Visa Denies PayPal Claims

Visa replied to a letter sent by Ms. Madeleine Morris (BannedWriters.com) denying that they were pressuring PayPal to limit the sale of certain erotica content. Read their response and comments here.

To be fair PayPal never mentioned credit card companies or banks by name. I believe they said that their “financial partners” were requiring them to limit sales. The other credit card companies have not responded yet.

This kind of blows my theory out of the water, but I still wonder what was really behind PayPal’s decision. Ebay, who owns PayPal, offers thousands of items of “objectionable” material. A study of the Ebay site can be found here. All this must be catching up to PayPal because they will soon announce revised content policies that I expect will please the indie publishing community.

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An Email to Smashwords Members

The following is an email that Mark Corker sent out to all Smashwords members today. In it is Smashwords view on censoring Ebooks. Also going on is the read an Ebook Week sale where thousands of books are discounted through March 10, 2012. For all you golfers out there my book “Triangulate Your Golf Swing” is available until then for 1/2 off. Here is the link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/119059

Inside:

1. Read an Ebook Week sale on now at http://www.smashwords.com !
2. Censoring ebooks – The Smashwords/PayPal conundrum
3. Helpful links
4. Account access info, opting out (at bottom of email)

1. SMASHWORDS READ AN EBOOK WEEK SALE!
Our annual Read an Ebook Week sale is now underway. The sale ends Saturday.

Access over 20,000 free and deep-discounted ebooks.

Simply click to http://www.smashwords.com then click to the Read an Ebook promotion catalog.

Here’s the direct link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/category/1/newest/1

There are four coupon codes you can use for participating books:

25% off: REW25 – 2,300+ ebooks
50% off: REW50 – 5,700+ ebooks
75% off: REW75 – 900+ ebooks
100% off: RE100 – 2,800+ ebooks

In addition to the limited-time deals above, Smashwords offers over 100,000 original ebooks at everyday low prices. Over 13,000 Smashwords ebooks are regularly priced at FREE. The average price of a Smashwords ebook is under $5.00.

Why are our prices so low? It’s because you’re purchasing direct from the author. When you purchase a Smashwords book, the author earns 85% of the net proceeds from the sale. Thank you for supporting our authors!

Smashwords ebooks are multi-format and DRM-free, so you can read them on virtually an e-reading device, including the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iPad/iPhone/Touch, Sony Reader, Kobo Reader, personal computers and most smart phones and tablets.

You can also purchase most Smashwords ebooks at your favorite ebook retailers, including the Apple iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store. The codes above are only available for books purchased at the Smashwords store. In the future, we’d like to expand this annual promotion to our retail partners.

2. PayPal Censorship
PayPal, the online payment service we use to process credit card payments, has asked Smashwords to remove fiction that contains themes of bestiality, rape and incest. They tell us they are compelled to do this to remain compliant with the rules of the banks and credit card associations. Regardless on one’s opinions about these objectionable topics, we view this attempted censorship as a bad precedent. Fiction is fantasy. It’s not real.

PayPal’s request has caused a firestorm of debate on the Internet about censorship, and what this means for the future of ebook publishing. Most people are horrified at the thought of any censorship, while others believe such content should be restricted. It’s a contentious debate.

This story, out today by TechDirt, does a good job of summarizing the timeline of events and the issues involved: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120301/17363217939/paypal-pressured-to-play-morality-cop-forces-smashwords-to-censor-authors.shtml

The case has even spawned a hilarious $.99 parody ebook titled, TWO PEOPLE HAVING SEX https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/139100

There’s a petition at Change.org if you wish to sign it: http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-censorship-2

A few independent privacy-rights and anti-censorship organizations have stepped in to challenge PayPal on their policies, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). More are likely to sign on. Here are some quick links:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/02/legal-censorship-paypal-makes-habit-deciding-what-users-can-read

ABFFE/NCAC: http://www.ncac.org/NCAC-ABFFE-Send-Letter-To-PayPal-eBay

Our view at Smashwords: We believe it’s wrong for credit card companies, banks and other financial institutions to censor legal fiction. We believe this censorship is targeting a small subset of erotica fiction. The same censored themes are prevalent in much mainstream fiction. We believe it would be unfair to authors and readers alike for any organization to censor what writers are allowed to imagine and what readers are allowed to read. If the PayPal restrictions were broadly implemented, many mainstream classics including Nabokov’s Lolita or Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with The Wind could technically be banned. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with its depiction of rape could be banned. Even the Bible could fall under the net since it contains scenes of rape and incest. We doubt a ban would be taken to such extremes, but therein lies the danger of censorship. Where does it stop, and where do we draw the line? It’s difficult for Smashwords or any other retailer, distributor or publisher to assume the role of moral arbiter when there’s so much grey area. We’re engaged in ongoing discussions with our counterparts at PayPal to reach an equitable solution.

If you’re interested to learn more, or learn what you can do to help fight censorship, you can read my most recent email to Smashwords authors on this topic here: https://www.smashwords.com/press/release/30

3. QUICK LINKS TO SMASHWORDS RESOURCES

How to read Smashwords ebooks: https://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq#Reading

Frequently asked questions: https://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq

How to publish and distribute ebooks with Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/about/how_to_publish_on_smashwords

Smashwords blog: http://blog.smashwords.com

Connect with fellow Smashwords readers and authors at Facebook: http://facebook.com/Smashwords

Enjoy Read an Ebook Week! If your favorite author isn’t yet at Smashwords, please ask them to publish with us.

Best wishes,

Mark

Mark Coker
Founder
Smashwords
http://www.smashwords.com
twitter: http://twitter.com/markcoker

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.