Saturday, February 25, 2012

Erotic Censorship and a Home for the Homeless Books

Most of you have probably heard about what's happening with Bookstrand*, ARe*, and Smashwords* (who are likely the first of many to come). They're being bullied and threatened by PayPal to remove "incest, bestiality, rape, and underage erotica" from their lists or their accounts with PayPal will be frozen and their money confiscated (!!). Admittedly, I would never read three of those four subjects, but I have been known to enjoy brotherly love (Lee Brazil's excellent Telling the Truth, for one). I have spent the entire day reading up on this and weeding out fact from fiction.

PayPal is using their market dominance to push distributors (and probably publishers soon - they use PayPal to pay their authors) to censor out material that "could be considered obscene". I ask, who decides what is obscene and what isn't? Is bestiality, rape, incest, and underage erotica obscene? Yes, I'd say so, but this isn't about what's obscene and what isn't. A guy running naked through a park can also be considered obscene, but that's not even an issue here. Neither is Lolita, a classic book about a relationship between a pedophile and a child (tell me if that's going to be pulled off shelves? I think not). This is about censorship.

But it's not only PayPal. In a way I feel sorry for the distributors who have had to react without notice to PayPal's brutal demands. They've had to make snap decisions and there's been no time to find an alternate way of payments, because PayPal basically says "do this or you won't get the money in your accounts". However, the distributors mentioned above are taking things further for various and unnecessary reasons. They're also pulling down titles with "barely legal" content and "pseudo incest". What the hell??
-- Barely legal means 18 and 19 years old. People that age are legally allowed to have sex, so why would anyone restrict that? So far these distributors are only focusing on "barely legal" girls, so I'm safe (because mine are guys), but they're knocking on the door right next to mine and I don't like it. 
-- "Pseudo incest" means sexual relations between (in this case) grown step/foster children and step/foster fathers/mothers or step/foster siblings (this last one is popular). Again, "pseudo incest" isn't illegal - Woody Allen anyone? Besides, if we're going for things that are illegal but still written in books, then how about murder, theft, and plots to distribute a virus? If PayPal believes that writing about incest will encourage incest, then shouldn't writing about murder (like the Dexter books) also encourage murder? That would pull off a whole lot of books and make a mass of people angry.

In short, distributors are pulling off their shelves perfectly "legal" material!

I think it's right to mention here that the only fiction that has ever been judged as illegal is erotic content that depicts children in a sexual manner for titillation. None - and I mean NONE - other illegal content has or can be judged illegal because it's fiction (killing a man in a book can not land you in jail). Why the pedophile fiction? Because when children are involved, it's a whole different ballgame.

Content that "can be considered obscene" is a very broad term. What's next? Well these things are considered obscene by a lot of people: GLBT literature, gay marriage, BDSM, public display of affection between same-sex couples, trinogamy's (mmm), strip clubs, sex in public bathrooms, sex outside of wedlock, prostitution, anal play/sex. Those are just a few examples of many. Those are things I read and write. Do you?

There's a petition running to appeal to Paypal. Please, please sign this if you value freedom of speech, press, and personal choice. Banks and other financial institutions shouldn't dictate what we choose to write and read (or even buy, as long as it's legal). Where do they even come off trying to? It may not affect your genre NOW, but if we let this go, your content might be next. This also affects readers because PayPal is telling them what they can an cannot read (yes, "can" - not "may" - because people will have a harder time getting access to what they want to read).

Although Bookstrand, ARe and Smashwords have - at least for the moment - caved under pressure, others are fighting. No Boundaries Press is working on offering these new homeless books with "questionable" content a home on their sale site. The authors won't have to sign a publishing deal with them. They won't have to drop their current publisher and they won't have to stop self-publishing these specific titles. NBP's just offering a way to sell these books that are under attack and will charge no more sales fee than any of the above distributors. They're very adamant about fighting this censorship and they've found a different way to handle payments. They're not just offering this to authors, but publishers as well (and self-publishers, in case I didn't make that clear). Check out their blog if you're interested and please spread the word if you know someone who's been a victim of this witch hunt.

Lastly, if you're interested in reading more about this subject, I recommend Selena Kitt's blog. It's very thorough but in no way a dry read on the matter. According to her, she'll have to remove said subjects from her store AND any book that contains BDSM (and most of her books do). I haven't heard BDSM content mentioned by anyone else, but she was told she had to when she asked PayPal directly.

Here are more links on this topic:
Two Legs Bad: An Open Letter to Mark Coker (owner of Smashwords) - Mark himself even replied to this one.
Putting the World According to PayPal In Perspective - This is just hilarious. A fun way to learn about what's happening.
Erotica Book Banning Round Up - with more links!
Censorship and Paypal: UnConstitutional and WRONG - Wayne has listed emails to where people can send their complaints to PayPal. I'm quoting a bit from his blog:

"A while back, I spoke on this blog about my frustration and anger with PayPal. The issue at the time was that they unilaterally froze my account because I bought $6 worth of novellas from Astraea Press in aid of a charity drive. I later reviewed these books, only to learn to my chagrin that PayPal had denied the payment and frozen my account.

