NCAC Rebuts PayPal’s Response to Criticism of Erotica Policy

by Betsy Gomez

In response to complaints from Free Speech organizations around the country — including a protest letter signed by CBLDF — Anuj Nayar, the Director of Communications for PayPal, blogged in defense of PayPal’s erotic content policy. In their blog, the National Coalition Against Censorship, which was one of the original drafters of the letter that CBLDF signed onto, rebutted several of the points Nayar made.

In his blog, Nayar writes:

An important factor in our decision not to allow our payments service to be used to purchase material focused on rape, incest or bestiality is that this category of eBooks often includes images.

This type of content also sometimes intentionally blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. Both these factors are problematic from a legal and risk perspective.

So the business risk associated with this content forms the basis for our policy, which has been in place for many years. Some feedback we’re getting is a belief that PayPal is forcing its moral beliefs on others and restricting people’s right to free speech. We can tell you with 100 percent conviction that this is not our intention. While we understand that people don’t always agree with our policies, this decision has nothing to do with our personal views on the content or any desire to limit free-speech rights. It has everything to do with running a sound business and complying with our legal responsibilities.

In their blog, NCAC argues against several of these points. In response to Nayar’s comment on images, they write the following:

Finally, there’s the comment that “this category of eBooks often includes images.”  The largest eBook distributor, Smashwords, says its erotica do not contain images.  But if images were the problem, why not direct the policy to them?  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting that would be any more acceptable than targeting textual material.  Images are also protected expression, and, like erotic books, erotic art has existed throughout history and is a respectable and respected subject for artistic exploration.

In refuting Nayar’s statement regarding legality, which seems to imply that PayPal is concerned in part about illegal content, NCAC writes the following:

It already holds users “independently responsible for complying with all applicable laws in all of your actions related to your use of PayPal’s services, regardless of the purpose of the use.”  IF PayPal were ever charged with processing a payment for something illegal, they would surely deny responsibility and say that the buyers and sellers are solely responsible.Besides, we’re not talking about illegal content.

With regard to Nayar’s statement regarding the blurred line between fiction and non-fiction, NCAC responds with the following:

Then there’s this peculiar statement: “This type of content also sometimes intentionally blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction.”  So what?  Why would non-fiction be more objectionable than fiction? Besides, how can they possibly divine the author’s intent?

In his blog, Nayar states, “PayPal is a strong and consistent supporter of openness on the Internet, freedom of expression, independent publishing and eBook marketplaces.” In closing their blog, NCAC precisely defines what is so problematic with this statement:

Most telling is PayPal’s refusal to address the real problem – which is that the policy, no matter what its basis or motivation, has the effect of shutting down sales of legally-protected expression.

All the protestations about the commitment to free expression ring hollow in the face of its actions.

You can read PayPal’s response to the protest over their erotic content policy here. Read NCAC’s rebuttal of PayPal here.

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Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF.