Tuesday, May 01, 2012
By OFW chief editor: Renée Miller
Published: February 28, 2012

I recently discussed my thoughts on PayPal’s ultimatum to Smashwords and other online publishers on my blog. This serious issue concerns all writers, and it’s beginning to snowball.

The ultimatum, in case you haven’t heard, is that Smashwords must remove all titles containing bestiality, rape or incest, or PayPal will deactivate their account. This isn’t a simple matter of finding another payment portal. In fact, PayPal has Smashwords and various other sites by the short and hairies. Their “obscene content” definition is so broad that should it expand beyond independent erotica authors and publishers, it would essentially wipe out most of the books in the romance and paranormal fiction market. No, I am not exaggerating folks. Slippery slopes have a funny way of getting out of control. Now it’s erotica, but tomorrow can be religion, politics, or anything else the censors dream of.

Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, sent an email to erotica authors and publishers warning of the ultimatum, and later announced Smashwords would delay enforcement of PayPal's guidelines so they could continue discussions.

In another update to Smashwords authors and publishers, Mark issues a call to action. He states:

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.”

Now, according to Coker, PayPal has insinuated that credit card companies are responsible for the censorship. Whoever is responsible, PayPal and the credit card companies do have the right to decide what material is sold through their services, but that doesn’t mean readers and writers should stand for it. It’s tough to battle this particular censorship because the credit card companies, along with PayPal, are the driving force behind online commerce. So, finding a different payment processor is not a solution. If the credit card companies are truly behind this, they’ll continue to enforce the crackdown elsewhere.

Fine, you might say, we’ll all just boycott PayPal and the credit card companies when it comes to selling books. Consider the reality for a minute, though. How many of you are paid royalties via PayPal? I receive most of my freelance writing payments through them, and I have no choice in that payment method because many of my clients use no other processing system for contractors outside of the United States. Boycotting means my kids don’t eat. I imagine there are many others in the same situation. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just laying out the facts.

The bottom line is that we at OFW stand firmly against censorship of any kind. In this case there is no simple solution, but we are not helpless. Coker reports that independent advocacy groups are considering taking on the PayPal censorship case, but we can do a little on our end too. Whether you use these publishers or not, this censorship, if it continues unchallenged, could spread into mainstream publishing. Do you think Visa, American Express or Mastercard should have the right to dictate what you can write? Do you think that censorship of legal fiction should be allowed?

Mark’s most recent update to Smashwords authors and publishers included a few suggestions.

“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 effect 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.”

He provided a couple of links, which we feel are important to the conversation. One from the EFF blog and an ABFFE and NCAC press release.

Coker goes on to state:

“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.”

Look folks, it might be only erotica writers that are being targeted at this point, but censorship is a slippery slope that none of us should have to negotiate. If we don’t stand behind our fellow writers, even if we don’t agree with what they write, the shit will get deeper and eventually, it will spread until none of us can take a step without becoming mired in it. Right now, the issue affects independent authors, but traditionally published authors are not untouchable. Censorship should not be tolerated. Period.

Based on PayPal’s broad “obscenity” definition, books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Anne Rice’s newest release The Wolf Gift, would be banned through PayPal if they’d published independently. Is there anything remotely obscene in these novels? Depends on your perspective. But who are you to judge that? Who is Paypal to judge that? Where do the credit card companies get off thinking that they have the right to judge?

All writers and readers, self-published or traditional, should stand up and voice their opposition to financial services companies censoring books. Just as we wouldn’t put up with banning a book based on the inclusion of uncomfortable content, we shouldn’t put up with someone else, anyone else, telling us what we have the right to publish or read, as long as that content is legal.

Coker offers these options for authors wanting to do something:

“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?"

While we’re at it, let’s tell PayPal and our credit card companies we want them to stop their censorship and discrimination. Tell them that the readers who buy the books and the writers who publish them will not stand for it.

Address your calls, emails, and letters to the executives. Post open letters to them on your blog, then tweet and Facebook the hyperlinks to your letters. Force the credit card companies to join in an open and honest discussion about censorship.

There’s no need to scream profanities or be rude (yes, this is me saying don’t swear), demand that they work on your behalf to protect you and your readers from censorship, but do it professionally and with a level head. Tell everyone how this proposed censorship will harm both writers and readers of all fiction.

A few links that Coker provided to get us all started:

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, Coker intends to send an email to several hundred thousand registered Smashwords members which will combine Read an Ebook Week with the censorship call to action.

In the words of Mr. Coker, let's start a little fire, shall we?

If you want to read the full text of Mr.Coker’s e-mail, check the OFW e-Zine section “Mockingbird.”

