PayPal Banning Books With 'Obscene' Content

Mar 8, 2012 10:30 AM PST

SAN JOSE, Calif. — PayPal, which curtailed online adult transactions years ago, is asking some ebook distributors to ban books that contain "obscene" themes including rape, bestiality or incest.

PayPal has sent warnings to online publishers and booksellers, including SmashWords, BookStrand and eXcessica, that it would "limit" the company's PayPal account partly because banks and credit card companies it works with restrict such content.

"Our banking partners and credit card associations have taken a very strict stance on this subject matter," PayPal said. "Our relationships with the banking partners are absolutely critical in order to provide the online and mobile services we [offer] ... to our customers. Therefore, we have to remain in compliance with their rules, which prohibit content involving rape, bestiality or incest."

PayPal's move has many concerned that banks and credit card companies may be exerting too much control over what books can be written, published and read. Many in the adult entertainment community have had that concern for years.

"We've had deep concerns about financial payment providers choosing what sorts of transactions they process," said Rainey Reitman, a director at the digital rights nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Speech on the Internet relies on companies that are supposed to act neutrally. When certain chains in this link suddenly decide to become arbiters of what people read, that's a problem."

EFF and a coalition of civil liberties organizations and publishers are now calling on PayPal to reverse the policy.

The coalition, besides the EFF, includes the groups Access, ACLU of California, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, Authors Guild, BannedWriters.com, Bytes for All Pakistan, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Coming Together, Feminists for Free Expression, Fight for the Future, Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, Index on Censorship, Internet Archive, National Coalition Against Censorship, Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, Peacefire, PEN American Center, Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance and Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance.

The coalition signed off in a letter to PayPal that "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," the coalition said. "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."

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