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Topic: Smashwords Succumbs to Censorship

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Subject: Smashwords Succumbs to Censorship
Date Posted: 2/25/2012 1:26 PM ET
Member Since: 8/18/2005
Posts: 7,977
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This just pisses me off no end. People have no right to interfear in what other people chose to read. Just because I don't want to read something myself doesn't mean it's my business if someone else does.

Smashwords Succumbs to Censorship


The forces of Puritanism struck another blow yesterday. Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, sent out an email to all authors, publishers, and agents

Paypal, Smashwords’ payment processor, has issued an ultimatum. Someone at Paypal is grossed out by certain types of erotica sold via Smashwords, so those ebooks have to be pulled or Paypal will drop Smashwords as a customer. And the ebooks have to be pulled by Monday, or else.


Date Posted: 2/25/2012 4:19 PM ET
Member Since: 4/25/2007
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I agree Cindy.  Just because I don't wanna read something doesn't mean that people that do want to read it should be restricted.  For example, I don't like horror books or military history books.  I'm not going to tell you that you can't read them though.

Date Posted: 2/25/2012 4:24 PM ET
Member Since: 8/18/2005
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And just to be clear, I think a business does have the right to decide what they will and will not sell. If Smashwords had decided on their own that they weren't comfortable and wanted to pull the stories, then I'd say it's their right to do so.

But for someone who's job is to arrange payments to come in and say "We will not allow you to sell these items, so pull them or lose the ability to work with us." I think is wrong.

That decision should be between the customer and the store, not Paypal, nor Visa or Mastercard or any other form of payment. As long as the product is legal, leave it to the customer to decide what they will and won't buy, and where they will or won't shop.

Date Posted: 2/25/2012 5:34 PM ET
Member Since: 10/13/2007
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Paypal also will give in to peer pressure. so start sending emails about it. BECAUSE they allow etsy.com to use them and some of that stuff is weird (poop on canvas).

I'd gather loads of your smashwords buddies and have them start an email write in to paypal.

Date Posted: 2/26/2012 7:47 AM ET
Member Since: 9/19/2006
Posts: 3,859
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At first I was outraged but then I clicked on the Smashwords Succumbs to Censorship article that Cindy provided.  I read some more and now maybe I'm good with it.  I do have a concern about who makes the definition on the book though.  One person's concept of the issue in a book may not be the same as another person's. 

For instance, an author may write a book about domestic violence and rape or incest but the story is about the victim/s overcoming that and surviving.  The author may be graphic in the writing of the story.  Who determines where the line is drawn?


On Saturday, February 18, PayPal’s enforcement division contacted Smashwords with an ultimatum. As with the other ebook retailers affected by this enforcement, PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal services. I’ve had multiple conversations with PayPal over the last several days to better understand their requirements. Their team has been helpful, forthcoming and supportive of the Smashwords mission. I appreciate their willingness to engage in dialogue. Although they have tried their best to delineate their policies, gray areas remain.

Their hot buttons are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.

The underage erotica is not a problem for us. We already have some of the industry’s strictest policies prohibiting underage characters (we don’t even allow non-participating minors to appear in erotica), and our vetting team is always on the lookout for “barely legal” content where supposed adults are placed in underage situations.

The other three areas of bestiality, rape and incest were less well-defined in our Terms of Service (https://www.smashwords.com/about/tos) before today. I’ll tackle these one-by-one below, and I’ll provide you a summary of the changes that will go into effect immediately.

*Incest:* Until now, we didn’t have a policy prohibiting incest between consenting adults, or its non-biological variation commonly known as “Pseudo-incest.” Neither did our retailer partners. We’ve noticed a surge of PI books over the last few months, and many of them have “Daddy” in the title. I wouldn’t be surprised if the surge in “Daddy” titles prompted PayPal to pursue this purge (I don’t know). PI usually explores sexual relations between consenting adult stepchildren with their step parents, or between step-siblings. Effectively immediately, we no longer allow incest of any variety in erotica.

Like many writers, censorship of any form greatly concerns me. It is with some reluctance that I have made the decision to prohibit incest-themed erotica at Smashwords. Regardless of your opinion on incest, it’s a slippery slope when we allow others to control what we think and write. Fiction is fantasy. It’s not real. It unfolds in our imagination. I’ve always believed fiction writers and readers should have the freedom to explore diverse topics and situations in the privacy of their own mind. From an imagination perspective, erotica is little different from a literary novel that puts us inside the mind of farm animals (1984), or a thriller novel that puts us inside the mind of a terrorist, or a horror novel that puts us inside the mind of an axe-murderer or their victim. All fiction takes us somewhere. We read fiction to be moved, and to feel. Sometimes we want to feel touched, moved, or disturbed. A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved.

Incest, however, carries thorny baggage. The legality of incest is murky. It creates a potential legal liability for Smashwords as our business and our books become more present in more jurisdictions around the world. Anything that threatens Smashwords directly threatens our ability to serve the greater interests of all Smashwords authors, publishers, retailers and customers who rely upon us as the world’s leading distributor of indie ebooks. The business considerations compel me to not fall on the sword for incest. I realize this is an imperfect decision. The slippery slope is dangerous, but I believe this imperfect decision is in the best interest of the community we serve.

