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PayPal Wants To Decide What We Read & Write

stop censorshipPayPal’s at it again. In January 2010 they stopped donations to WikiLeaks on the grounds that the site was used for illegal activities. I didn’t like it but I could (sort of) understand their rationale.

But now PayPal is attempting to force Smashwords, the  popular site that helps authors and small publishers compile ebooks, to remove books containing  “…themes of bestiality, rape and incest.”  According to the email from Smashwords, PayPal claims that they are being “…compelled to do this to remain compliant with the rules of the banks and credit card companies.”

A quick search for the call-for-censorship terms at Amazon, BN and Powels reveals books in all three categories at all three sites. Since all three sites accept the usual variety of credit cards I’m guessing either PayPal is acting on its own, or the credit card companies are testing to see what happens when they try to decide what folks should read, and by implication, write.


No matter how its happening, it worries me. Censorship seems to be part of the push toward conservative thinking that often accompanies any economic downturn. Somehow sex and erotica are favorite targets of those who would tell me how to live, what to read and what to write.

It’s wrong.

It’s wrong because here in the United States we have the right to express our ideas no matter what they are. In a market driven economy where sex sells everything from cars to baby food, restricting the sale of certain topics is in fact censorship, and it’s censorship without due process. It’s arbitrary and it means PayPal and/or the credit card companies can decide they don’t like books about cats or dogs or anything that criticizes the government in any fashion.

When, as it appears in this case, such a move is led by at least one corporation it smacks of oligarchy.

I’m not alone in these concerns.


The Electronic Freedom Foundation has a blistering post called Legal Censorship: PayPal Makes a Habit of Deciding What Users Can Read. The National Coalition Against Censorship posted NCAC, ABFFE Protest PayPal Ban on Erotic Material.

So what can we do?

We can sign the petition at Change.org. You can follow what’s happening by joining Smashwords and getting their newsletter.  You can also get a free newsletter from EFF.org that will help you track this and other issues. We can also stay alert to any challenge to our personal freedoms and protest them as best we can.

How will you work to stop censorship?

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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by IsaacMao

{ 25 comments… add one }
  • Rob Gustave

    It is a slippery slope to fascism once censorship begins; the Supreme Court will not bow down to this.

  • Ken

    Isn’t it governments that censor, not businesses? Can’t a company make a business decision however they want and then live with the consequences? Paypal can’t keep a person from writing whatever they want. All they can do is refuse to be part of the business transaction.

    I know there’s a fine line there, but I don’t believe any company has to be compelled to engage or not engage in transactions, unless they are illegal transactions. Then, of course, they can be compelled.

    Isn’t this similar to the sign we’ve often seen in businesses: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”?

    • Ken, I don’t believe that censorship is limited to governments.

      When a company like PayPal, a corporation, is a major player in online payments their decision not to support writing of a certain type is a kind of censorship. Sure they have the right to do it. I’d argue that monopolies don’t have that right – the question becomes is PayPal enough of a mono ply or not. Here in this country we have options with a variety of credit cards – PayPal is the only online solution for many not in the US.

      Remember the right to refuse anyone used to exclude black people from lunch counters here.

      All of which and more is why I signed the petition… knowing full well some would not agree with me.

      • Sure PayPal has its own point, can’t deny on that. But the BIG question here is, are they not censorable? Of course, they are. It just goes to show the conservative mindset of a few mindless groups of people, who are more into restrictions, rather than liberalizations.
        Ron’s Copy-e-writing Blog recently posted..Black Hat SEO Still Works with GoogleMy Profile

        • And although it’s not totally official yet, it looks like PayPal has backed down on this one. If that’s true it does mean that, at least for a moment, these online petitions are giving regular folks a voice.

          BTW I don’t think anyone was proposing new regs on this one.

