PayPal draws the line on erotic books, as criticism mounts

PayPal said it was staying out of legal trouble by prohibiting sale of erotic e-books using its service

PayPal said Thursday it does not allow its service to be used for the sale of erotic books, but said it was to stay out of legal trouble, and not to impose its moral beliefs on others or restrict free speech.

The payments company has run into criticism from and anti-censorship organizations after it asked online publishers and booksellers to remove erotic books containing descriptions of rape, incest, and bestiality.

The decision has nothing to do with PayPal's personal views on the content or any desire to limit rights to free-speech, said its director of communications, Anuj Nayar, in a blog post. "It has everything to do with running a sound business and complying with our legal responsibilities," he said.

A number of online publishers and booksellers have received the ultimatum from PayPal, said anti-censorship organization, Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF and a coalition of civil liberties organizations and publishers is calling on PayPal to reverse the policy, stating that "PayPal, and the myriad other payment processors that support essential links in the free speech chain between authors and audiences, should not operate as morality police".

An important factor in PayPal's decision not to allow its payment service to be used to purchase material focused on rape, incest, and bestiality is that this category of e-books often include images, Nayar said. The content also intentionally blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. "Both these factors are problematic from a legal and risk perspective," Nayar said.

In an email on Monday to its customers, e-book publisher and distributor Smashwords, said it believes it is wrong for credit card companies, banks and other financial institutions to censor legal 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," Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords wrote in the email, suggesting that classical books like Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, a novel on child molestation, could get banned under PayPal's restriction.

"Even the Bible could fall under the net since it contains scenes of rape and incest," he added.

Last month Smashwords notified authors, publishers, and literary agents that it would no longer be providing a platform for certain forms of sexually explicit fiction. "As with the other e-book retailers affected by this enforcement, PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal services," it said.

Smashwords said the "hot buttons" for PayPal are "bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica". Smashwords has modified its terms of service to include PayPal's demands.

The publisher however ruled out changing PayPal as its payments processor. "PayPal is designed into the wiring of the Smashwords platform," Coker said. It is also an extremely popular, trusted payment option for Smashwords' customers, he added.

"It is not feasible for us to simply switch to another provider, should such a suitable provider even exist, especially with so few days notice," Coker said.

A petition on Change.org, a social action platform, asks PayPal to stop abusing its power over online retailers, online publishers, writers and readers. "No corporation should consider itself a moral authority in any way, shape or form," it said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Brother MFC-L3745CDW Colour Laser Multifunction

Learn more >

Mobile

Exec

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?