Saturday, March 03, 2012

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
by name).

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

THE PROBLEM:

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.


THE SOLUTION:

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
legal fiction.

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.

Visa:
http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=V+Profile

American Express:
http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=AXP+Profile

MasterCard:
http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=MA+Profile

Discover:
http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=DFS+Profile

Ebay (owns PayPal):
http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=ebay+Profile

_________

Starting Sunday, if our email systems can handle it, we will send out an email
to several hundred thousand registered Smashwords members who are opted in to
receive occasional Smashwords service updates.  The email will combine Read an
Ebook Week with the censorship call to action.  Let's start a little fire, shall
we?

Thank you for your continuing support of Smashwords.  With your help, we can
move mountains.

Best wishes,

Mark



Mark Coker
Founder
Smashwords
http://smashwords.com
blog:  http://blog.smashwords.com
twitter:  http://twitter.com/markcoker

Think of all the books that would fall under this guideline, whether they are indie or no. Game of Thrones would be removed, since it contains scenes and themes of incest and rape. The Harry Potter series has allusions to centaur rape and bestiality. The Lovely Bones would be removed, as the whole plot hinges on the past rape of the main character.

And yes, Holiday Chick would be removed from Smashwords shelves, as it's an indie title whose reading includes a rape scene.

This is not about condoning or glorifying rape, bestiality, or incest. This ultimatum doesn't even give room for interpretation or thought as to what frame of meaning this content might pose. It's censorship of legal content, and if allowed to succeed, you can imagine what other content will be next. It is already surprising to me that violent murder, cannibalism, etc is not included or targeted in this "obscene content" clause. But then why would it be, if the suspicions held by many - that this unduly targets both female authors and readers - are correct? Which also poses another question: If I cannot use PayPal to sell or buy what it deems to be "obscene" reading content, why can I use PayPal to purchase and pay for porn?

Please help us protect the glorious world of new, interesting, and creative independent content that Smashwords and independent authors alike bring to the world of literature, and join us in a peaceful campaign of protest against PayPal's decision. We cannot let financial institutions govern what type of creative content we may access and digest. Please help us protect free speech and artistic freedom and creativity by sending the message that we will not stand for censorship of legal content. 

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Hopefully it will work out in your favor.

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