Indie Authors and Censorship

Recently, PayPal told Bookstrand, Smashwords and other online publishers that if certain titles containing “objectionable” material were not pulled from their websites, their PayPal account would be shut down and the funds within confiscated (PayPal is the largest and most popular online payment processor). Just to be clear, not all online publishers allow this type of material to be published on their websites. PayPal told certain publishers that their crackdown on erotic fiction is necessary so that they can remain in compliance with the requirements of the banks and credit card associations (likely Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, though they didn’t mention them by name). According to Mark Corker of Smashwords fame, “PayPal is asking us to censor legal fiction. Regardless of how one views topics of rape, bestiality and incest, these topics are pervasive in mainstream fiction.” I don’t read or write the aforementioned material, but I do wonder what is going on with this situation as well as pending censorship legislation such as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), PIPA(Protect IP Act) and already signed ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Agreement).

A person must be 18 to get a credit card in the U.S. with a co-signer or you can get one independently if you are 21. A person must be 18 to have a PayPal account. In the U.S a person must be 18 to buy pornography. So, if the banks, credit card companies, and Paypal are concerned about minors buying “objectionable” material, I would like to know their reasoning. This type of material is legal to publish and it looks like the safeguards are in place to prevent minors from buying it. Is this really about morals or is something more sinister going on here.

In these circumstances someone usually stands to gain while others lose, for we all know that money rules the world. So, let’s look at the players and see what they have to gain or lose. Online publishers – loss of revenues from book sales, nothing to gain. PayPal – loss of accounts and transaction fees, nothing to gain. Banks and credit card companies – loss of transaction fees and interest, seemingly nothing to gain. So, what is really going on?

It is my belief that the Federal Government is very uncomfortable with how fast information travels around the Internet. Websites like Facebook, Twitter and others have people connected like never before. Take a look at what is happening in other countries around the world where connected people are organizing and rising up to oust their repressive leaders. When SOPA and PIPA were coming to a vote it was people acting through the Internet and social networks that got the vote delayed. Banks and Credit Card companies lobby the government heavily and what better way to get concessions than to do the governments bidding. In this way the government can try to get what they want without anyone knowing who is behind what is happening. In my opinion this is not a case of a payment provider turning into content police. Rather, I believe the government is behind this latest round of censorship and it is of great concern to me and should be for all Americans. If there is another explanation, I would like to know about it.