PayPal Lifts Ban on Erotic Books

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For further information, contact:

Chris Finan, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, (917) 509-0340

Joan Bertin, National Coalition Against Censorship, (212) 807-6222, ext. 101

For Immediate Release

NEW YORK, NY, March 13, 2012 – PayPal, the dominant processor of Internet payments, has retracted its threat (Reuters) to close the accounts of online booksellers who sell works that include descriptions of rape, incest and bestiality.  “This decision recognizes the important principle that neither PayPal nor any other company involved in payment processing has any business telling people what they should read,” said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC).  NCAC joined the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) in writing a protest letter to eBay, the owner of PayPal.  “It is an important victory for free speech on the Internet,” ABFFE President Chris Finan said.

In mid-February, PayPal delivered an ultimatum to online booksellers and distributors, including Smashwords, BookStrand.com and eXcessica, giving them just days to remove all erotic books describing rape, incest and bestiality.  More than 1,000 e-books were removed from the Smashwords website before PayPal agreed to postpone a final decision on cutting off payments.

NCAC and ABFFE also joined with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to post an online joint statement that attracted co-signers from over 30 organizations representing authors, publishers, booksellers and free speech defenders. A grassroots Care2.org petition calling on PayPal to reverse the policy nearly doubled its goal of 1000 signatures, and at least as many emails were sent to PayPal’s general counsel in support of the statement by ABFFE, EFF and NCAC.

In a statement posted on its website today, PayPal announced that in the future it will not reject e-books that consist only of text unless they “contain child pornography, or….text and obscene images of rape, bestiality or incest (as defined by the U.S. legal standard for obscenity…)…”  It promised to limit its objections to particular books rather than rejecting “entire ‘classes.’” It also said that it is developing a process that will allow an author to challenge a PayPal notice that a book violates its policy.

The PayPal statement does not fully resolve all issues, however.   It is not clear whether legal material would be affected by PayPal’s policy regarding “e-books that contain child pornography”, some of which may be legal.  Nor is it clear how PayPal proposes to focus “on individual books,” rather than classes of books, since it would be impossible to individually screen all e-books bought and sold online.

“It is too early to conclude that PayPal has completely abandoned the idea of policing the content of books purchased online,” Bertin said.  “We hope so but won’t know until the company releases a formal policy. We have to see how it is enforced.”


About The National Coalition Against Censorship:

For 37 years, NCAC has been a unique force protecting the right to read, think, and speak freely. NCAC engages a large and diverse community in educational and advocacy activities stressing the critical role of free speech for individual self-fulfillment and effective self-government. See the latest news from NCAC at www.ncac.org