  • I signed onto pay pal like many writers for the convenience of doing business, however, I am also for freedoms of speech that’s not racially motivated, dehumanizing, or hate-filled rhetoric-

    As a member of Change.Org, I will also keep abreast of and do my part to keep this sort of censorship at bay.
    Clara Freeman recently posted..Social Media Mania!My Profile

  • Thanks for the heads-up on this Anne. My philosophy is ‘If ya don’t like it, don’t read it’… or watch it, or listen to it, or play it, etc. I don’t understand why so many people make it their business to try to regulate what kind of entertainment others enjoy. I’ll be signin’ the petition. And by the way, Paypal sucks on a number of other counts as well…

    • lol Greg, I’ve never understood why folks want to regulate me or you either. Who has the time? But some do, as we well know. PayPal isn’t always great, but they do provide a good online payment system that hasn’t had much of a challenge so far. Why don’t you like them? You have a whole different perspective from Japan I would guess.

  • Valerie Bolden-Barrett

    Thanks for this, Anne. I signed the petition. Censorship has no place in a democracy. If PayPal is still owned by eBay, that might explain its censorship policy — as it maintains a monopoly on online payment systems.

    • I’ve lost track of who owns who, but PayPal does have some sort of relationships with the credit card companies… it’s all so tangled.

  • I saw this a while ago; it’s pretty ridiculous. But what can you expect of a company that acts as a bank, yet isn’t regulated like one? I find that much more worrisome right now. They are no stranger to arbitrary decision-making. Unfortunately, a lot of freelancers depend on PayPal to get paid. There has to be a better way.
    Elizabeth West recently posted..New Blog and the Saga of the Garage Sale LeftoversMy Profile

    • Based on what’s happened in this country with banks I don’t know that regulation is the answer either. What worries you the most about them?

      • That’s true, Anne, re banks. 😛 However, federal banking regulations give consumers some protection when banks act like jerks. PayPal isn’t a bank, so it’s not subject to those. Also, the very fact that they even though they could do this is a problem. Go to Consumerist.com and search for PayPal; there are lots of posts.

        So far, I’ve had no problems with them. If they continue to work as well as this, then great. I don’t have a merchant account, and I’m a little leery about it if I publish an e-book. But I take money out as soon as I get it and I’ve linked a bank account that is not my primary account, just in case. And I stay FAR away from eBay.
        Elizabeth West recently posted..Vocabulary: M M GoodMy Profile

        • Actually I prefer credit unions which also offer protection… I use paypal because banks and credit unions can’t do what they do, but I don’t leave much money there.

  • Sorry, Anne, but I’m one to live and let live. I will write what I want, and PayPal can do business as it wants. Just as we don’t want PayPal dictating what we write (which they don’t, we can use other means for payment), I don’t want to dictate to PayPal how to do business. In free enterprise you operate as you deem necessary, and the public decides where to take its business. Don’t blame PayPal. Blame Smashwords for caving. They have many other ways to manage payment – they just don’t want to pay for it. That is a conscious decision.

    • Hope, of course you’re right. PayPal has the right to do what they do – so does Smashwords. And I also, as I know you know, have the right to protest those actions and to sign petitions.

      Glad to see you here.

  • I completely agree, Anne. Censorship of any kind makes me twitchy.

    Just from a parenting perspective, I have to say that I was amazed at what many parents would let their kids play on video games (killing, war games, crime sprees) but would buy CDs that censored out the cuss words! It’s a very slippery slope, indeed.
    Anne Woodman recently posted..On Trend: iPad 3, Sauconys and Members Only JacketsMy Profile

    • Great point Anne – violence is okay and sex isn’t. No logic that I undersand.

      • This has confused me for a long time. I would much rather my son see a naked breast than see a guy run through on a sword. One is perfectly natural, the other is horrific and tragic. I don’t get it. By the same token, two of the most powerful books I’ve ever read “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” both contain themes relating to rape. If they were going to have to do that kind of purge, they’d have to remove all the great pieces of literature that contain those themes and I think they’d find their shelves quite bare.
        Amelia Ramstead recently posted..Paying Bills Off Feels Gooooooood!My Profile

  • Sharon F

    Well said Anne.
    I, for one, am now off to sign the petition.

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