As many of you know, I am not only retired and a blogger but I also write and publish books.  We’ll OK, book (singular) so far.  Still I consider myself a writer, as do many people.  It is for this reason that I am choosing to discuss an important issue facing writers that has cropped up over the last couple of weeks.  PayPal, a payment processor for many online businesses, has told several online book sellers that they need to stop carrying certain types of legal fiction.  I know this because I publish at Smashwords and they are one of the retailers effected.

The affected fiction is all erotica, so far.  You can read exactly what is affected by reading the Smashwords press releases linked at the bottom of this post.  It doesn’t matter, however, what is being banned.  A payment processor, a virtual monopoly, is dictating what you and I can read.  They are playing moral police.  PayPal claims, and they are probably being honest, that this is being done due to pressure from credit card companies.  I don’t know what the motives are or who is actually behind this, but it is scary.

You may be reading this saying, “I don’t read erotica so how does this affect me?”  Well, you or your spouse might read romance which has many of the same sexual themes that are being banned by PayPal.  You may read mainstream fiction, which also has many of the same themes.  But it goes deeper than that.  It’s not about the themes being banished from book retailers, it’s that legal fiction is being banned at all.  That is a slippery slope and who knows what is next?  You may argue that erotica presents certain material for titillation while romance and other fiction does not, but who gets to decide?  PayPal?  Do you want them, or anyone else deciding what it is OK for you to read and what isn’t?  Should a third-party payment processor be deciding what is obscene and what isn’t?

What if they decided political books of certain persuasion were “obscene”?  Or the Twilight Saga, religious books or gay and lesbian fiction?  Not only do authors have the right, and mind you that right is not granted by the government but by our creator, to write about subjects that many may find offensive, but to write about illegal subjects in fictional stories.  This is the speech that we as a society should fight to protect most vehemently.  Yesterday’s scandalous book is today’s classic or the book that started a cultural revolution.  Even if the book in question is intended as nothing more than simple entertainment, it still deserves out protection.  If we do not allow dissenting voices, we don’t really have free speech.

PayPal has every legal right to do what they are doing, as do the credit card companies, but the question is should they.  Should a payment processor be deciding what stores are selling and consumers have available to buy.  One day you may discover that your favorite book isn’t available because somebody at a credit card company, whose moral code may not match your own, has decided it too violates their vague Terms of Service and is now “obscene”.  It’s legal, but is it right?  Retailers are giving in to the pressure for fear of having their ability to take payments stripped.  And why wouldn’t they?  If you cannot take credit card payments, especially online, you’re dead.

This is a retirement blog, so this is the last I will say on the subject.  If you could care less about this, so be it.  If you are outraged, good.  You should be.  There are things you can do to help stop this.  Call or write your congressional delegation and let them know you find this type of legal censorship disturbing and ask them to look into it.  Call PayPal and the credit card companies.  Let them know that as a consumer, you do not agree with this kind of activity and that they should do their job.  Process payments, not judge what consumers buy.  Lastly, there are online petitions and groups who have begun to fight this.  Contact them and see what you can do.  Lastly, whether credit card companies are behind this or not, PayPal is pushing this issue.  Money talks.  Stop using PayPal until they relent.  Cancel your account.  Support other payment processors that do not bully other businesses.

I have provided links to the press releases from Mark Coker of Smashwords, who is fighting the good fight on behalf of authors and publishers and links to other various sources.  If we allow even the most vile, disgusting, disturbing speech to censored, any speech can be censored.  We cannot fight for our right to free speech after the enemy has broken through the gates.  We must prevent them from every reaching those gates.  Thanks for indulging me.

http://www.smashwords.com/press/release/27

http://www.smashwords.com/press/release/28

http://www.smashwords.com/press/release/30

The Electronic Frontier Foundation blogged about the issue here.
The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) issued a press release.

Sign the Petition Here!

Visa:
http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=V+Profile

American Express:
http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=AXP+Profile

MasterCard:
http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=MA+Profile

Discover:
http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=DFS+Profile

Ebay (owns PayPal):
http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=ebay+Profile

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