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Updated: Paypal Backs Down on Their Censorship Demands

The Smashwords censorship saga took another turn last night. As you probably know, a little over 2 weeks ago Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, sent out an email to Smashwords authors and publishers telling them that they had to remove certain type of erotica.

Naturally this caused an uproar among not just romance readers, but among everyone who opposes censorship. The outcry grew to include readers, bloggers, the EFF, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and more. There were petitions to get Paypal to change their policy and campaigns to close Paypal  accounts. It even caused Paypal to consider backing down only days after enacting the policy.

Well, Mark posted another update. He couldn’t get into specifics, but this does raise hope that the public outcry had its effect:

PayPal update: I met with PayPal this afternoon at their office in San Jose. They will soon announce revised content policies that I expect will please the Smashwords community. Effective immediately, we are returning our Terms of Service to back to its pre-February 24 state. Beyond that, our friends at PayPal have asked me to hold off sharing additional details until they’ve had a chance to finalize their new policies. Thank you for your patience and support during this crazy last few weeks.

So it looks like my post of last Sunday was a tad premature; it took longer than I expected to accomplish our goal. But I wouldn’t get too settled just yet; Paypal hasn’t stated the new policy yet so we don’t know what the real outcome will be.

Update: Paypal has clarified the new policy on their blog. (Boy did they back down.) Their new policy only affects potentially illegal images, and the blog post specifically states that it doesn’t cover text only ebooks.

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).

In addition, the policy will be focused on individual books, not on entire “classes” of books. Instead of demanding that e-book publishers remove all books in a category, we will provide notice to the seller of the specific e-books, if any, that we believe violate our policy.  We are working with e-book publishers on a process that will provide any affected site operator or author the opportunity to respond to and challenge a notice that an e-book violates the policy.

This is a major change from the original policy, which was tantamount to censorship. But it’s still a shame that they’re trying to pass judgement on which ebooks have "serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value".

Is anyone planning to reopen their Paypal account? If not, do you have an alternative to recommend?

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Mike Cane March 13, 2012 um 4:55 pm

I stayed the hell out of this one. Let it resolve itself, and it did. And I think like the SOPA protest this also showed the nascent power of the Internet for change.

Now if we could only get rid of the damned TSA and get back the rest of the Constitution too!

the rodent March 13, 2012 um 9:05 pm

I found Mark Coker’s letter today pretty good. I’m guessing it’ll show up in tomorrow morning’s coffee. 🙂 And Paypal’s own spin was not bad either, focusing their prohibitions on images and on specific cases, not classes of books. (I do continue to ask the question of why any fictional book containing mere words could be illegal in the USA, but…)

PayPal and Censorship… AGAIN | Amelia C. Gormley November 8, 2012 um 8:10 pm

[…] the terms of service PayPal put into use after the erotica-banning debacle last March (courtesy of The Digital Reader: Update: Paypal has clarified the new policy on their blog. (Boy did they back down.) Their new […]

Amelia C. Gormley November 8, 2012 um 8:11 pm

It looks like PayPal is up to its tricks again. Now they’re going after individuals, like the artists who design book covers. I have an article about it up on my blog.

Dud May 6, 2014 um 6:43 pm

Now they are using their policies in a crude attempt to bankrupt Iori Mochizuki of Fukushima-Diary.

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