ABFFE Protests PayPal Censorship Efforts

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The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) has joined the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) in protesting a threat by the online payment processor PayPal to close the accounts of online booksellers selling works that include descriptions of rape, incest, and bestiality.

In a March 2 letter to eBay, PayPal’s parent company, ABFFE and NCAC stressed that the company’s threat would have a chilling effect on the sale of books that adults have a legal right to buy. “The policy will have a dramatic impact on the sale of works that are protected by First Amendment,” ABFFE President Chris Finan said. NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin said PayPal’s policy would restrict the freedom of the Internet. “Those who find sexual or any other kind of content disturbing or immoral don’t have to buy it, but it is widely accepted that they have no right to impose their views on others,” she said.

PayPal began to notify online booksellers about its policy two weeks ago. In a February 24 press release, Smashwords said that PayPal had delivered an ultimatum on February 18, threatening to deactivate its PayPal service if it did not remove all erotic fiction containing descriptions of bestiality, rape, and incest. Smashwords notified authors and publishers to remove the content targeted by PayPal. “It is not feasible for us to switch to another provider, should such a suitable provider even exist,” the press release said. Published reports indicate that PayPal delivered similar ultimatums to other Internet bookstores, including All Romance Ebooks, BookStrand.com, and eXcessica.

The letter from ABFFE and NCAC noted that PayPal’s policy has the potential to suppress important literary works. “Incest, rape, and bestiality have been depicted in world literature since Sophocles’ Oedipus and Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” their letter said. In addition, they noted that it couldn’t be claimed that PayPal’s policy would affect only “low-value erotica” because literary assessments change over time.   “Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were banned as ‘obscene’ in the United States,” they wrote.

In conclusion, ABFFE and NCAC said, “We do understand the need to have appropriate acceptable use policies, but we strongly believe that those can be crafted in ways that will allow PayPal to protect its interests without becoming a censor. We would be happy to work with you on developing such an approach.”