Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Banks as censors?



This week there has been a lot of publicity about PayPal and Smashwords and the issue of erotica and censorship. The Smashwords platform is built on PayPal both as a way to exchange sale prices and as a way to pay writers their fees.
PayPal gave the company days to remove all items from its library that contained rape, incest or bestiality.
I don’t write or read stories with rape, incest or bestiality themes, but I believe that you should have the right to do so if you wish. It concerns me greatly that the company that we need to sell our books can effectively hold us to ransom. But it seems from Mark Coker’s (head of Smashwords) latest press release, that PayPal itself is being held to ransom.
And by banks and credit card companies, no less.
“I had another call with PayPal this morning.  Our conversation is continuing with them as I seek to achieve a less onerous, more sensible result.
 There's a sliver of hope that I might be able to obtain a more positive, less restrictive outcome than I communicated on Friday,  yet it's unlikely we'll achieve the true result I want (no censorship) in the near term.  Today, PayPal hinted at a more relaxed definition of prohibited content as, according to them [I'm paraphrasing], "books for which rape, bestiality and incest are the major theme.
 If rape, bestiality and incest are incidental plot points, then that content might be allowable."
 This represents a significant clarification in our ongoing attempt to delineate the gray areas and push back the onerous, unfair and restrictive definitions as they now stand.  It's an opening, but it's not the final word from PayPal.  Our friends at PayPal are trying their best to help Smashwords authors and publishers.
 This potential relaxation doesn't solve the broader issue of censorship.  I think if a writer wants to write fiction around the theme of [anything], I think they should be able to write it if it's legal.
 Today's progress, while encouraging, also opens up new gray area.  How does one judge whether the taboo subjects are incidental instances or major themes?  Where does one draw the line?  The PayPal rep and I agreed our discussion will continue, and they assured me our PayPal services will not be cut off as we both work in good faith to advance the discussions.”
[excerpt from press release 28]

I don’t know about you, but I fear a world in which a bank controls censorship.
It’s the same thorny issue as deciding what is art or pornography. And who gets to decide?
Can they then, tell you what you can and can’t spend your money on? Can they block your credit card from being used to purchase certain kinds of items or information? Scary, scary world. Even if it probably would have been good for someone to stop me before I paid for that watermelon maxi-dress, we can’t allow this.
Indie authors are the biggest publishers of erotica.  Already, one retailer/distributor, Bookstrand, has decided to drop all indies from their store.
Bringing attention to this will, I hope force the banks and credit card companies to explain themselves, or to change their policies.
No one tells me what to read or what to write.