There has been a lot of criticism of PayPal across the web, in the erotica and general fiction communities in the last few days. PayPal responded on their blog, saying:
Unlike many other online payment providers, PayPal does allow its service to be used for the sale of erotic books. PayPal is a strong and consistent supporter of openness on the Internet, freedom of expression, independent publishing and eBook marketplaces. We believe that the Internet empowers authors in a way that is positive and points to an even brighter future for writers, artists and creators the world over, but we draw the line at certain adult content that is extreme or potentially illegal.
The problem here is in the weasel words extreme and potentially. How is PayPal to say what is extreme? Or potentially illegal? If they are concerned about facilitating the sale of illegal content they should work with the community to figure out what to do about it, not impose ill-defined and vague strictures on the publishing and distribution companies that use their services.
Then we have:
Some feedback we’re getting is a belief that PayPal is forcing its moral beliefs on others and restricting people’s right to free speech. We can tell you with 100 percent conviction that this is not our intention. While we understand that people don’t always agree with our policies, this decision has nothing to do with our personal views on the content or any desire to limit free-speech rights.
It may not be PayPal’s intention to censor fiction, but it is the effect of their policy nonetheless. But we didn’t mean it like that is a poor response.
Blogger Madeleine Morris, writing on Banned Writers, published a response from Visa to her enquiries about the issues which disputes this view:
Dear Ms. Morris,
Thank you for your email regarding PayPal’s recent decision to limit the sale of certain erotica content. First and foremost, we want to clarify that Visa had no involvement with PayPal’s conclusion on this issue. Nor have we seen the material in question. This fact is made clear by PayPal’s recent blog post where it states that its own policies drove the decision.
[T]he sale of a limited category of extreme imagery depicting rape, bestiality and child pornography is or is very likely to be unlawful in many places and would be prohibited on the Visa system whether or not the images have formally been held to be illegal in any particular country. Visa would take no action regarding lawful material that seeks to explore erotica in a fictional or educational manner.
[...] Visa is not in the business of censoring cultural product. We recognize, as courts in the U.S. and elsewhere have long recognized, that this is a challenging topic. Bright lines are difficult to establish. We welcome the input of all stakeholders regarding our policies as we work to sustain a network that supports global commerce, while respecting the laws of the countries where we operate.
However you look at it, PayPal is imposing its moral position on writers and publishers because it is asking for work to be taken down that has not been found illegal.
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