Speaking out against Corporate Censorship

UPDATE #2: Paypal has redefined its position and restricts its newest policy update to specific books which contain graphic images portraying bestiality, rape, or incest and they will not take the blanket action of disabling the individual account and withholding funds. More on CNET and The Verge.

UPDATE: It seems as if Paypal is likely to reverse it’s position this week. At least we are all watching and hoping. More at TechCrunch.

Does anyone reading this remember when Amazon.com removed copies of “1984″ from their Kindle library and by extension from the “personal” Kindle library of anyone who had bought that particular copy of the classic novel by George Orwell? It was in July of 2009 and a New York Times blogger was quick to jump on the irony of the situation with a blog post entitled “Some eBooks are more equal than others“. Amazon explained, at the time, that the book was in violation of their terms of use and had been uploaded by a company who did not have the rights to upload the work at all. The irony of this situation is that the book in question is a frightening tale of control by the “Big Brother” in which our very thoughts are controlled and censored if we dare to have them.

I read the book some time ago and I can’t recall every detail, but I seem to remember snippets such as being watched while you sleep, eat, use sanitary facilities, and work. They use some complex form of body language monitoring to be able to tell when the person is having impure thoughts and are able to act immediately to “purge” those thoughts down the “memory hole”.

To say that Amazon’s actions were “Orwellian in nature” is quite the cliché but it fits. After a huge outcry, Amazon promised to never interfere with so-called private libraries in such a way again. At least, almost 2 decades after Orwell’s fictional story could have been true, the court of public opinion still carries much weight with the would-be “Big Brother” types.

Fast forward almost 3 years, and big corporations are at it again. This time, a completely non-related company is again telling us what to read and write and buy. Paypal.com has changed their policy and terms to prohibit the sale of erotica using the facilities provided by them. In other words, if you write erotica, you cannot accept payment through Paypal.com anymore. And if you read erotica and have been in the habit of buying from websites who employ a Paypal.com checkout system, you will have to start getting your fiction elsewhere.

This is the world we now live in – one in which anybody can tell us what is moral what we ought to be doing. And while I am not a huge fan of erotica, I recognize that some people write it really well. Free-eBooks.net does not currently host an erotica section, but we do have a Horror-Gothic section. And if the complaints about erotica are about it being morally inferior, when are they going to extend that judgement call on violent homicidal works such as “Diary of a Serial Killer“?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I think my morals are my own business; and certainly not the business of a corporation such as Paypal.com. While I applaud the effort in attempting to “clean up” society, this move goes well beyond acceptable. This kind of activity must be stopped.

Interested in making your voice heard? There are a number of petitions around the web that can be signed including change.org and The Petition Site.

  • Wggooch

    What I read, who I like and dislike, religions I agree with and those that I detest are all my business, government should butt out.

  • Kimbers25

    Creating a policy that prohibits the sale of a particular item by a privately owned company is not censorship. They are not saying that a customer cannot purchase erotica they just cannot do it using their paypal account. There a many other forms of payment. They are not saying if you have ever purchased erotica you are banned from using a paypal account for other purchases. They have a perfect right to restrict what they will or will not authorize their product to be used for. PayPal is not a corporate media outlet intervening to prohibit the publication of anything … Before you begin this conversation you must first understand what censorship is and then understand what corporate censorship is.

    • http://fyrfli.net Camille

      Thank you for writing in.

      I would just like to point out one thing and that is: if Paypal sets the precedence that financial service corporations can determine what your money can and cannot buy, what is to stop the other corporations from making the same judgement call?

      The point is that no financial services company should be able to dictate what you do with your money. Your moral obligation is to yourself, and no one else.

      • Kimbers25

        Camille, PayPal is not dictating what you can do with your money or what you can or cannot buy; they are dictating what their service (via electronic money transfers) can be used for and this they have a perfect right to do. You have a perfect right to pay using another method. Setting limits on their services is not corporate censorship it is their right.

        • http://fyrfli.net Camille

          If they are providing a service, then that is what they should do.

          Instead, they are saying that the cannot facilitate transacting business for content that is “possibly” illegal and then continued to excuse this decision by claiming the credit card companies had in-turn instilled such limitations on them.

          Visa has since spoken out against Paypal’s decision saying they had no part in the decision nor do they themselves make any such determinations on those who use their service. (Read more here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/suwcharmananderson/2012/03/10/visa-denies-telling-paypal-to-censor-fiction/)

          They have a position of power and they are using it. There are some people who use Paypal’s services because they have no other options. You continue to insist that we have the choice to use other options when what you do not realize is that there are some people who do not have that choice.

          Furthermore, this is an issue of principle. If Paypal can make such a decision, then where does it stop? It is a matter of censorship if the authors of this content rely on Paypal (having no other options) for payment. Their voices, regardless of how you feel about them, are effectively silenced. That sounds like censorship to me.

          When will they say that crime novels are “possibly illegal” due to their detailed descriptions of criminal activities and are therefore also banned from the list of items their customers can purchase?

          • Ian

            I agree. They are not saying you cannot buy erotica or anything else. They are just doing what any merchant should have the right to do and set and enforce the terms of their service and if a customer doesn’t like it no one is forcing them to use or keep using the service. It is not a crime to refuse someone service except in areas where sexual deviants are legally allowed to marry and the refusal of service to them by a marriage celebrant or other business is considered discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or similar, but that is NOT censorship. Censorship according to the Oxford English dictionary is “1 The action or function of a censor, esp. in controlling newspapers, films, letters, etc.” and to censor is to “Act as censor of; officially inspect and make deletions or changes in (a book, film, article, letter, etc.).”.

            So Camille I think you need to get your facts correct before you start expressing an opinion.

    • Adelaar

      Kimbers, you are quite right. If PayPal is concerned about its good name among the public, it has every right to protect its commercial interest by being selective in what kinds of purchases they want to facilitate.

  • Thomastokar

    First, I don’t use PayPal so I don’t really care what they do..

    My basic question is why is Paypal looking at what I’m buying. FedEx and UPS don’t open my packages as part of their delivery service. The privacy issue is more important than their idea of morality. And who decides what is erotic and what is not, and where is the line?