The story out of Tech Dirt was passed along to me by an email from Smashwords. I’ve looked into using the service as a venue to host my own books and as a tool for formatting my book. The email contains this snippet.
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 companies. Regardless on one’s opinions about these objectionable topics, we view this attempted censorship as a bad precedent.
Internet censorship has been a big issue this past year and it will continue to be a huge topic for years to come. There’s bee a huge machine out there working against independent works of all kinds. If you think this is just about the content, why is it okay to purchase a book like Lolita in a book store, but not okay when you buy the same kind of content online?
Truth be told if you think this is about bestiality it can be found in purchasable fiction too. Many reviews of Anne Rice’s newest work The Wolf Gift.
There’s a timeline over at TechDirt that explains the whole thing and its repercussions. In much the same way that I am telling you this now, Smashwords takes a stance against all of this in their email.
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 taken to the extreme, 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. Although such extreme censorship is unlikely, what about moderate censorship? 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.
It’s hard to argue with the logic presented here because its not the right of credit card companies to tell you what it is and isn’t alright to buy with your own money. It’s not Paypal’s place to play morality police when there is a simple way for people not to be exposed to this type of literature. I don’t like erotica, I don’t read or buy it—and its that simple. It’s very hard to be exposed to literature that you don’t want to be. It’s not like television where its wafting through the airwaves or radio where anyone within earshot can hear it.
If big corporations are going to bully people into what they can and can’t read what do they get a say in next? Can I not go to Burger King with my Visa because Visa happens to partner with McDonalds? Of course it will more than likely never get that extreme. But it doesn’t mean it should be where it is even right now.