Maybe it’s because the winter has been so mild with no storms to make the news. Maybe it’s because the stars are out of alignment. Or maybe it’s because books are pushing the boundaries. I don’t know. But he end of last week, Paypal decided they weren’t going to allow payment for certain types of erotica. This affected all publishers using this method of payment including Bookstrand, All Romance Ebooks and Smashwords.

There are many authors/readers up in arms about this mandate. The interesting thing is that Paypal decided they were coming down on stories involving incest, rape as titillation, under-aged sex and besteality. Now I write erotic romance and the publishers that have accepted my books already had these stipulations. I wouldn’t want to write books with any of those topics anyway. So even though I got notification from two of the publishers above because I have self-pubbed with them, their notification didn’t affect me personally.

And though this stance is probably unpopular with authors who write erotica and erotic romance, I didn’t see a problem with Paypal’s decision. I’m not sure it’s the beginning of censorship as some have suggested. I don’t feel censored by Ellora’s Cave or Liquid Silver Books. I don’t think their readers feel they are restricting their desire to read stories with explicit sexual content. They haven’t widened the net to include things that some readers find objectionable, like anal and oral sex or multiple and same-sex partners or BDSM themes. But they have remained firm on certain sexual acts. I don’t think Paypal is going to widen their restrictions either.

And I don’t feel censored as a reader or an author. I think Paypal as a business has the right to make restrictions on the use of their services. I’ve listened to arguments on both sides and I just don’t see this as the huge out-of-control fire that some see beginning to burn. Dear Author did a nice job covering all sides of this controversy so I won’t rehash the facts as they’ve listed them. This could come back and bite me in the butt, but I don’t see this as a problem. But I’m still gathering information and reserve the right to change my mind.

What about you? How are you feeling about Paypal’s recent decisions?

Addendum (2/28 4:00 pm): I really appreciate everyone who has stopped by. Many of you have taken time to share heartfelt insights. I must admit, my view of this situation was narrow and based only on my personal experiences (despite reading blogs and listening to many of my writer friends discuss the topic). It is times like this when I realize as much of life as I’ve experienced, it is still possible to learn more through the experiences of others. I really didn’t see Paypal’s decision as mushrooming, but through your insightful comments, I certainly am looking at this situation differently. Thank you again for taking time to share your feelings and continue to educate me on the repercussions of Paypals policy change. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the days to come.

31 Responses to Censorship or Free Trade?

  • In a simple word. Livid.

    I don’t like reading books on incest, bestiality, underage sex, or rape.

    I don’t feel it is the responsibility of a BANK to determine what is appropriate for a publisher to publish.

    The concerns that I have from the letters posted from Paypal to the publishers are that they are including items which are rather gray and fuzzy. Like NEAR under age (18-19). Those are legal ages, young, but legal.

    They have also determined incest to be beyond the legal definition to include steps. There are many traditional romances that have used the step theme and were wildly popular. The older step-brother and younger step-sister. The parents married when the kids were much older and died in a plane crash – yadda yadda. Harlequin/Silhouette authors used that theme in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s and they left the door open with some steamy scenes. So it’s ok for traditional, but when it gets to be steamier, it is evil and shouldn’t be published.

    I believe if there is a problem with these books let the reader determine it or the publisher. If the books don’t sell or the publisher doesn’t feel they are appropriate for their line, don’t buy them.

    Having the BANK determine what we can write is a very slippery slope. Once we give into this demand once, they will be able to make more demands later on as they feel necessary and there won’t be any stopping it.

    I can’t remember which publisher it was, but one clearly stated the rules were for erotica only. It was ok to include these items in traditional fiction and it would go through. This also makes it not only an issue of censorship, but discrimination against a genre.

    I was little during bussing and segregation, but I remember it well and I have to say this feels like a virtual form of it, only in reverse.

    • Donna – There are many like you who think this is only the beginning of more decision to regulate purchases. I’m not sure there’s not going to be some backlash that will keep them from doing that. But I guess only time will tell.

  • It didn’t bother me because I didn’t feel it affected me. I don’t write books with insect, rape or under-aged sex.

    I understand where some my feel they’re being censored and in the US it’s been our freedom to NOT be censored. Things are changing daily though.

    It’s a shame that they have to target erotic romance, but it changes nothing for me.

