A quickie: PayPal backs down on erotica censorship

Power to the people! It’s truly amazing to watch, and be part of, the effect social media can have on corporate policy.

In the wake of the furor over its big brother tactics, PayPal is backing down on its attempted censorship of erotic fiction.

Read the good news here and more at Smashwords.

For more on PayPal’s clarified terms of service, click here.

Thanks to all the bloggers, writers, and anti-censorship groups who joined the battle against PayPal. Huzzah’s all around!

But the war is not yet won, judging by the comments on PayPal’s blog. Many feel PayPal hasn’t retreated far enough.

What’s your view?


Victory on the horizon as MasterCard also denies hand in PayPal censorship

In an email today, MasterCard echoed Visa’s denial that credit card companies are behind PayPal’s censorship of certain erotic fiction. (The email was sent to Banned Writers,  a group hastily formed to combat PayPal’s outrageous actions.)

From: Monteiro, Chris
Date: Tue, Mar 13, 2012 at 3:24 AM
Subject: RE: An Open Letter to Mastercard Incorporated Regarding the Censorship of E-Books
To: bannedwriters@gmail.com

Dear Ms. Morris,

Thank you for your inquiry as to whether MasterCard  played a role in the recent decision by PayPal to limit certain content belonging to your members. We appreciate the opportunity to explain our policies and hope to provide clarity regarding this matter. To be clear, MasterCard had no involvement in the decision made by PayPal to refuse to process payments for certain books.

MasterCard maintains a set of standards that prohibit the use of MasterCard-branded cards and systems for illegal activities. These standards require MasterCard’s customers to comply with all applicable laws and not to engage in illegal behavior, or in behavior that would cause MasterCard to violate any laws.  In this particular scenario, MasterCard would not take action regarding the use of its cards and systems for the sale of lawful materials that seek to explore erotica content of this nature.

We appreciate the opportunity to address this important issue and hope we have addressed your inquiry.

Looks like holding PayPal’s feet to the fire may be working. Smashwords founder Mark Coker posted this cryptic note to authors today:

March 12, 2012 – PayPal update:  I met with PayPal this afternoon at their office in San Jose.  They will soon announce revised content policies that I expect will please the Smashwords communityEffective immediately, we are returning our Terms of Service to back to its pre-February 24 state.  Beyond that, our friends at PayPal have asked me to hold off sharing additional details until they’ve had a chance to finalize their new policies. Thank you for your patience and support during this crazy last few weeks.

A shout out to everyone who wrote letters, tweets and emails calling PayPal out on their censorship attempts. Let’s hope more good news is forthcoming soon.

Visa calls PayPal’s bluff on erotica censorship

No doubt taking some heat after PayPal claimed (via Mark Coker and Smashwords) that credit card companies are behind PayPal’s censorship of erotica, Visa has responded.

In a letter to Madeleine Morris of Banned Writers, Visa’s Doug Michelman, head of Investor Relations writes:

Dear Ms. Morris,

Thank you for your email regarding PayPal’s recent decision to limit the sale of certain erotica content. First and foremost, we want to clarify that Visa had no involvement with PayPal’s conclusion on this issue. Nor have we seen the material in question. This fact is made clear by PayPal’s recent blog post where it states that its own policies drove the decision.

You can read the letter Visa wrote in it’s entirety here, but I thought I’d highlight a further few key statements:

” . . . we strive to respect the many different perspectives that citizens of the world hold, and we avoid taking sides when those opinions differ.”

“Visa would take no action regarding lawful material that seeks to explore erotica in a fictional or educational manner.”

“As you note in your letter, Visa is not in the business of censoring cultural product.”

Do head over to read PayPal’s blog post on the topic. It’s riddled with BS, like this:

“An important factor in our decision not to allow our payments service to be used to purchase material focused on rape, incest or bestiality is that this category of eBooks often includes images.”

Really? When’s the last time anyone read erotica (not graphic novels) with images?

They also say they support Internet freedom, but “we draw the line at certain adult content that is extreme or potentially illegal.”

