Is Paypal Back up to Their Censorship Tricks Again?

Remember back in February when Paypal decided to stop processing payments for Smashwords because SW helped authors sell ebooks which Paypal thought were icky? It took the whole of the internet to show Paypal that their decision was not a popular one.Unfortunately it looks like Paypal forgot that lesson, because I have a report from one cover artist whose account has been closed by Paypal because she was using the service to be paid for making icky images.

It was on Thursday night I read about Kerry Chin, an artist who goes by the name of Dragon Reine on Deviant Art. She had recently made a book cover for Amelia Gormley, a self-published author with several books in Smashwords, Amazon, and elsewhere.

That book is called Acceleration, a M/M romance. I have not read the book, but as you can see over on GoodReads, the cover is relatively tame for a romance novel.

But apparently it's not tame enough for Paypal, because they told Kerry that:

We are hereby notifying you that, after a recent review of your account activity, it has been determined that you are in violation of PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy regarding your sales / offers of adult commisions of digital art on http://dragonreine.deviantart.com.

Kerry's account has been "limited", as Paypal put it, but for all intents and purposes it is closed. She cannot withdraw funds nor even check her transaction history.

I'm sure some of my readers will think this is a reasonable action on the part of Paypal, but given the resolution of the Smashwords censorship incident this Spring it really is not.

After having been bludgeoned by half the internet (yours truly included), Paypal revised their policy on book censorship to exclude the text of the books. Paypal was only going to object to specific titles:

First and foremost, we are going to focus this policy only on e-books that contain potentially illegal images, not e-books that are limited to just text. The policy will prohibit use of PayPal for the sale of e-books that contain child pornography, or e-books with text and obscene images of rape, bestiality or incest (as defined by the U.S. legal standard for obscenity: material that appeals to the prurient interest, depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value).

And that is from Paypal's own blog, too.

If you look at the cover image again, you will probably agree that Amelia's book is allowed under Paypal's new policy. I don't think I was stretching things by writing that it was a relatively tame image; I have seen more explicit imagery on M/F romance novels.

So what we have here is a book with a cover which the author is allowed to sell under Paypal's policy while at the same time the author is not allowed to pay the cover artist.

Yes, it is that bizarre.

I have reached out to Paypal for comment, but apparently no one is watching the  Facebook page or reading emails, and Anuj Nayar, the Director of Communications at PayPal, does not read his email on the weekends. More fool him.

TBH, I think we're looking at a mistake on the part of Paypal. There is a clear contradiction between the previously stated policy and the account closure.

But in the absence of a statement from Paypal I can only assume that this is going to be yet another incident where the Internet is going to have to beat up on Paypal until they back down.

Someone pass me a torch.

Update: Paypal restored Kerry's account. While I still have not heard anything from Paypal (and she was told the account closure was permanent), it seems that Paypal does have someone watching news blogs on the weekend.

source

About Nate Hoffelder (11593 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

10 Comments on Is Paypal Back up to Their Censorship Tricks Again?

  1. Wow, there is nothing wrong with that cover. It is actually very artistic.

  2. Nate,

    Thank you for highlighting this issue. As I said in my post on my blog, my biggest concern is actually that a pattern appears to emerge when you take into consideration the closure of Kerry’s sister’s account at the same exact time (the emails were sent within minutes of each other.) It makes me wonder just how many other independent artists are facing this same sort of issue. Since a lot of ebook cover artists do their business via PayPal, this stands the potential to affect the independent ebook publishing industry.

  3. Wow. This arbitrariness just gets *so* tiresome. Doesn’t Paypal have better things to do? FWIW, my “press” interacts a lot with cover artists in similar ways… I sure wish there was a viable alternative to Paypal, because I really hate supporting that kind of thing. (And yes, the cover indicated, if that’s really it, is quite tame.)

    • Yes, it really is that cover. The other bit of art that PayPal’s transactions for “sexually obscene content” are related to is, as you can see from Amelia’s report of the events, a portrait of the man. Fully clothed, showing his face and the top part of his shoulder, with no sexual objects or suggestive imagery in the background or on the subject itself. If that is PayPal’s definition of obscene, then their accusation has taken a turn for the ridiculous.

      There are very few alternatives to PayPal that boast the same level of convenience, and very few that are usable by international customers. Unfortunate, but PayPal’s virtual monopoly seems to make them think that they can do whatever they want :/

    • My biggest concern here is the implications for the industry as a whole.

      What’s to stop PayPal from going after other cover artists, like yours, for similarly tame content.

      What’s to stop PayPal from going after small presses, like yours, for the covers of the books they sell? What’s to stop them from going after SmashWords and AllRomanceEbooks and any other number of niche publishers that do business through PayPal if they don’t censor not the CONTENT of the books they sell, but the COVERS? Thus they achieve the goal they set out to achieve back in February/March, but by new means.

      Not related to the ebook publishing industry, but what’s to stop PayPal from going after deviantArt itself, where tens of thousands of artists display work both tame and racy. dA has anti-obscenity rules in place already, and Kerry’s art falls well within them. A lot of artists sell commissions via dA. dA itself (I believe, though I could be mistaken) takes payment for premium membership via PayPal.

      Just how far can this go, if PayPal works up to full steam on this issue?

  4. I use Google Wallet and am very happy with their service. After all, Google is a lot bigger, better, and more prestigious than PayPal.

  5. Nate,

    As an update, Kerry’s account suspension has been revoked with PayPal’s apologies. Thank you so very much for highlighting this.

  6. I’ve got a sunset on my relationship with PayPal — once my single remaining calendar-based payment subscription ends (Calendar year 2012)), my balance will basically be zero and they are free to close my account or do whatever it is they’ve been threatening to do unless I provide “documentation” they suddenly want to see: utility bills AND SSN proof AND picture ID, etc. Last straw.

    I’ve been with them – with a verified address and checking account – for 11 years. I’ll miss eBay, but maybe I’ll rediscover flea markets and used books. 🙂

2 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. SUCCESS! | Amelia C. Gormley
  2. PayPal Showing Signs of Censorship Once Again | Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

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