Is PayPal Censoring eBooks?

Suppose for a moment that, instead of a sparkly vampire, a werewolf made love to a human female, in detail and in werewolf form. If you chose to write that scene for your book, you might not be able to use PayPal to collect sales money for it online because it could be considered “bestiality.” If the means with which you are able to collect money for book sales abruptly dictates what you can and can’t write, we’re really talking about censorship.

Sound ridiculous? It’s happening right now over at the site that hosts my ebooks, Smashwords.com. As a huge publisher of Indie books that anyone can use to sell their written work online, PayPal has issued an ultimatum for them to remove certain titles or lose their ability to collect payments through their services:

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.

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).

From a business standpoint, the fear seems to be that anyone who doesn’t like what a credit or debit card service can be used to buy will threaten to stop using their services if that company permits the sale. Really? In America, this is considered a fundamental freedom, to buy whatever you like with the money you earn.

This would be the equivalent of the US government making it a crime to use US currency to purchase Playboy, ruining a legitimate business by making it too risky for the average consumer to engage in. What’s next that you can’t buy because someone else decides “it’s bad for you?” R-rated movies? Red meat? Beverages containing caffeine?

If you have a PayPal account, let them know that you want to be able to buy whatever you like using their service. If they refer you to the four major credit card groups of Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover, then let them know it’s okay to allow payments for these kinds of things. E-commerce is doing too well online these days to start burning books virtually. Don’t let that happen.

From Smashwords:

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

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