Terms of Censorship

It’s not news by now to many erotica readers that PayPal is now enforcing rules on vendors who use its payment services that limit the type of merchandise that can be sold. In particular, the more transgressive forms of erotica – incest, bestiality, non-consent – are now verboten, and both individual authors and distributors like Smashwords, Bookstrand, All Romance eBooks, and others have been ordered to remove books containing those themes off their sites, or face confiscation of earnings. Needless to say, my books are among those being removed. My main publisher, Republica Press, which also uses PayPal as its payment service, has taken enough of a hit – financially and spiritually – from these actions that it may not survive the quarter.

I don’t have sufficient words to talk about this, but I’m lucky. Others have addressed these events far more eloquently and incisively than I could. I’m going to link here to some subset of the reaction across the erotic writing and reading sphere. You should read them.

Moving into the mainstream:

Of course, there’s more I haven’t found or linked to.

In the end, it doesn’t matter much to me, personally, if I can’t sell my books. I’m not making a living off my smut hobby. It does matter materially to others, however, who do make or supplement their living with their writing. And, frankly, it matters for all of us in terms of freedom of expression, and freedom of access. Certainly PayPal, being a private company, can play by whatever rules it makes for itself, and require those who wish to use its service to toe its line. PayPal is practicing a perfectly legal form of corporate censorship. But if there is nobody else out there who plays by different rules, then where does that leave us? The word Monopoly is not inappropriate here. For all the eloquent and outraged words we writers can post or print, for all the petitions we might sign, the handful of people who dictate the Terms of Service for the financial engines are going to be the ones in charge. Until.

I have high hopes and expectations that this corporate censorship, this business-dictated morality policing, will be challenged and beaten by new players in the game. New payment/finance services that are not hypocritically guided by a morality that allows graphic descriptions of serial murders, torture, and and horror stories, but calls incestuous sex and other erotic taboos too prurient to publish. Until then it’s going to be a hard time for this corner of the writing world.

In the meantime, once I have something clarified, I’ll have another post up about yelling into this wind at least on a small scale.


Latest Comments

  1. willcrimson says:

    Interesting development. Wasn’t aware of it until I just read your post.

    None of my erotic fiction is ‘published’ and at this point and I think that only one or two of my D&D stories would violate Paypal’s “standards”. I don’t have a dog in the hunt.

    This latest move doesn’t surprise me. There’s a lot of ugly fiction on the web, by third rate writers, and there’s a lot of ugly fiction being published by third rate publishers, but some are speculating that the reasons for Paypal’s moves are more financial than moral – though that begs the question: Why frame it as a moral issue?

    As you say, Paypal is well within its rights; and so are credit card companies — although if the government is involved then the matter smells of Fascism. That said, where there’s demand, there will be a market. That’s the way free markets work, if not Capitalism. Look for the ACLU to become involved. When it does, pro & con will quickly align themselves with Left and Right. This could turn into a big fight if the right (or wrong) wheel squeaks.

    • Monocle says:

      The fact is, though that it’s not ‘ugly’ fiction that’s being targeted. It’s specific transgressive subgenres, irrespective of the literary quality of the writing. And it’s hypocritical, since graphic horror, thrillers that lividly describe murder, maiming, and torture, and any number of fictional stories that intricately detail gross violations of law and morality – just not sexily – are not part of this banishment.

    • willcrimson says:

      Right. I agree. I think, though, that if anyone, such as the ACLU, decides to challenge Paypal, many of these stories aren’t going to do them any favors. That’s part of what could make this latest round of censorship very interesting. Each new revolution in publishing has made it easier for a new class of authors and literature to be published and, every time, attempts have been made to censor those new authors and literature. Nothing has so democratized publishing as the digital revolution and the web in particular. Suddenly, anybody and everybody with an internet connection can bypass all the old barriers to, if not publication, a readership. Every blog is an example of that, including ours. The only barriers (or means of censorship) that remain are apparently the means to remuneration through companies like Paypal. The question of censorship will now entail, not government entities, but private entities.

  2. Rock_117 says:

    Omg Raz, this is the single most horrifying story I’ve ever read. It seriously gave me chills, to think that this kind of thing is realistic enough to happen in our own reality is just…

    Oh wait. This is non fiction. DAMMIT! X/
    Yo dawg, we heard you like the first amendment, so we blotted it out so you can have hypocrisy in your America.

    Sorry I couldn’t resist. In all seriousness I’m a long time arch nemesis of hypocrisy, and discriminating censorship of content like this is just BS. How can they draw that line like one thing is MORE wrong than the other?

    Unfortunately the sad reality is that even if another paypal comes along, you run the risk the credit card companies bailing out just like they did with the WikiLeaks donation fallout. It seems that the only thing that can defeat the invincible almighty dollar is a threat of public scandals or Washington.

    If theres one thing I feel strongly about with corporate America its that if they’re so big on big bad morals and cave under the slightest scrutiny, then why don’t they start practicing what they preach?

