Legal Censorship of Books – where do you stand?

In Thoughts on Publishing on March 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm

In case you haven’t heard, online payment servicing giant PayPal recently sent ultimatums to many ebooksellers. I’ll summarize with my words, not theirs: ”Remove all books containing rape, incest, underage sex and bestiality from your store. We will not service your payments if you do not comply. Resistance is futile.”

If you feel like some light reading on the topic: Go here.

Heavier reading: Go here.

Indie distributors like Bookstrand and Smashwords have been scrambling to comply and this has led to some fireworks in (mostly) the indie ebook world. Some people (bloggers, authors, internet blowhards) are criticizing sites like Smashwords for moving so fast to comply with PayPal’s demands. I think that’s misguided, and here’s why.

While the word “censorship” is being flung around over this matter (umm… don’t look at my blog title), I think the reasons behind the PayPal mandate are money-related rather than morality-based. I’m just not convinced the decision came from some moral crusade within PayPal. You see, it looks like a business decision to me. Credit card returns/challenges are vastly higher in the porn/erotica and gambling industry, and that costs the industry money. Since PayPal is a middleman for the credit card companies, they shoulder much of that risk to allow smaller web companies to use their service instead of working directly with the credit card industry (at much higher buy-in and service charges).

Since PayPal only allowed 30 days for compliance, distributors had a choice to make: go out of business or comply and see what could be done on the back-end (though stay away from that cow’s back-end — no bestiality, mister!). It’s not as easy as flipping a switch for someone like a Smashwords. Truth is: it takes longer to change to another provider and PayPal offers a unique service.

I believe it’s wholly unreasonable for anyone to expect a small, online ebook retailer to raise arms in rebellion against the credit card industry. Do you know what would happen? I do. They would lose. Tragically. And that would be a decisive blow against writers, publishers and readers everywhere. I fully support efforts bySmashwords and others to remove the non-compliant material while they continue to engage PayPal to get some definition around the mandate. Nobody needs to be a martyr in this and perhaps an agreeable solution can be met down the road.

Matt, you’re a pig-fucker. Wait. Sorry CC Industry: I’m just a “plain” fucker. (I’d likely never fuck a pig… though everything from that glorious animal is so tasty… if there ever were an animal… *slap* Right, bestiality.)

So what do I say to the writers who had their content unceremoniously removed? Or to the other writers (like me) out there wondering if big business will someday attack our stories of murder, ghosts, wizards, unicorns, corrupt politicians, secret agents, angels and demons? Well, to the erotica writers, the unfortunate truth is many cultures view your work as “borderline” or “offensive” in some cases. Just like I’d have a more difficult time opening a 1-room casino in my hometown than if I wanted to open a store selling spatulas — you too will have a harder road ahead of you if you want to make money off your bestiality, incest or rape fiction. Until the views of the cultures you service change, this is just a truth.

To a lesser extent, some of the fiction removed as a result of this enforcement of PayPal’s policy was freely distributed anyway. There’s always sites like Wattpad which don’t sell the fiction — so, no “control” from the CC industry. I know it’s not a perfect solution for some erotica writers, but it may allow the free, creative expression you are looking for.

Free expression. Putting my “douchebag” hat on again, let’s remember that nobody is being told they cannot write and distribute what they want. But if they want to distribute it through certain channels, in partnership with a private corporation, then that private corporation has every right to act within the laws which mutually govern them, us and the distributor. While there’s nothing “illegal” about rape, incest and bestiality fiction – that’s a moot point. We’re not discussing criminal or constitutional law. The censorship isn’t at that level.

So, in the final analysis, where does Matt stand? I do understand the business case on PayPal’s side. They have rights too – rights to keep their own business viable. The reality exists that money is lost when credit card users challenge a charge or makes a return – and these two activities happen more for porn/erotica and casino-related activities (hence why you can’t “charge” a scratch ticket – same deal there, folks). Yes, I’m saddened by this because it means less books available. But I’m not going to expect a small business to go to war over this. We also can’t expect an industry (credit card, CC) to make bad business decisions just because some of us feel strongly about a certain topic. Their vision of this morality may be different than ours, and at the end of the day – it’s their business.

I will end by saying there is hope. From my rudimentary understanding, PayPal has been refining the language. For example, they clarified bestiality as involving “naturally occurring” animals. Yes, your stories about a human woman falling in love with a were-octupus are totally still viable. They also clarified some of the requirements around incest.  Some of the links above contain links to petitions and such – feel free to check them out if you are so inclined. However, I’m not sure your time won’t be wasted. The CC industry has successfully limited how consumers and partners can use their service in the past, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. If you want to benefit from the services they offer, you gotta play by their rules. If you don’t like those rules, you can crusade to change them or look for other outlets to provide the services you require.

(as a closing note, I’m curious to see all the new traffic to this site with all the instances of bestiality, rape and incest in this post. gotta love the internets!)

Matthew C. Plourde is not only an official member of LitU, but an author, blogger, and an absolute writing machine! You can find his personal blog HERE.

  1. “The reality exists that money is lost when credit card users challenge a charge or makes a return – and these two activities happen more for porn/erotica and casino-related activities (hence why you can’t “charge” a scratch ticket – same deal there, folks).”

    However, the return rate on erotic ebooks is NOT comparable to other porn sites. It’s far far less than 1%, even with the liberal return policies on some larger sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Ebook erotica is being lumped into a category where it does not belong.

    That is bad business.

  2. I was as happy as most authors when I heard that Smashwords Mark Coker was successful in negotiating PayPal away from a potentially destructive business ultimatum. Good thing for Free Speech, but it just points out how personal responsibility is a dying concept. I wonder what group is at the bottom of it attorneys? Its seems connected with the rapid growth of fundamentalist religion worldwide that seems to say, “I’m worried about the future, so give me a printed roadmap to the rest of my life so I don’t have to figure anything out for myself. Much too hard!”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: