I do not look forward to any type of financial correspondence, with the
possible exception perhaps of the extremely rare cases in which
am notified of my right of receiving a few coins i did not already know i
had a right to.
In the same vein i do not look forward to any type of correspondence with
or about financial institutions: they are a necessary evil, with the
possible exception, perhaps, of a bank like ASN in the Netherlands that
tries to put your money at work for good causes only.
It is therefore with some reluctance that i will have to inform you about
PayPal, an Internet payment agency that does not have too intimate a
relationship with Smashwords at the moment.
Smashwords is the company that publishes ebooks of independent authors,
among which my own
The Last Heavenly King.
Today (67.11.3/3-3-2012/...) i received an email from the founder of
Smashwords letting me know that PayPal asks them to 'remove all titles
containing bestiality, rape or incest', otherwise they will 'deactivate
[Smashwords'] PayPal account', the account used to pay authors, especially
from outside the USA.
Now, this is not a threat which involves me personally and immediately, or
it must be because of the scene in The Last Heavenly King in which the
16-year-old 'king' is seduced by a pirate mother and her daughter.
(It's only a tiny part of the whole story about this historical character,
and hardly stuff for semen-jerkers.
The girl is about his age, no-one is forced and the reason for the
seduction is not even an erotic one.)
No, the threat is directed at erotica writers, writers who just like anyone
else will have to stay within the bounds of the law, however rationally
justified or ill-conceived that law may be.
And pathetically prudish, for when sexual matters are concerned lawgivers
and, i fear, PayPal as well, suddenly lose every sense of defining things
clearly and distinctly.
They would not dare to call a spade a spade in this garden.
Is it incest, for instance, when two cousins make love to each other (like
the United Kingdom's Victoria and Albert), when a brother and a
half-sister or a sister and a half-brother make love to each other (the
same degree of consanguinity), or when it concerns two adult sibs (m/f)?
Does it remain incest, and 'does a title contain it', when it is only
related in a story?
Ask PayPal, who seem to know all the answers or who can, perhaps, turn to
the American credit card companies to make these answers up for them.
Before i get to the point how PayPal's immodest proposal
--are they going to dissociate themselves from Jonathan
Swift's cannibalistic writings too?-- also affects or may
affect me and everyone else interested in freedom of the word, i let you
read the part of Mark Coker's email dealing with this issue:
Smashwords Author/Publisher Update - March 2, 2012
Re: your account at https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/mvvm
This email is going to all 30,000+ Smashwords authors, publishers and literary
- PayPal censorship update, and how you can help
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
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
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 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
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.
Ebay (owns PayPal):
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
Thank you for your continuing support of Smashwords. With your help, we can
I am not sure whether PayPal's proposed censorship will affect both indie
authors and women disproportionately.
If so, it would be irrelevant.
(As if the problem would not be the same if it did not affect indies
or women disproportionately.)
I am convinced, however, that censorship can only be defended where the
freedom of speech is abused to flout the very
from which it derives.
Freedom bears everything, except
erosion, a paper in which i argue for a maximum freedom of expression
compatible with a complete respect for the foundation of that freedom.)
Rape in the true sense of nonconsensual vaginal or anal sexual
intercourse is, indeed, a very serious infringement of someone's right
to personhood, and i find the idea of using your freedom of speech to
promote it in literature or wherever else revolting.
The censor may, in my eyes, forbid such a kind of perverse inconsistency,
and i will not shed a tear, let alone lift a pen.
But in practice censors in countries all over the world arrogate, legally
or illegally, so much more power to themselves, and such exclusionistic
attempts at curtailing people's freedom by officials and certain private
citizens, groups or companies in their wake must not go unnoticed and
PayPal and the credit card companies should not mate up with whatever kind
of censorial body to make life harder or impossible for clients who in no
way show disrespect for other people's equal right to self-determination.
If some of Smashwords' authors really do or would do precisely
that, let, then, Smashword throw them out, and let, then, PayPal refuse to
serve them, instead of antagonizing the whole lot
Today, 67.12.6/March 13, 2012, i received an email from Mark Coker with
Smashwords author/publisher update: PayPal reverses proposed censorship,
The main points of the update are:
Great news. Yesterday afternoon I met with PayPal at their office in
San Jose, where they informed me of their decision to modify their
policies to allow legal fiction.
Effective last night, we rolled back the Smashwords Terms of Service to its
pre-February 24 state.
It's been a tumultuous, nerve-wracking few weeks as we worked to protect
the right of writers to write and publish legal fiction.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to Smashwords authors, publishers
and customers. You stood up and made your voice known. Thank you to every
Smashwords author and publisher who wrote me to express opinions, even if
we disagreed, and even if you were angry with me. You inspired me to carry
your cause forward.
Smashwords authors, publishers and customers mobilized. You made telephone
calls, wrote emails and letters, started and signed petitions, blogged,
tweeted, Facebooked and drove the conversation. You made the difference.
Without you, no one would have paid attention. I would also like to thank
the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), The American Booksellers
Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National Coalition Against
Censorship (NCAC). These three advocacy groups were the first to stand up
for our authors, publishers and customers. Their contribution cannot be
overstated. We collaborated with them to build a coalition of like-minded
organizations to support our mutual cause. [...]
I would like to thank our friends at PayPal. They worked with us in good
faith as they promised, engaged us in dialogue, made the effort to
understand Smashwords and our mission, went to bat for our authors with the
credit card companies and banks, and showed the courage to revise their
This is a big, bold move by PayPal. It represents a watershed decision that
protects the rights of writers to write, publish and distribute legal
fiction. It also protects the rights of readers to purchase and enjoy all
fiction in the privacy of their own imagination. It clarifies and
rationalizes the role of financial services providers and pulls them out of
the business of censoring legal fiction.
Following implementation of their new policies, PayPal will have the most
liberal, pro-First-Amendment policies of the major payment processors.
This is a bright day for indie publishing. In the old world, traditional
publishers were the arbiters of literary merit. Today, thanks to the rise
of indie ebooks, the world is moving toward a broader, more inclusive
definition of literary merit. Smashwords gives writers the power and
freedom to publish. Merit is decided by your readers. Just as it should
As far as the censorship of legally permitted fiction is concerned, the
question whether PayPal is the client's or the censor's pal can now be
They are the client's pal!