Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

PayPal Becomes Censor

PayPal, the international bank of choice for people who traditionally wouldn't have a bank account, the smart son of eBay, has waded into a controversy with independent eBook promoter Smashwords.  Seemingly fuelled by credit card companies and major banks, the morally righteous groups who wouldn't think of plunging the world economy into a subprime, credit fuelled mess, PayPal has ordered Smashwords to stop selling certain classes of books. 

Broadly defined as erotica it is quite specific that it wants all titles that deal with rape, beastiality or incest to be removed.  Delist these books or stop trading was the opening gambit to Smashwords.

There are a number of issues at play here.  First, there has been some popular and critically aclaimed literature in the recent past that featured some of these subjects that has helped to raise awareness of the issues associated with them.  There's also a lot of literature that glorifies the subjects too, by all accounts.  Unsuprisingly PayPal doesn't seem to want a case-by-case approach taken; it's across the board.  Quite how it would be policed, I don't know. In my novel Skin, one of the side stories is about how Melinda became the person she is in the book - sexually charged, very complicated and extremely violent.  Her gang rape as a teenager is the premise for her present day character, so although it isn't described, merely alluded to, perhaps my book would also be culled?

But even if PayPal managed to identify and specify those books that treat these subjects in a glorifying manner, there's still the issue that what they are asking for is censorship.  I don't buy or read the genre they are targetting and I understand the very real concerns a lot of people have about the kind of people who make money from it, but delisting the books from Smashwords won't make the problem go away but may help drive it underground.  I've just checked on eBay, a company that has more than a passing interest for PayPal, and it's clear that erotica in all forms is supported there, in many media formats including eBooks.  Given eBay's lax policing of the sale of 'public domain' ebooks, it's unlikely they will delist any such titles themselves.

But if PayPal does succeed then it will be an interesting time as books are delisted.  Sure, some pornography will disappear, although I suspect it will be a more resilient beast than honest fiction, but it may find eBook versions of the Bible challenged - a book that does mentions some, perhaps all, of the offending subjects.  But, on the positive side, perhaps the censorship will see teenage vampire novels delisted, if the TV versions are anything to go by - I guess you can tell that the Vampire genre is one I don't read!


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