In an email to Smashwords
authors, Mark Coker, CEO of the publisher, advises:
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).
Smashwords has informed its erotica authors of the issues
As you might have gathered, the situation is a bit bigger than that. Most people weren’t aware that the banks and credit card associations were moral guardians of the public. Given that these organizations have done so much to make the world so much sleazier and so much more miserable in recent years, it may even surprise some people that these organizations were paying attention to worldly things of this type.
The censorship issue is a lot more complex than it looks. The difference between erotica and making money out of what are essentially ways of glorifying criminal behaviours is obvious, but global media is money driven, not morality driven. That fact always goes under the radar.
Modern media is also a money laundering exercise on a colossal scale. Organized crime is closely associated with mainstream and fringe media in many different ways. A film budget, for example, is a great way of hiding millions of dollars. Nobody asks where it came from, and nobody really expects to find out where it went.
So the banks and credit card companies may in fact be trying to do something useful by strategically cracking down on suspect materials. That analogy doesn’t hold up too well in terms of a publisher like Smashwords, however, in practical terms.
The story is this- PayPal, like any business, is within its rights to withdraw services to any customer for any reason. While it’s debatable whether Smashwords is any sort of major offender in terms of materials, the commercial principle isn’t in dispute.
Smashwords is within its rights to protect its own commercial interests, and may also have Constitutional rights regarding some materials. Then there’s the matter of factual information. For instance- Is a history of Kosovo, including the mass rapes, porn or history? You could argue that history is the world’s most common source of porn and tales of depictions of crime.
Unimpressive as it may be, there’s another side to this, and as an author, I have to say, it’s relevant- Sleaze is a major driver in all media, and there’s quite enough of it in this world without adding to it. I don’t believe in censorship for one particular reason- It seems to me that the most perverted people are the ones who are the most morally brainwashed, particularly in the strictly religious/extremist forms. As far as I can tell, if they hadn’t been raised to be sexually ignorant and misanthropic, they’d be totally different people.
That said, the plague of child porn and utterly gratuitous “wanker media”, which literally involves entire warehouses full of nothing but various types of porn and the internet equivalents, including the notorious Facebook “rape pages” seem to be pretty immune to the financial heavying. It’d be nice to see a bit of consistency in the policy.
Is Facebook at risk of losing its bank accounts because of the rape pages?
Is Lolita’s publisher about to be excommunicated?
Should publishers of the Bible remove the bit about Lot’s daughters?
Are gangsta rappers under any sort of onus to clean up their lyrics? (If it cost them a cent, all the little gang banger ho-hos would be singing Barry Manilow in seconds.)
There’s a writer in Florida who reported, among other things, on a factual case of a guy having sex with an alligator in a trailer, for which the guy was charged. Is the author guilty of any sort of offense for simply reporting the facts?
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.
Fair point. The sleazy media and endless porn also have another aspect, though- They’re nothing to do with art, literature, theatre or anything else. They’re money makers. They’d be no great loss to the world if they were shut down, however it’s done. As a writer, I say they can go to hell with my total support. They’re purely commercial crap, not art.
But if the banks or anyone else want this to work, they must establish clear guidelines, and a straightforward rule book. If you want to get the actual producers of art, film and literature onside, tell someone.
I don’t have a problem with PayPal’s position, or that of Smashwords. I deliberately don’t put any sex scenes in my books. That’s partly because so many people seem to write (and read) books purely for the sex scenes, partly because I know how lousy a badly written sex scene can be, and largely because I despise that staggeringly dull, unimaginative garbage.
Other people, however, will have a problem with this, on multiple levels. Just for a change, can a censorship-related issue be discussed rationally?