    • Amber – I think they feared selling pornography rather than romance. In some cases I do think the stories flirt on that line.

      • There is no way to flirt that line. Pornography is visual.

        • Oh, I don’t know Stephanie, I’ve read snippets of shorts that were nothing but sex scenes with no plot or characterization … that’s pornography in my book. But that’s a whole other can of worms I don’t really want to open.

          (Edited to respond to comment below: I wasn’t really trying to redefine the legal term of pornography, just looking at the accepted dictionary definition “obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, especially those having little or no artistic merit.” But I do appreciate your blog post, thank you for including a link.)

          • Well, you’re a writer. I can’t stop you from redefining terms. However, that is not the understood definition of pornography 😉

          • What does it matter if it is pornography?! Pornography is legal in this country above the age of 18. And ironically enough though so many holier than thou, hypocritical people talk badly about pornography it’s one of the biggest money making business. Most people just don’t want to publically admit to it. Personally, I find strip clubs offensive. And once, not too many years the general public would lock someone in a mental institution for being gay. Sorry, we need to learn from history and not repeat it.

  • I should spell check too…LOL I meant incest.

  • Yes, I’m livid and I don’t write steamy erotica, don’t read it, don’t particularly like it on the same site with my books – HOWEVER – never in history, to my knowledge, did any book have the negative impact on society that the censorship used to suppress it did. Never. Read your history books, folks. PayPal may have the moral force of certain segments behind them. Well, so did people and institutions responsible for lynching citizens of our country, making them sit in the back of the bus, firebombing churches, murdering freedom workers, and running Senate hearings that ruined the careers, reputations, income and professions of people guilty of nothing more than speaking their minds. Which is a First Amendment right. I’m old enough to remember those things and this is very, very dangerous IMO. If you think it can never affect you because you don’t write something which is found objectionable, think about little spambots crawling through a site finding the word “Daddy” in one of your book titles and forcing the takedown of a book which was a memoir. Or becoming an Amazon associate one day only to have your status irrevocably rescinded the next because they objected to your shapeshifter book covers (which were not objectionable–I’ve seen them). These two things have already happened to authors I know. Get ready. It could be a rough ride.

    • Miriam – I hadn’t heard of people having their books pulled from Amazon due to book covers or titles. I’m sure this is difficult for the authors concerned especially if their books have nothing to do with the genres being pulled. I can only hope this doesn’t become the conflagration that many fear. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing.

  • It doesn’t affect my work. I’m not a fan of censorship, however, the increase in flat out pornography on romance sites has encouraged me to pull my own books from those sites. Frankly, I think the sites should police themselves. The new barely-legal daddy-rotica and step-daddy-rotica and cousin-rotica disgusts me. And I won’t apologize for my feelings.
    We’re not talking about literature like Lolita. We’re talking about poorly written titillation, pure and simple.
    I watched the bestseller lists on these sites for months, shaking my head, wondering when we’d see a backlash and now we are.
    My fear is that all of us will suffer.

    • Julia – I agree. I think the sites not policing themselves and the content for sale was what began this whole situation. There are some writers who are definitely pushing the boundaries of erotica and forgetting that plot and characters play a role in true story-telling, not just titillation.

      • But whoese boundaries?! Certainly not the writers of these books not the readers who wish to purchase them. No one has the right to tell me what is acceptable to me….your values and your boundaries are not mine and mine are not yours. Would you still feel this way if say, hmmm….. let me think…. how about this…. Paypal decided that because some of their top brass are atheists that the companies they handle money for can no longer sell religious books?Or Gay and lesbian material? This type of moral censorship is endless in it’s scope once it’s accepted. They have already told some authors that they cannot sell their BDSM stories, likening them to rape. When any idiot knows that the motto of the BDSM community is “Safe, Sane and Consensual”.

  • I do not write or read any of the material covered (at this point) by the policies in question. That does not matter to me. And it should not matter to me. There are a great many ideas that I would condemn that I would never suppress.

    Paypal may have a right to do this (arguments can be made about their uniquely monopolistic position within the industry, but ultimately they are not a government actor). However, just because it is their right to do something, doesn’t make their behavior ok.

    This is a content-based discrimination against literature. And make no mistake, the casual blurring of lines between visual pornography and the written word is dangerous to all writers.