  3. Aussiescribbler says:

    There is an alternative to PayPal which, apparently, allows the use of their service for things which PayPal does not allow, including payments to porn websites. Perhaps this development will be a real shot in the arm for them if smaller erotica publishers change over to them. I imagine that Smashwords didn’t want to do something like that because changing services would inconvenience all users and they didn’t want to inconvenience the majority to help a very small minority. But when it comes to companies which specialise in erotica it would be worth it to get PayPal’s nose out of their business :


  4. dragon says:

    i am sorry for you and for all of the writers out there like you and those who do make their living from their writing. i am sorry for this censorship.


    • willcrimson says:

      Thank you, dragon.

      In truth, though, I feel sorrier for readers than for writers. We writers will make do, but Paypal’s decision effects far, far more readers than writers. In effect, Paypal is dictating to readers what they can and can’t buy; what they should and shouldn’t read. This is the dirty little secret. You may think that Paypal is delimiting authors but, in fact, it’s the reader who suffers the most. When readers realize that they are the true targets, not the authors, is when Paypal might be forced to reconsider.

    • dragon says:

      You are welcome. As a reader i understand, but i know there have been and hopefully always will be other avenues with which to share thoughts and words. Paypal cannot and will not ever dictate what i read, but they can choose to lose my patronage. They have done so.

  5. Monocle says:

    The response of one of the booksellers to PayPal’s ultimatum was additionally disturbing. Alessia Brio followed up her s-e-x post with another – “PayPal-Imposed Morality” – which included a letter to her from one of them. This seller _specializes_ in hardcore BDSM, and concluded its take-down notification letter with: “As to the future – if you are an author, sadly I suggest you stick to what is known to be safe to sell!”

    “Safe to sell?” This attitude is like handing the shackles out and presenting your wrists to be bound. And this from a seller that purported to be a place to go to the edge. Fuck them.

    I’ll repeat I’m lucky. I don’t have to sell to live. But for those that do? This attitude will crush free expression, and convert imagination to plastic unless it is fought.

    • willcrimson says:

      Yes, but on the other hand, what else can these bookseller’s do? I personally wouldn’t expect any of them to take the fall for anything I’ve written. I think that’s unreasonable. They’re in a tough spot and it stands to reason that destroying their business does us no favors. Like Brio wrote: “Now, eventually — precisely because there is a market for the types of fiction being targeted — the industry will adjust.”

    • Monocle says:

      I agree. Adjustment will come. But a bookseller’s pragmatism does no favors to writers. Encouraging ‘works that sell’ or defending the right of all – sorry – *some* works to be published stifles writers. It will discourage good writers from writing, further marginalize and taboo-ify edgy fiction, and, as you say, make the reader the ultimate loser.

      I don’t mind brutal honesty “We’re dropping these books to stay in business”. But the “You should write books we can sell (because we’re not going to find a way to protect your freedom of expression)” crap is too damn much.

    • willcrimson says:

      I do grant that one of the most tireless champions who combated obscenity laws was Barney Rosset (though he might be more a book publisher than a bookseller, less and less a distinction these days).

      “Barney Rosset, the maverick publisher who chafed at puritanism and whose relentless challenges of obscenity laws helped overthrow the final vestiges of literary censorship in the United States, died Tuesday at a hospital in New York City. He was 89.”

      Rosset just recently died. Talk about coincidence.

  6. vanillamom says:

    I read your links, Mon, and links to their links. RG stated her fury in the most eloquent, brutal terms to the head of Smashwords…

    i’m just..i’m shocked. Totally shocked.

    what the fuck is going on in the nation of “let freedom ring” ??


  7. vanillamom says:

    okay, I’ve had time to read all your comments and think about this a bit.

    I’d love to believe that the ACLU would get involved…but in reality, would they? Freedom is freedom, but would they publicly take on Paypal over what is, essentially, pornography?

    Frankly, I can’t see it happening. How I’d love to be pleasantly surprised, however.


    • willcrimson says:

      Hi Nilla,

      Check this link out. The issue of Pornography would not, in any way, put off the ACLU. The only real question is whether Paypal’s actions are really censorship and whether Paypal is a monopoly. I’m the cold, rational kind when it comes to questions like these. I doubt a case could be made that Paypal’s actions are not within it’s rights and therefore it’s equally doubtful that their actions could be called censorship. If the market doesn’t like their policies, then there are other companies who provide a similar service — which excludes calling them a monopoly. They’ve only made selling & purchasing certain kinds of erotica more inconvenient, that’s all. That doesn’t add up to a lawsuit.

    • Monocle says:

      I’m beginning to wonder about this. Most online payment options I’ve seen also have explicit exclusions for ‘obscenity’ and ‘pornography’. They’re usually not defined, and therefore subject to the same whims PayPal is exercising.