*Bestiality:* Until now, we didn’t have a stated policy regarding bestiality. I like animals. Call me old fashioned or hypocritical (I’m not a vegetarian), but I don’t want to be a party to anyone enjoying animals for sexual gratification, for the same reason we’ve never allowed pedophilia books. I don’t want to publish it, sell it, or distribute it. The TOS is now modified to reflect this. Note this does not apply to shape-shifters common in paranormal romance provided the were-creature characters are getting it on in their human form. Sorry I need to clarify it that way, but we don’t want to see bestiality erotica masquerading as paranormal romance.

*Rape:* Although our Terms of Service prohibits books that advocate violence against others, we did not specifically identify rape. This was an oversight on our part. Now we have clarified the policy. We do not want books that contain rape for the purpose of titillation. At Smashwords, rape has no longer has a place in erotica. It has no place anywhere else if the purpose is to titillate. Non-consensual BDSM – or any other form of non-consensual violence against another person – is prohibited.

Date Posted: 2/26/2012 11:38 AM ET
Member Since: 8/18/2005
Posts: 7,977
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I read some more and now maybe I'm good with it.  I do have a concern about who makes the definition on the book though.  One person's concept of the issue in a book may not be the same as another person's. 

This isn't going to be the end of the matter, since the site is now having to look at the Bdsm titles and having to decide whether to pull some of those or not. What items will be next because Paypal thinks they can be the ones to decide? What goes next? Gay, Lesbian and Transgender? Paranormal erotica? What ever they feel like they can make a store get rid of?

It also means that Paypal can come to places like PBS and demand that PBS remove any kind of erotica from their listings, or no one will be buying any of their Kiosk items through Paypal anymore. And as others on other discussion have pointed out, having to set up credit card payments may mean the difference between a store keeping open or closing, since setting those systems up can be hugely expensive. So if they have to, their prices will have to go up.

Then what if the Credit card companies decide they get to make those decisions as well?

My problem with the whole thing is that a third party is trying to exert power over not only what a store can stock, but what's available for me to purchase if I so chose. Can Visa and Mastercard and banks tell brick and morter stores what they can and can't sell, or they won't allow their customers to buy there? Do we want to find out someone has 'clean out the store' for us because they've managed to get the store to pull items they don't like?

Too many openings for abuse, too many ways to cut into people's choices. If a company wants to offer a product for sale, and someone wants to buy it, and it's legal, then no third party should be able to come in and squash the deal because they don't like it. Not for porn or any other type of merchandise.

How many people do we need deciding what we can and can't have?




Date Posted: 3/12/2012 12:32 AM ET
Member Since: 8/18/2008
Posts: 7,759
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I just wanted to point out that the beastiality line is a fine one in some paranormal books.  If a werewolf changes form while having sex, then that's having sex with a beast.  Lots of shapeshifter novels feature this--although, admittedly they are the minority of the genre. 

I also have a problem with someone else telling me what I can and cannot get off on.  BDSM is not something "abnormal", just kinky.  To me, anything that happens between consenting adults is OK with me.

Also, there is the issue of pseudo-incest.  Charlaine Harris' Harper Connolly series would be right out in this case 'cause she's boinking her step-brother.  Also, if two brothers find the same mate, there could be issues in menage sceens even if the "swords" don't cross.  As for the underage stuff, they only seem to have a problem with barely-legal girls and older men, while books that feature barely-legal boys and older men seem to be left alone. 

I don't like censorship in any form.  You always have the option to not buy it. 

Date Posted: 3/13/2012 12:21 PM ET
Member Since: 8/18/2005
Posts: 7,977
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Looks like things may be going back to the way they were before...


March 12, 2012 - PayPal update:  I met with PayPal this afternoon at their office in San Jose.  They will soon announce revised content policies that I expect will please the Smashwords community.  Effective immediately, we are returning our Terms of Service to back to its pre-February 24 state.  Beyond that, our friends at PayPal have asked me to hold off sharing additional details until they've had a chance to finalize their new policies. Thank you for your patience and support during this crazy last few weeks.


and this...

March 11, 2012 - Two items.  1.  Censorship - A representative from Visa has strongly denied they have pressured PayPal to censor legal fiction.  Read the letter the here. Now it's time for Mastercard, American Express, Discover and the major banks to speak out again censorship as well.  As previously mentioned in my dispatches (see PayPal #1, #2, #3, #4 in Press Room), PayPal communicated to us that their policies were necessary to maintain compliance with the credit cards and banks upon which PayPal's services depend.  If we can get these companies to back away from censorship of legal fiction, this will give PayPal the room it needs to update their policies

(The Letter from Visa Here.)

Date Posted: 3/13/2012 4:32 PM ET
Member Since: 4/7/2008
Posts: 15,690
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Thanks for posting this, Cindy!

(LOL on the crossing of the swords, Sheila!)

Date Posted: 3/15/2012 9:57 PM ET
Member Since: 3/31/2006
Posts: 28,536
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Smashwords set me an email last week stating that they would not conform to Paypal's policy.  I wonder if that affected Paypal's decision to back off and revise it's policy.