    The line between graphic depictions of sex and what writers put down on a page has been the bright line rule. The reason for this is that one can make an argument that the production of visual depictions of taboo acts can be exploitive to the actual people who make them. No such argument can be made for literary endeavors of any kind.

    Worse, many of the acts writers cannot write about without falling afoul of these policies are perfectly legal in every state in the country. (Or,conversely, impossible in the real world.)

    Censorship is not always illegal and it’s not always wrong. For example, we censor people from falsely crying fire in a crowded theatre because it could endanger people’s lives. But let’s not pretend that this is not censorship.

    It is absolutely censorship. It is absolutely relevant to the profession you engage in. And as an example that many of us look up to in the romance community, I hope you change your mind.

  • I don’t write erotic romance so this doesn’t affect me personally. But I feel it affects every writer and every citizen. We let a group get away with censorship of one type book and before you know it there will be widespreade censorship of any subject some groups find abhorrent or that just make them uncomfortable. This whole Pay Pal thing angers and scares me. I’d heard that credit card companies don’t want to take payments for some erotica because there’s a high rate of returns. However, credit card companies take payments for people to go onto porn sites. Is it some large morality group behind this? I find that hard to believe because they haven’t tackled the porn sites. Maybe they feel we authors are a softer target. I think we authors, all of us, need to fight this or it will only grow stronger and eventually any of us who write romance that contains love scenes will find our books censored. Amazing though that there are loads of really violent books and no one is saying they won’t take payment for them. Sex is a no-no, but torture and kill people and that’s okay.

  • PayPal has widened the scope–they told author Selena Kitt that BDSM was also unacceptable. This is different than what they told Smashwords, and it illustrates the fact that their guidelines are vague and could change at anytime. In fact, in 2004 they terminated the account of online bookstore Cleansheets for selling “vanilla” erotica. There is no guarantee that ANY type of erotica is safe from PayPal’s misguided puritanical crusade.

  • I believe whole hardly that a company has no right to tell someone, who is over the age of consent what they can or cannot purchase when what they are trying to purchase is nothing illegal.They also have no right to tell another company what they can or cannot sell. We, as suppossedly free American citizens have the right to decide for ourselves what is or is not appropriate. Wether or not someone is being affected personally right now doesn’t matter…. once that precendent has been set then what’s to sop them from continuing to add to their list of “inappropriate” material. the potential is endless if they are allowed to violate our right like this.

  • Nina,

    Many have noted there was an author who was told that BDSM was not going to be allowed any longer. I read that author’s blog earlier in the week and had to find it. Here is the link to Selena Kitt’s blog.

    It has letters and conversations with editors. All were very disturbing, but well worth the read, if you dare. It’s scary.

    • Donna – After Selena was mentioned in a previous comment, I did search out her blog to check it out. Thank you for including the link. It is definitely worth the read.

  • Paypal is a business that can do as they please. If publishers/authors don’t agree, don’t utilize their services. We’ve gotten so hung up on the convenience of Paypal that we forget it’s JUST A SERVICE. Write checks. Use credit cards. Buy what you want those ways.
    Maybe another bank service like Paypal will emerge because of this?

    • Marianne – I’m thinking that may be the case. Paypal definitely has developed quite a business. I can’t imagine another company wouldn’t want a piece of that pie.

  • This whole Paypal issue has really angered me but at the same time makes me scared for the future of our personal freedom. History is filled with such incidents of censorship of the arts. It has occurred several times over the centuries in music, it’s has repeatedly happened to visual artists, painters and sculptures, and it certainly has happened several times over the course of literary history. Or does no one remember book banning or book burnings from your history books?

    The overwhelming concern should not be if this type of erotica genre appeals to you personally. It should be the fact that today a company is trying to tell adults that are of legal age what they can or can not buy online using their own hard earned money. They may not be directly telling consumers “You can’t purchase that kind of item” when the customer presses the pay now button but because Paypal is pressuring and in some cases outright threatening the small publishing houses,third party seller or the individual self publisher they are limiting the consumers choices as to where they can purchase that type of material.

