As you all know, I am an independent author. It is my way of trying to make a living in a slow jobs market that shows no sign of ever getting any better as the powers that be continue to exercise the policies that brought about the financial disaster in the first place. I work hard to produce written content that people will want to read. I work hard to produce value in the story telling field, as well as working to express my feelings of how a free society should act. I work hard on my own even though I am most days not paid a penny, even though there is no guarantee I will ever see one dime from my hard work. If nothing else, I do try. Something has happened recently that threatens even this most modest means of trying to earn a living.
Paypal has decided to threaten the platform I use to publish my works. They have threatened to close the account held by smashwords.com if smashwords does not pull all book titles dealing with bestiality, rape or incest. While I understand that these topics can be disturbing to some, I also understand that nobody is forced to read such topics. While I understand that this is meant to target erotica books written specifically about these topics, I also understand that sometimes these topics come up in the context of different types of books not about those specific topics.
While I know that authors like myself are not yet targeted, I support free speech and abhor censorship of any type. I also understand that this is a foot in the door. Once these people are censored, it won’t be long before political ideas such as freedom become targets by the power elite. While I support the free market and a company’s right to not do business with certain people for certain reasons, I don’t think we have a free market. According to paypal, they are censoring due to pressures from credit card companies. Credit card companies are heavily regulated by government. Indeed, if you ask me, credit card companies are sleeping with government, they are an integral part of the elite corporate structure that rules our lives. This to me seems to be government censorship by proxy.
I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say more. My opinion on this mess is very biased, as you can imagine. My anger is seething. Instead of saying anything more, I thought it best to reproduce in part Mark Coker’s latest email. He explains the situation much better than I can and offers some very good ideas on how to deal with this situation at the end. These ideas adhere to my stance on remaining peaceful and help to relay to the powers that be that censorship should not tolerated. In my opinion, censorship is more obscene than any sexual deviancy that could ever be described in a work of fiction. Below is Mark Coker’s email that deals with paypal:
PAYPAL CENSORSHIP UPDATE
In case you haven’t heard, about two weeks ago, PayPal contacted Smashwords and
gave us a surprise ultimatum: Remove all titles containing bestiality, rape
or incest, otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal account. We engaged
them in discussions and on Monday they gave us a temporary reprieve as we continue
to work in good faith to find a suitable solution.
PayPal tells us that their crackdown is necessary so that they can remain in
compliance with the requirements of the banks and credit card associations (likely
Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, though they didn’t mention them
Last Friday, I sent the following email to our erotica authors and publishers:
https://www.smashwords.com/press/release/27 Then on Monday, I issued an update,
and announced we would delay enforcement of PayPal’s guidelines so we and PayPal
could continue our discussions: https://www.smashwords.com/press/release/28
PayPal is asking us to censor legal fiction. Regardless of how one views topics
of rape, bestiality and incest, these topics are pervasive in mainstream fiction.
We believe this crackdown is really targeting erotica writers. This is unfair,
and it marks a slippery slope. We don’t want credit card companies or financial
institutions telling our authors what they can write and what readers can read.
Fiction is fantasy. It’s not real. It’s legal.
There’s no easy solution. Legally, PayPal and the credit card companies probably
have the right to decide how their services are used. Unfortunately, since they’re
the moneyrunners, they control the oxygen that feeds digital commerce.
Many Smashwords authors have suggested we find a different payment processor.
That’s not a good long term solution, because if credit card companies are behind
this, they’ll eventually force crackdowns elsewhere. PayPal works well for us.
In addition to running all credit card processing at the Smashwords.com store,
PayPal is how we pay all our authors outside the U.S. My conversations with
PayPal are ongoing and have been productive, yet I have no illusion that the
road ahead will be simple, or that the outcome will be favorable.
BUILDING A COALITION OF SUPPORT:
Independent advocacy groups are considering taking on the PayPal censorship case.
I’m supporting the development of this loose-knit coalition of like-minded groups
who believe that censorship of legal fiction should not be allowed. We will grow
the coalition. Each group will have its own voice and tactics I’m working with
them because we share a common cause to protect books from censorship. Earlier
today I had conversations with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), The
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National
Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). I briefed them on the Smashwords/PayPal
situation, explained the adverse affect this crackdown will have on some of our
authors and customers, and shared my intention to continue working with PayPal
in a positive manner to move the discussion forward.
The EFF blogged about the issue a few days ago: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/02/legal-censorship-paypal-makes-habit-deciding-what-users-can-read
Today, ABFFE and NCAC issued a press release: http://www.scribd.com/doc/83549049/NCAC-ABFFE-Letter-To-PayPal-eBay-re-Ebook-Refusal-2012
I will not be on the streets with torch in hand calling for PayPal’s head, but
I will encourage interested parties to get involved and speak their piece. This
is where you come in…
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Although erotica authors are being targeted, this is an issue that should concern
all indie authors. It affects indies disproportionately because indies are the
ones pushing the boundaries of fiction. Indies are the ones out there publishing
without the (fading) protective patina of a “traditional publisher” to lend them
legitimacy. We indies only have each other.
Several Smashwords authors have contacted me to stress that this censorship affects
women disproportionately. Women write a lot of the erotica, and they’re also
the primary consumers of erotica. They’re also the primary consumers of mainstream
romance, which could also come under threat if PayPal and the credit card companies
were to overly enforce their too-broad and too-nebulous obsenity clauses (I think
this is unlikely, but at the same time, why would dubious consent be okay in
mainstream romance but not okay in erotica? If your write paranormal, can your
were-creatures not get it on with one another, or is that bestiality? The insanity
needs to stop here. These are not questions an author, publisher or distributor
of legal fiction should have to answer.).
All writers and their readers should stand up and voice their opposition to financial
services companies censoring books. Authors should have the freedom to publish
legal fiction, and readers should have the freedom to read what they want.
These corporations need to hear from you. Pick up the phone and call them.
Email them. Start petitions. Sign petitions. Blog your opposition to censorship.
Encourage your readers to do the same. Pass the word among your social networks.
Contact your favorite bloggers and encourage them to follow this story. Contact
your local newspaper and offer to let them interview you so they can hear a local
author’s perspective on this story of international significance. If you have
connections to mainstream media, encourage them to pick up on the story. Encourage
them to call the credit card companies and pose this simple question, “PayPal
says they’re trying to enforce the policies of credit card companies. Why are
you censoring legal fiction?”
Below are links to the companies waiting to hear from you. Click the link and
you’ll find their phone numbers, executive names and postal mailing addresses.
Be polite, respectful and professional, and encourage your friends and followers
to do the same. Let them know you want them out of the business of censoring
Tell the credit card companies you want them to give PayPal permission to sell
your ebooks without censorship or discrimination. Let them know that PayPal’s
policies are out of step with the major online ebook retailers who already accept
your books as they are. Address your calls, emails (if you can find the email)
and paper letters (yes paper!) to the executives. Post open letters to them
on your blog, then tweet and Facebook hyperlinks to your letters. Force the
credit card companies to join the discussion about censorship. And yes, express
your feelings and opinions to PayPal as well. Don’t scream at them. Ask them
to work on your behalf to protect you and your readers from censorship. Tell
them how their proposed censorship will harm you and your fellow writers.
Ebay (owns PayPal):
I applaud the efforts of smashwords and the coalition they have built to combat this attempt at censorship. I applaud their efforts to allow everyone the freedom to choose the type of entertainment they wish to engage in. I applaud their efforts to nip this in the bud. I hope that my readers will also take a minute or two to let these powerful financial corporations know that their efforts to censor are not appreciated by a free people.