After this disagreeable incident, I finally decided I’d had quite enough of PayPal and their unreasonably restrictive clauses. After all, no one has the right to view my purchases and tell me which ones are acceptable and which are not. I’m an adult male in the United States of America, and as such I enjoy all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

Or do I?

PayPal doesn’t seem to think so." (Author J.S. Wayne)

* These are links to where you can see the letters from these distributors. Here are the credits: Author Cat Johnson has Bookstrand letter, The Self Publishing Revolution has the All Romance eBooks letter, The Digital Reader has the Smashwords letter.

Header image credit


  1. Hi, Erica! Thanks so much for the shout-out, and for spreading the word about the petition. There are a lot of very angry people on both sides of this debate, and if the traffic on my own blog is any yardstick,the public outcry is only getting louder by the day.
    I sincerely hope you're not one of the authors caught up in the current iteration of this debacle. Right now, our best hope to stop this from getting any more out of hand is to stand together against it.


    J.S. Wayne

    1. I haven't published anything within those "obscene" margins, but I'm not waiting around for it to happen. I want this nipped in the bud before they start demanding more.

    2. I spoke too fast. I just had insider info that they're going after "barely legal" boys now too :/

  2. Thanks so much for your post, Erica! As the proud author of now censored books (I could probably reshelve them differently, or have them considered as a separate case - but I REFUSE) I am appalled at these jackboot tactics in the 21st century. Even more appalling is the number of writers and distributors using this occasion to make their own moral proclamations, refusing to see the very slippery slope they themselves are standing on. It's simple - either you think a PAYMENT VENDOR should decide what you as an adult can read or write (and by extension, think about) or you speak up and shout HELL NO.

    1. *Sigh* Looks like they're going after "barely legal" boys now too. This has turned into one mean witch hunt. I don't planned on being burned so I'll fight back with what I've got. I just hate that the distributors are complying with PayPal's bullying. Yeah, they have no choice, probably, but I hope they find a different way to make payments soon.

  3. Thank you for the link and the support. I'd like to be honest, I'm more of a snob than a prude. I don't object in principle to any of the 'banned' erotic subjects, but I actually like my incest, bestiality and rape to be bedded down in well-written literature.

    Honestly, I wish we were having a fight about literary quality, and not about some element contained in the plot of a story.

    It's sad. Very sad.

    Thanks for writing your post.

    1. Thanks for stopping by :) I very much liked your point about how a fictional subject doesn't lead to real-life action. It was something I already believed, but you provided a great example: Japan with its rape stories and low rape-rate as opposed to Congo. It shows that people are getting their outlet in a safer environment.

  4. It seems to me that Paypal forcing these distributors to do this is a form of blackmail and extortion....Get rid of this "filth" (and I use that term loosely) or you don't get your money? Why do they think they have the right to take it upon themselves, to determine what others can and cannot read? IMO Paypal has a lot or nerve to try and censor anyone. Im not one that cares for the categories that were listed, but be it for me to try and censor anyone from writing or reading what they want. Just goes to show me that I did the right thing 2 years ago when I stopped using Paypal.

    Censorship is wrong in any fashion. But even more so when its a company that has no business even trying to tell others what they can and cannot do.

    1. Yeah, I agree with everything you just said. They have no business butting in and taking up the role of a moral police. Selena Kitt has an interesting theory about this and it has to do with the credit card companies and higher rates they charge for porn content. Apparently erotica is considered pron by a lot of people.

  5. They're definitely walking the slippery slope with "barely legal" because legal is legal. I hear from readers aged 18 to 20 who say they like my stories featuring 19-yr-olds because, guess what, they don't want to read about "old" people like me getting it on! This chilling effect, as its known when these sort of dominoes start to fall, is distressing and perplexing to say the least, and wholly disturbing if not potentially dangerous at the most.

    1. Yes, the "barely legal" is what bothers me the most (though I don't want anything censored, except child erotic fiction). I don't know where they get off deciding to push the age of consent to 20. It's ridiculous. And what's worse is that, for now, the distributors have no choice but to comply until they've found a new way to pay and get paid.

  6. Nice summary of some of the issues and better blogs.

  7. Two comments:

    No Boundaries Press currently has no payment option for customers outside the USA, which is one of the main reasons people use Paypal.

    What everyone seems to overlook currently is that the very same changes ban practically 70-80% of all YA novels, and all of YA romance. Smashwords goes as far as stating that youths may not even think about sex in books they distribute and now even writing "college-YA" doesn't help, because 18 and 19 year old characters also are banned from having sex in a book distributed by Smashwords. Judy Blume, Melvyn Burgess, William Donaghe, JP Barnaby, none of them could publish via any of the sites offering PayPal.

  8. I've not published anything in those areas either. I think this is just the start...It shows that big companies can do whatever they like. If they want to make change make it so that it is specific and more defined. This is just another form to censor the world.So many people use these companies and this is going to stop many in their tracks. Sex will always be a touchy subject.

  9. WTF??? Here in Germany i've read only a very small note about Paypal. And they have only write about Smashwords. Bad enough.

    I had no idea it was so...crazy!

    Thank for this post.

    1. Yeah, it's crazy. I'm about to post a big update to shoot one theory out of the water.