Again, extreme according to who — PayPal? Writing for Forbes, Suw Charman-Anderson has a great response to PayPal’s rebuttal.

PayPal’s policies will remain in place, but now we know no one else is behind them but PayPal’s own leaders. Keep the pressure on.

PayPal passes the buck on censorship

Did you see yesterday’s news release from Smashwords founder Mark Coker? Smashwords continues negotiations with PayPal and has extended the deadline for authors/publishers/agents to voluntarily remove the books PayPal has deemed objectionable and obscene.

Coker says there’s a “glimmer of hope” and PayPal may allow certain themes as long as they are incidental to the plot and not major themes. O-kay. And who’s going to judge that? PayPal?

According to Coker, “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.”

Who knows what to believe. I think we’ve all received enough porn spam to know there is any manner of adult content out there – DVDs, toys, bondage gear and much more – that is readily available to anyone with a credit card. Google “barely-legal” and you’ll come up with all sorts of sites willing to take your money and hook you up with a DVD or even an online “chat.” With a REAL GIRL. But FICTION along the same lines is not going to be allowed. WTF?

This smacks to me of passing the buck and obfuscating the truth.

Coker does encourage everyone to keep blogging and tweeting and drawing attention to this issue—as long as you’re not pointing fingers at Smashwords and the other retailers that are caving to PayPal’s pressure. (Bookstrand has already pulled ALL indie published titles, not just erotica, rather than fight this battle.)

Here’s what he says—this at least I agree with:

“Even if you don’t publish in the categories directly impacted by this crackdown, this campaign matters to you. What can you do to move things forward? First, direct your attention where it matters most. Contact your credit card company or congressperson and tell them you want financial services companies out of the business of censoring what writers and readers are free to imagine with fiction. Blog about it. Tweet about it. Contact your favorite blogger and encourage them to raise awareness. Start petitions and tell financial institutions you want their censors out of your head. Contact the media. The media, with your urging, has the power to shine a bright light on the dangerous slippery slope of censorship by financial institutions.”

Still bugs me that it’s always sex in everyone’s cross-hairs. Meanwhile I can read or view any manner of content that showcases sadistic violence. Dexter anyone?

Speak up against PayPal’s censorship

Have you been following PayPal’s attempted crackdown on e-book retailers that they have deemed to be selling obscene and objectionable content?

Writer J.S. Wayne has a great post on his blog about why all of us should care about these censorship efforts, even if we’re not writing the type of erotica that is currently in PayPal’s cross-hairs.  Jane at Dear Author has another good overview here, along with a letter from Smashwords founder Mark Coker, who is bowing to PayPal’s strong arm efforts to avoid serious disruption to his business. (You’ll have to scroll past the depressing news about author Kay Manning’s plagiarism of her fellow romance authors.)

Here’s an excerpt from Coker’s letter to Smashwords erotica authors advising them of PayPal’s demands:

Like many writers, censorship of any form greatly concerns me . . . [redacted] it’s a slippery slope when we allow others to control what we think and write. Fiction is fantasy. It’s not real. It unfolds in our imagination. I’ve always believed fiction writers and readers should have the freedom to explore diverse topics and situations in the privacy of their own mind. From an imagination perspective, erotica is little different from a literary novel that puts us inside the mind of farm animals (1984), or a thriller novel that puts us inside the mind of a terrorist, or a horror novel that puts us inside the mind of an axe-murderer or their victim. All fiction takes us somewhere. We read fiction to be moved, and to feel. Sometimes we want to feel touched, moved, or disturbed. A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved.

I’m tired of corporations trying to impose their moral values on me. Susan G. Komen anyone? In the case of PayPal’s objection to “pseudo-incest” (consensual sex between step-sister and step-brother, for example) PayPal is attempting to censor an act that is not even illegal.

If you’re as outraged as I am by this, please sign the petition to protest PayPal’s censorship efforts, and consider canceling your PayPal account if you have one.

This concerns all of us because we don’t know what’s next on PayPal’s list of objectionable material.