Censorship alert!

In the past for days or so, there has been a lot of discussion about Paypal and their decision to censor writers…this attack is specifically aimed at people that write about rape, bestiality and incest. At first, I thought, those are all deplorable subjects and I couldn’t see why people would write fiction about those topics, or how there could be readers interested in those topics….however, it took awhile to sink in and why I don’t agree that those topics have a place in fiction, it is not illegal and it shouldn’t be banned. Writers should not be censored and readers should not be censored…what is happening is wrong, and who the hell knows what the next step is….so I implore you to read this email sent out by Mark Coker, Founder of Smashwords and take action!!!

Say no to censorship….say yes to free speech…say yes to our right to write about what we want!!! And our right to read or not read, what we want!!

Take some action boys and girls!!!!!

Full text of the email I am referring to:

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

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4 thoughts on “Censorship alert!

  1. Wow … so, I’ll miss The Bible … (don’t forget, David’s oldest son, Amnon, raped his half-sister, Tamar, and that’s why her brother (his HALF-brother), Absalom, murdered him. There’s more, but that’s the rape that sticks out in MY mind). What about implied rape? That would kick out my book “The Fishing Widow.” While not explicit, you get the idea what happened.

    Now, someone had written something about Amazon Payment’s policy in this regard. I pointed out that you can buy just about any kind of … device … to satisfy any sort of …fetish … on Amazon’s main site. What’s up with that? We’ll give you the equipment, you just can’t write about it?

    I don’t really read erotica, I don’t write it, but I sure as heck don’t want it censored. Talk about a slippery slope. If you don’t want to read it, don’t buy it. Just like I tell patrons who complain about a certain DVD … if you don’t want to watch it, don’t check it out. Life’s like that.

  2. While I also am not interested in reading erotica, I do have a couple of friends that write it. I think it’s deplorable that PayPal and the credit card companies are backing Smashwords into a corner and threatening the business with an ultimatum requiring it to start censoring authors. Right now the topic is rape, incest and bestiality (which I can understand the reasoning behind the concern, but censoring is just wrong), but what if they decide to broaden their definition of “inappropriate material”? Where does it end?

    Look what’s happening in the video game industry where it is repeatedly blamed when a young person commits a violent act. The games are clearly marked for MATURE audiences. Violence in video games is considered a taboo by certain government parties and advocacy groups and therefore the industry is hit with lawsuit after lawsuit, all while defending the person who actually committed the violent act and attempting to remove any personal responsibility whatsoever.

    What if PayPal and the credit card companies decide that violence in novels interferes with their moral compass? Will we soon have to worry about what type of violence is written in novels? Will serial murderers in thrillers have rules? Will your murderous antagonist be allowed to kill someone with poisoned food, but not with a decapitating scythe or a meat grinder because it’s just too violent?

    The issue isn’t the type of content discussed in this controversy. The issue is censorship… period.

    Phew! I’m glad I got that off my chest! 🙂

    Great post, Erik!

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