    Yes, Paypal is a business and has every right to choose their policies and take care of violators but if we as Americans let this slip by by saying things like “Their policies have nothing to do me” “I don’t that type of material” or “I don’t read those kinds of stories”, it lays the ground work for other business to expand upon these so called “Policies” because in their logic Paypal got away with it so lets see how far we can push the envelope. Then it will only take so long before the politicians get on the bandwagon and try pushing little censorship issues here and there because unfortunately there are no completely honest politicians in Washington anymore because of all the lobbyists who have their own agendas and put pressure on the lawmakers & politicians.

    Where do you draw the line before you feel it will affect you? Everyone has different moral beliefs and what one person “knows” is wrong is not what another person “knows” is wrong. Companies and politicians need to stay out of our giving right to freedom of speech and the freedom to choose what we feel is right for us as individuals.

    I’m not trying to sound like a alarmist and I’m sorry for such a long rant but in this day and age and all the hardships our predecessors had to endure to get us to this point where we enjoy our freedom and don’t even think twice when little things like this happen because we don’t remember or never experienced how quickly these kind of issues get out of control.

    • Gail, I so agree with you. I write historicals. My parents and grandparents lived historicals. My grandparents left Russian literally running for their lives. I can still remember my mother, even years after World War II, receiving notification of confirmed deaths of relatives during the Holocaust. I remember how it affected her. I do not take any of our freedoms lightly and I am not complacent about losing them. They don’t ring a BELL to tell you when this stuff is happening! No, it’s like water on a rock–drip by drip, slowly, relentlessly, silently wearing away that rock while people say, “Water? What water? I don’t see any water,” or, “Well, that water has the right to do that,” or even, “I’m too far away from the water to care; that has nothing to do with me.” It has EVERYTHING to do with you unless you’re happy being drowned by the river that water has become. Make no mistake, even if it is not intended that way, this de factor censorship is a direct assault on our freedom, undermining our most precious liberties by using our own laws to do it. It’s diabolically clever if it’s intentional, disastrously naive if it is not. When you have big business in bed with government, corporations pulling the strings and the law supporting it, that’s so close to Fascism it makes my skin crawl. I would not go gentle into that good night if I were you.

  • Some more recent historical examples of what “society” found accetable that this discussion is bringing to mind…

    Non whites being treated differently…..

    Men legally being able to beat their wives and children……

    Women not being allowed certain jobs…

    Women being paid less money for the same jobs….

    Gay people being tortured in institutions….

    Gay and transgendered people having exorcisms being forcibly performed on them… (sadly this is still being done)..

    …and a few less extreme things that I have personally experienced in my lifetime that “society” frowned upon and are now part of mainstream culture….

    Ear piercing for women….

    Tatoos…… for men or women….

    Motorcycle riding…

    Men having long hair….

    and some of the things that are slowly becoming more acceptable to society but still frowned upon and discriminated against by many…..

    Tattoos… body piercings…clothing choices (ie:goth,emo, etc.etc.)…and reading materials.

    I live in what is actually a conservative area and even our local libraries have “Read a Banned Book” month every year to enocurage people to stand up against censorship. And you know it’s shocking when you really look into banned books some of them on that list…heck Tom Sawyer is on it!

    We tell our children not to give in to peer pressure and yet we sit back and accept “society” telling what is and is not acceptable all the time. Is that not exactly giving into peer pressure? I for one think so. ~sigh~

  • I’m actually okay with this on the principle that if you’ve done your job as an author, you’ve developed your audience, then your readers will find you wherever you are. You’ll still get paid.

    A few years back Amazon did the same thing with tagging and removal of the tags for GLBT books. A LOT of GLBT authors were up in arms and I asked them, is this about GLBT rights or money? What they said made it sound like GLBT rights, what I heard was “money.”

    Is this truly about censorship? I think it’s more about moral behavior and defining what’s acceptable than telling me I can’t say F@#$ y@# in a book where my hero @##@$ the heroine. Twice.

    Out of all the folks complaining, are they telling their friends and ACTIVELY boycotting with their dollars? Or is this just more rhetoric?

  • Sascha,

    I am canceling my Papal and encouraging friends and family to do so as well. This article in the Huffington Post is good, but the comments are incredibly informative. I took the time to read through the pages of them and there were many valid points and a lot more information I wasn’t aware of. Many people have canceled their paypal accounts and are encouraging others to do so. It seems it is not about the money, but about the censorship with a lot more people, as many of the people who are angry do not write erotica or this type of erotica.

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