On Paypal, Erotica, and ‘Censorship’.

Okay. So. To introduce those who are unaware of the situation, in the last week or two, Paypal’s been getting in touch with various e-book vendors, demanding they remove certain types of erotica from sale to comply with Paypal’s terms of use.

Now, granted, their list of off-limits content is pretty ugly to look at for the average joe – it’s specifically ‘bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica’. However, this is writing and the sale of writing. It’s perfectly accepted, and has been for centuries, to write about other criminal activities – from fraud to murder – and treat that as legitimate literature. Yet suddenly erotica is under fire in specific, and erotica alone, no matter how much of an obscenity the destruction of human life might be.

A lot of writers are looking at this and calling it censorship. Paypal may be a private corporation, who have the right to conduct business more or less as they please, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hold a negative opinion of their business practices.

If you’d be interested in looking into the situation further, here are some relevant links:

Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, one of the e-book vendors affected, has written two press releases on the situation, here: http://www.smashwords.com/press/release/27 and here: http://www.smashwords.com/press/release/28

Dear Author’s collection of messages and relevant e-mails by Jane Litte: http://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/the-paypal-fiction-crackdown-roundup

Andrew Shaffer’s article on Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-shaffer/paypal-online-bookstores-erotica_b_1301306.html

Ingrid Lunden’s article on TechCrunch: http://techcrunch.com/2012/02/26/paypal-erotica-smashwords-censorshi/

A particularly good article on some of the legal details by Stephanie Draven: http://stephaniedraven.com/2012/02/28/a-primer-in-the-debate-about-smashwords-and-paypal/

An article on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s blog by Rainey Reitman: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/02/legal-censorship-paypal-makes-habit-deciding-what-users-can-read

And a post on Adventurotica by Paul D. Batteiger on some of the difficulties situations like these bring up for erotica authors: http://www.adventurotica.com/index.php/read/articles/416-welcome-to-the-ghetto

Additionally, several years ago, in response to a question relating to the defence of free speech in relation to morally questionable works, Neil Gaiman wrote a blog post worth referring to when it comes to the question of why this should matter to those uninvolved. And the answer is, to quote Mr. Gaiman,

‘ Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art.

Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost. ‘


We may not be dealing with laws in this case, just the practices of businesses on the internet. But ultimately, that simply means we have no courts or laws to protect us, and the only assistance we can call on is that of public opinion and other internet users. As with any private person, a private corporation can (and should) only change through reconsidering its position and moral stance.

Only we, their customers, can ask them to do so.

By foozzzball

Malcolm Cross, otherwise known as 'foozzzball', lives in London and enjoys the personal space and privacy that the city is known for. When not misdirecting tourists to nonexistant landmarks and lurking at bus stops, Malcolm enjoys writing science fiction and fantasy with a furry twist.

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