    • willcrimson says:

      //Most online payment options I’ve seen also have explicit exclusions for ‘obscenity’ and ‘pornography’.//

      This still wouldn’t merit calling Paypal a monopoly and still wouldn’t merit censorship (at least as it is understood, I think, by the courts). However, the overall effect is the same. Can the government claim neutrality when corporations and businesses effectively collude to censor/block access to materials they are opposed to? This becomes an interesting question. What is the government’s role? If the government does nothing, is that also doing something.

      The market is essentially driven “underground”.

      More questionable to me, though, is the issue of discrimination. As I keep pointing out, at various sites, there are dozens and dozens of merchants who continue to use paypal and sell new and used copies of Anne Rice’s “Beauty Trilogy”. Rice’s books flatly violate nearly every last stipulation in Paypal’s policies (not to mention Amazon’s) and yet they do nothing. If anything could be grounds for a lawsuit, this is it. It’s obvious to anyone that they don’t want to ban Rice’s book because they would have a real fight on their hands, and I don’t think it would go well for them. It’s much easier to discriminate, to take on third rate booksellers selling third rate authors who nobody cares to defend (even those who read the material). If the ACLU were to become involved, I think it would have to be on these grounds. Having a uniformly applied policy is one thing, but it’s not clear whether corporations have the right to pick and choose who they will serve just because.

    • willcrimson says:

      P.S. I don’t have any standing, Raziel, since I haven’t published anything affected by Paypal, but you do. You could call the ACLU tomorrow and explore a potential lawsuit. The trouble is that you would surely surrender your anonymity, and there’s the rub. If you’re not prepared to give up your anonymity to support your right to publish the kind of stories we all write, then why should anyone else take up our banner? The obvious retort is this: If you’re too ashamed to take credit for your stories, then isn’t it true that you also feel they are somehow inappropriate? If so, then why shouldn’t Paypal also refuse to trade in them? The same goes for Remittance Girl. Who is she? What’s her name? Where does she live? She has a right to be anonymous, but that also begs the question. You understand that I’m playing the devil’s advocate, but these are questions I’ve already thought about and part of the reason I tread very gingerly when it comes to actually ‘publishing’ my stories.

    • Monocle says:

      I agree that the very fact that multiple payment systems all would censor the same way actually makes it harder to claim monopoly. It should also open the door for a system to take advantage of a lucrative market, but it has to be one that’s willing to go to court against obscenity charges, which is the other influence that can and will be brought to bear by the socially conservative-minded.

      I think your point about Rice is well taken. The question is, will PayPal – or any e-commerce group – care if their hypocrisy is pointed out? I think the answer is ‘no’, and I think that there is also no legal way to force a company to stop behaving hypocritically within its own rules.

      I also take your point about anonymity. Those attacks would surely be made, and it’s true – I’m not willing to risk the job that provides my living to pursue the noble course on behalf of freedom of writing and reading. I’ve hobbled myself and have given up some of my righteousness. But it doesn’t mean that’s not the right thing to do.

  8. ximenawrites says:

    I’ve been really sick for the last couple of days. My foggy brain is just beginning to fully realize the seriousness of the situation.

    I still don’t know how to process all of this. The first thought that popped in my head is “This would happen now, when I feel I’m beginning to hit my stride.” Sadly, this ‘taboo’ subgenre of erotica has always had its powerful detractors – namely, church and state – and it will continue to do so, even in the ‘land of the free’ [note the quotations].

    DeSade kept writing even while he was in prison. Artistic expression itself cannot be suppressed – only the freedom to disseminate said expression, be it in visual or in textual form. If I know who De Sade is, then it means that those attempts at suppression did not work. There are always ways around the system.

    We’ve hit our first major speed bump, and the shock and awe reactions are justified. It’s beyond a rousing socio-political argument…some writers’ livelihoods are at stake. After the indignation dies down, then comes the important part – adjusting to these new rules and finding ways around them.

    There are A LOT of brilliant minds in the game with all sorts of interesting day jobs. I have faith that together, we will figure it out.

    • willcrimson says:

      // Sadly, this ‘taboo’ subgenre of erotica has always had its powerful detractors – namely, church and state…//

      Yes, but don’t forget those on the left, like Andrea Dworkin for example. She and her ilk are as determined to stamp out various kinds of erotica as any church.

  9. imaginaryalex says:

    But won’t this ultimately affect paypal financially according to the account option an individual chooses? I mean I’m sure there are authors who chose to pay for specific account types to which paypal censorship will affect their service agreement & therefore ensuring a lawsuit – no? Plus authors/publishers are sometimes charged a transaction fee, again this is according to specifics such as the amount of money received paypal takes a % out of it as its own.
    Thus, this means a lost of income for paypal & NO company makes a decision like this expecting a lost – therefore won’t this indirectly affect their other customers? I mean won’t they raise their service charge in order to generate the same income or even more? The scenario before me is that this not only affects erotic literature (though this specific group is receiving the majority of the blow) but other merchants(example those who sell on etsy, ebay & even amazon) as they would be forced to raise their fees in order to make payments on paypal’s increased fees – to which these same merchants (etsy & whoever else) would subsequently lose returning & future customers. There will be a backlash none-the-less!

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