Post Comments
Susan Elizabeth Curnow  
Saturday, 03 Mar 2012 04:53 PM  

I just found it an interesting opinion. Right now this doesn't affect me, except when I am buying, so I can sit back and watch the shenanigans. To me, what comes across between the lines is that *No one* knows truly which direction publishing is going and they are panicking and, yes, bullying, too.

An analogy. Today I bought a girth (cinch) for my saddle. It cost nearly 90 dollars when most cinches are around the fifty mark. Why did I have to pay that? because the saddle I bought (silly me) has particular sized leathers which, obviously, only fit particular sized buckles and the only company who makes them? You got it - the same as the saddle. So I was 'forced' to buy that or sell the whole saddle and start afresh. The moral being, I didn't do my research. I love the saddle but...

The point being sometimes it is easier to carry on with what you know because it is way too complicated to change. Which is how these companies seem to be pressuring us. Very few people will stir the pot unfortunately.   


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Susan Elizabeth Curnow  
Saturday, 03 Mar 2012 10:41 AM  

You might want to read this, too. It is interesting.


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Renée Miller  (OFW Editor)
Saturday, 03 Mar 2012 11:49 AM

Hmm. She does make some good points, but she's over-simplifying matters. Of course, like me, she has a right to her opinion. It's a valid, organized opinion too.

PayPal and the credit card companies do have the right to do business as they see fit. My problem is that censorship begins with very small things like one company deciding it won't sell this content or that. Problem is, these aren't small business. These are major corporations that have huge weight in what is bought and sold online.

So, PayPal forces Smashwords and other digital publishers to remove content that these companies deem "obscene". It's within their rights to do so. Yes. But where do these writers go to sell their work? How does this content get published. What's that? Right, it doesn't. So we've swallowed that lump and say "Well, we can still publish erotica through traditional channels." Can we? What if PayPal, or these companies decide to say to bookstores, "We will not support your business or provide a method of payment for content such as this." What then? Everyone uses these credit companies. EVERYONE. If they can't buy something using their plastic gold, what do they do? They look to what they can buy. Sure, it's jumping to extremes, but it's not impossible. Is that then enough censorship to warrant being upset?

I am not a small-minded person with nothing better to do than rile up other writers without good cause. I didn't have time to write this article this morning. I gave up paid hours to do so because I believe this is not something that should be ignored with the belief that it will stop at erotic Smashwords titles. It's a matter of principle. My writing contains some of the things they're asking Smashwords to remove. It's not erotica, so I might be safe...for now.

Too many writers go around with their heads stuck up their ass pretending this industry is all sunshine and unicorns, but it is not. I am not a pessimist. If I were, I'd have self-published by now instead of playing the brutal query game. I am in general, an optimist. I believe that people are inherently good and that with the right action things like this can be sorted out with minimal chaos.

Information is power. I encourage our readers to read the link provided above, to see two sides of the issue and make an INFORMED decision on whether this is something that should be addressed. I for one think it is.


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Carlos Cortes  
Saturday, 03 Mar 2012 12:05 PM

Thank you Sue. Yes, an intersting post contrieved to read sensible and reasonable, wne it's nothing of the sort.
I posted a comment to "her opinion"


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Carlos Cortes  
Saturday, 03 Mar 2012 12:06 PM

Your argument is almost sound. Yes, credit card companies can choose with whom they do business. But when card companies that happily work with vendors who peddle whips, quenning stools, rubber gear and other bondage accoutrements pull their noses at risqu


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Renee Miller  
Saturday, 03 Mar 2012 12:25 PM

I find it interesting that this system always cuts off your posts, Carlos. Ironic, even?

As to the above link, the comments to the article are the most informative, IMO.

By the way, if we're looking at what censorship is or what it is not, those saying this is a business decision and in no way related to censorship should look up their definitions again. For example:

"Supervision and control of the information and ideas that are circulated among the people within a society. In modern times, censorship refers to the examination of books, periodicals, plays, films, television and radio programs, news reports, and other communication media for the purpose of altering or suppressing parts thought to be objectionable or offensive."


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Renee Miller  
Saturday, 03 Mar 2012 12:27 PM

Damn it, it just cut off my post too. I meant to credit the above definition to "Funk& Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia" But it got cut off.


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Gwendolyn McIntyre  
Saturday, 03 Mar 2012 03:24 PM

Credit card companies don't care what you buy or where you spend your money.


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Gwendolyn McIntyre  
Saturday, 03 Mar 2012 03:25 PM

...and it cut off the rest of my post as well. WTFO?


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Renee Miller  
Saturday, 03 Mar 2012 07:17 PM

Yeah, looking into it Gwen. I mean, when it was Carlos, it was funny, but now it's just annoying.


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