Saturday, March 3, 2012

Censorship: Paypal goes after Smashwords and look who is behind it...

What is going on in America? 
If you write books this will upset you. 
If you read books this will upset you.
Censorship by finacial institutes...what? 

That's right, the banks are attempting to censor what we can write or read. I woke up this morning, Saturday March 3, to find this email. It's from Mark Coker at Smashwords.  

The rhetoric in this country over the last few years reminds me of the same dialog we hear from fundamentalist Muslim countries in the middle east. I feel like we've gone insane. This has to be stopped; read on... 

Saturday March 3, 2012:
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:   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:


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.


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 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.


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:
Today, ABFFE and NCAC issued a press release:

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...


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.


American Express:



Ebay (owns PayPal):

Mark Coker

Norm Applegate author of:

Into the Basement