PayPal, which plays a dominant role in processing online sales, has taken full advantage of the vast and open nature of the Internet for commercial purposes, but is now holding free speech hostage by clamping down on sales of certain types of erotica. As organizations and individuals concerned with intellectual and artistic freedom and a free Internet, we strongly object to PayPal functioning as an enforcer of public morality and inhibiting the right to buy and sell constitutionally protected material.
Recently, PayPal gave online publishers and booksellers, including BookStrand.com, Smashwords, and eXcessica, an ultimatum: it would close their accounts and refuse to process all payments unless they removed erotic books containing descriptions of rape, incest, and bestiality. The result would severely restrict the public’s access to a wide range of legal material, could drive some companies out of business and deprive some authors of their livelihood.
Financial services providers should be neutral when it comes to lawful online speech. PayPal’s policy underscores how vulnerable such speech can be and how important it is to stand up and protect it.
The topics PayPal would ban have been depicted in world literature since Sophocles’ Oedipus and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. And while the books currently affected may not appear to be in the same league, many works ultimately recognized for their literary, historical, and artistic worth were reviled when first published. Books like Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were banned as “obscene” in the United States because of their sexual content. The works of Marquis de Sade, which include descriptions of incest, torture, and rape, were considered scandalous when written, although his importance in the history of literature and political and social philosophy is now widely acknowledged.
The Internet has become an international public commons, like an enormous town square, where ideas can be freely aired, exchanged, and criticized. That will change if private companies, which are under no legal obligation to respect free speech rights, are able to use their economic clout to dictate what people should read, write, and think.
PayPal, and the myriad other payment processors that support essential links in the free speech chain between authors and audiences, should not operate as morality police.
ACLU of California
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Association of American Publishers
Association of American University Presses
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Bytes for All, Pakistan
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Coming Together, charity publisher
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Feminists for Free Expression
Fight for the Future
Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association
Independent Book Publishers Association
Index on Censorship
National Coalition Against Censorship
New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association
New England Independent Booksellers Association
Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
PEN American Center
Reporters Without Borders
Southern California Independent Booksellers Association
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
Tunisian Association for Digital Freedom
Unlimited Publishing LLC
Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance
List in formation.