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
    LazyDave, 15 Mar 2012 @ 4:45pm

    Re:

    I still don't understand why Paypal, a middlemen payment processor has to censor *at all* - even if it's child porn or whatever. Why is it their job to do this? This could have grave consequences as the idea spills into other industries.

    Indeed it could have consequences, especially unintended ones. If anything, PayPal ought to have honestly explained what caused them to "censor" certain things using their platform, although they eventually did on their blog. But I wonder where the credit card thingie came from as numerous others say is supposedly the reason behind this, as PayPal hasn't mentioned anything like that in even their blog.

    Like ANY private entity, person or corporation, PayPal does have the so-called right, privilege, etc. to censor how THEIR stuff will be used unless, say, a specific law addresses how that's specifically handled. I emphasis ANY in caps because, believe it or not, we also have that same so-called right, privilege, etc. to censor anyone who uses OUR stuff as well.

    I acknowledge that people will believe whatever they want, such as that any amount of censoring (even if done for arguably reasonable reasons) is still censoring. What I just can't accept or agree with is PayPal supposedly flexing their muscles to dictate one's choices when they can't stop you from doing that elsewhere, not unless someone can MATERIALLY show PayPal or whoever is indeed doing that when using, say, another payment provider's stuff. Something like that.

    In any case, PayPal did the right thing being more flexible this time. It's (again) arguably a win-win solution for everyone directly concerned, and I guess it's fine that many people objected to this to at least point out why a blanket solution isn't always a good one.

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