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article imageOp-Ed: Unexpected payoff — PayPal reverses policy on erotica content

By Paul Wallis     Mar 13, 2012 in Entertainment
Sydney - When it was revealed that PayPal had informed e-book publisher Smashwords that it might withdraw services to Smashwords on the basis of erotic content, there was a howl around the world. The problem's been solved much more productively than expected.
As a Smashwords author, I'd been informed about the problem, but I definitely wasn't expecting this. I received an email from the publisher regarding the solution. After thanking supporters, Smashwords CEO Mark Coker informed Smashwords authors:
I would like to thank our friends at PayPal. They worked with us in good faith as they promised, engaged us in dialogue, made the effort to understand Smashwords and our mission, went to bat for our authors with the credit card companies and banks, and showed the courage to revise their policies.
This is a big, bold move by PayPal. It represents a watershed decision that protects the rights of writers to write, publish and distribute legal fiction. It also protects the rights of readers to purchase and enjoy all fiction in the privacy of their own imagination. It clarifies and rationalizes the role of financial services providers and pulls them out of the business of censoring legal fiction.
A major achievement, and one with some huge benefits for just about everyone. PayPal have made a groundbreaking, important step in guaranteeing the future rights of all media to free expression. This will be a good working precedent for future solutions of censorship policy issues, and a model for taking practical measures to manage these very difficult, controversial issues.
There’s another side to the debate which needs mentioning to fully appreciate the practical side of the PayPal decision- PayPal has also got the credit card and finance companies out of a deep hole they were unintentionally digging for themselves-
While the original intention of the policy was to remove sleaze from the market, the practical result could have been almost literally “a lawsuit per book”. Huge amounts of material are published every day, and it’s improbable that PayPal or anyone else would have the resources to manage this situation.
It’s extremely unlikely that the policy would have had any effect on the hardcore porn industry. History shows that it simply avoids and goes around legal obstacles, and that censorship actually helps it in some ways, like being able to charge customers more. The policy could have contributed to financing the sleaze.
The credit card companies would have had a very hard time explaining to a court their policies regarding other types of material on the market on a case by case basis.
At the cash register, the problems are even more difficult. How do you verify content? Can you trust retailers and points of sale to tell you what they’re selling, if they’re likely to get in trouble? Sale descriptions of materials could have been “tweaked” on invoices, anyway. If you buy something called Mary Had A Little Lamb, it could be anything from a nursery rhyme book to a recipe book and a lot more. A book called Hyper Dimensional Recalibrated Quantum Physics doesn’t have to be about physics, either, if you happen to know it contains something else.
Meanwhile- The net already has a solution. Nobody’s arguing much about the issue of “compulsory porn” online. It’s boring, it’s irritating, and it’s also almost unavoidable. Google and others have policies regarding offensive material reporting which could easily and very appropriately be translated into working principles for publishers, who can hit the truly offensive stuff where it hurts. There’s nothing more effective than “We’re not going to publish that” as a deterrent to media production people.
Let’s get practical-
1. Make the point that the world has enough hideous crap, (Thanks so much, guys, you’re a big help- the world needs more ugliness?) to the sleazebags, and that more crap is optional.
2. Clarify the point that publishers have the built-in right to pull the plug on any materials. (Even “Out of print” could finally have a practical use in retiring ancient garbage, not just good books.)
3. Use the PayPal/Smashwords framework as a perspective for solving the specific issues between services and media publishers. This is the level of objectivity content issues need.
PayPal has done the world a favor with this decision. This really does straighten out an extremely difficult situation for both media producers and their related services. Let’s hope the next time censorship comes up as an issue, someone remembers how this problem was fixed.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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