a new precedent that should allow other payment processors who have previously discriminated against legal fiction to relax their policies.

It will make more fiction more available to more readers. It gives writers greater freedom to express themselves. It gives readers more freedom to decide what they want to experience in the privacy of their own imagination.
In addition to Smashwords' comments, PayPal went to its blog to publicly explain what this new policy means for ebook authors and readers.
First and foremost, we are going to focus this policy only on e-books that contain potentially illegal images, not e-books that are limited to just text. The policy will prohibit use of PayPal for the sale of e-books that contain child pornography, or e-books with text and obscene images of rape, bestiality or incest (as defined by the U.S. legal standard for obscenity: material that appeals to the prurient interest, depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value).
Under the new policy, only books with graphic images that fall under the US based Miller test will be affected. Going forward, PayPal will also be taking a more targeted approach to enforcement. Instead of focusing on entire classes of fiction, it will work on a book by book basis. This specific change should allow for a better process in which the affected authors can appeal the decision to remove their works while getting the individual focus such decisions deserve.

Just as has been seen with SOPA and ACTA, this decision by PayPal came about because the wider internet community came together to protest PayPal's earlier decision. As Mark describes in his blog post, it was the efforts of several advocacy groups, authors, bloggers, petition signers and the letters and phone calls from everyone that made this happen. This is the power of the digital culture we all share. We have the ability to change policies for the better of the world. I look forward to seeing what else is possible.

Filed Under: ebooks, free speech, obscenity
Companies: paypal, smashwords


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2012 @ 10:50am

    Re: I'm not sure Paypal did anything wrong.

    "Is there a way to avoid problems like this in the future? Sure, create enough online payment options that competition will make it much harder for credit card companies or online payment processors to wipe out businesses by refusing to deal with them. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening any time soon."

    There are actually a fair number of similar online payment processors and many of them have arisen because of US Government putting pressure on the major US Credit Card Providers to block Gambling Transactions (coded 7995).

    What is not widely known is that PayPal's initial success (In just eight months time, between January and August 2000, PayPal surged from 12,000 accounts to 2.7 million.) was a direct result of them providing Merchant accounts to the on-line Gambling Industry.

    In 2002, after eBay bought PayPal, they shut down all the Gambling Merchants, which gave rise to other 'eWallet' processors such as Neteller, Moneybookers and many more that have come and gone in the last 10 years.

    The main reason that PayPal is so big, is because it's so big i.e. consumers can only use those processors that the merchant offers; Merchants don't want the overhead of having more processing channels than necessary, so they will choose the 'eWallet' that most consumers use or are familiar with.

    The wider issue is that this is 'back door' censorship whereby the government puts pressure on/colludes with a small number of influential players, in this case Banks, to get private companies to restrict citizens, when it is unlikely that they can pass legislation to achieve the same.

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