CBLDF Joins Free Speech Groups In Protesting PayPal Censorship

March 8, 2012
By

by Betsy Gomez

Last week, we reported on PayPal’s new policy regarding erotic content and their requirement that e-book publishers remove certain types of content — incest, pseudo-incest, rape fantasies, bestiality (including non-human fantasy characters) — or face deactivation of their accounts. In response, the American Book Sellers Foundation for Free Expression and the National Coalition Against Censorship sent PayPal a letter decrying the policy.

The list of organizations signing on to ABFFE and NCAC’s letter is growing, and CBLDF has joined the coalition against PayPal’s erotic content policy. The text of the letter CBLDF signed follows:

Tell PayPal: Don’t Censor Books

PayPal, which plays a dominant role in processing online sales, has taken full advantage of the vast and open nature of the Internet for commercial purposes, but is now holding free speech hostage by clamping down on sales of certain types of erotica.  As organizations and individuals concerned with intellectual and artistic freedom and a free Internet, we strongly object to PayPal functioning as an enforcer of public morality and inhibiting the right to buy and sell constitutionally protected material.

Recently, PayPal gave online publishers and booksellers, including BookStrand.com, Smashwords, and eXcessica, an ultimatum: it would close their accounts and refuse to process all payments unless they removed erotic books containing descriptions of rape, incest, and bestiality. The result would severely restrict the public’s access to a wide range of legal material, could drive some companies out of business and deprive some authors of their livelihood.

Financial services providers should be neutral when it comes to lawful online speech.  PayPal’s policy underscores how vulnerable such speech can be and how important it is to stand up and protect it.

The topics PayPal would ban have been depicted in world literature since Sophocles’ Oedipus and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. And while the books currently affected may not appear to be in the same league, many works ultimately recognized for their literary, historical, and artistic worth were reviled when first published.  Books like Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were banned as “obscene” in the United States because of their sexual content.  The works of Marquis de Sade, which include descriptions of incest, torture, and rape, were considered scandalous when written, although his importance in the history of literature and political and social philosophy is now widely acknowledged.

The Internet has become an international public commons, like an enormous town square, where ideas can be freely aired, exchanged, and criticized.  That will change if private companies, which are under no legal obligation to respect free speech rights, are able to use their economic clout to dictate what people should read, write, and think.

PayPal, and the myriad other payment processors that support essential links in the free speech chain between authors and audiences, should not operate as morality police.

Signed by:

Access
ACLU of California
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
Association of American Publishers
Authors Guild
BannedWriters.com
Bytes for All, Pakistan
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Coming Together, charity publisher
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Feminists for Free Expression
Fight for the Future
Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association
Index on Censorship
Internet Archive
National Coalition Against Censorship
Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
Peacefire
PEN American Center
Southern California Independent Booksellers Association
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance

For more on the issue, visit ABFFE, EFF, Publishers Weekly, or view our coverage here and here. We’ll keep you posted with updates as the situation develops.

Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work and reporting on issues like this by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!

Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF.