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Censorship Books Businesses Your Rights Online

Paypal Forces E-Book Publisher To Censor Erotic Content 301

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-about-the-benjamins dept.
hey! writes "On February 18 of this year, global giant payment processor PayPal sent eBook publisher Smashwords an ultimatum: if Smashwords didn't remove all eBooks with certain erotic content from its catalog in the next several days, PayPal would immediately stop handling payments. Smashword's TOS already precluded child pornography, but now PayPal wants them to also censor depictions of consenting, non-related adults acting out incest fantasies. Likewise, fantasy novels in which human characters transform into non-humans are affected if those characters have sex. ZDNet has a summary of the impact of these changes, which would among other things ban Vladmir Nabokov's Lolita. As outrage mounts, finger pointing is in full swing. Smashwords blames PayPal, and PayPal blames the banks it deals with. The crux seems to be that erotica buyers have a higher rate of 'chargebacks' — customers who buy stuff then demand their money back. Fair enough, but is a customer really more likely to return a book because it depicts one kind of fantasy between consenting adults vs. another? Perhaps the problem is just the quality of writing." Note: as you can probably tell from the summary, the linked articles (while factual in nature) discuss subjects that may not be suitable for workplace reading.
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Paypal Forces E-Book Publisher To Censor Erotic Content

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  • It's not enough... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by houstonbofh (602064) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:31PM (#39189693)
    It's not enough that you want unfettered access to remove funds at whim from my bank account. Now you want to decide what I read too? Yet another reason to NOT use Paypal ever...
    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:49PM (#39189949) Journal
      Did they also request removal of works with aliens who turn into humans and have sex with real humans?
      It's been used in a Hollywood movie [wikipedia.org].
    • by Nerdfest (867930) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @05:07PM (#39190197)

      Absolutely. Who are they to determine what is and what's not allowed. Who do they thing they are, Apple?

    • by Tyr07 (2300912)

      If so many people didn't "use" the content until a sudden "drop in hormones" then demand a refund it wouldn't be an issue.
      Don't blame paypal, blame people who abuse the system.

      (I worked for an ISP once who also provided cable, lot of people wanted to refund adult content if their night didn't turn out as planned, or after watching 3 minutes of it if you know what I mean)

      • by Nikker (749551) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @05:36PM (#39190615)
        I never worked in the same industry but I guess it is a bit obvious this is an issue. Basically what PayPal is saying is this distributor is at a higher risk because of their already documented history of charge backs. OK that I can deal with. Charge a higher premium to the distributor to compensate.

        But for PayPal to be dictating what legal goods can and cannot be sold in a "Free Market" is just so wrong on so many levels that the pure gall of it should be enough to shut the place down. IMO
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by iamgnat (1015755)

          "Free Market"

          I don't think this term means what you think it means.

          A free market does not mean you have the right to buy/sell whatever you want from/to anyone. What it really means is that PayPal has every right to do things like this so long as they don't violate certain rules (e.g. discrimination of protected groups, etc..), but you and the publisher have the right to take your business elsewhere. If enough users go elsewhere, then they either shut down (and there will be much rejoicing!) or alter their policies.

          GoDad

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by simishag (744368)

          I never worked in the same industry but I guess it is a bit obvious this is an issue. Basically what PayPal is saying is this distributor is at a higher risk because of their already documented history of charge backs. OK that I can deal with. Charge a higher premium to the distributor to compensate.

          Credit card merchant banks already do this. Merchants pay more for "card not present" transactions (anything online) and certain types of businesses pay different discount rates. Hotels generally pay more than "regular" storefront merchants, for example. Restaurants and gas stations pay different rates. I think government agencies generally get the best rates but I'm not sure.

          However, the rates for adult content merchants are already sky high (12-15% vs around 3% for non-adult merchants) because, surprise

    • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @05:26PM (#39190463) Journal

      Force your control on a man and he'll revolt. Sell your control to a man and he'll purchase, embrace and defend it.

    • by no-body (127863) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @06:18PM (#39191093)

      PayPal had in it's Acceptable Use Policy since ages forbidding any use of its services for erotics and some other stuff - no weapon "parts"...

      https://cms.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/?cmd=_render-content&content_ID=ua/AcceptableUse_full&locale.x=en_US [paypal.com]

      Nothing new, actually.

      Not trying to defend PayPal, but the underlying reason may be to avoid becoming part of something illegal somewhere. The erotic thing may have other reasons.

      If you are using a functional bank account with any reasonable amount on it with PayPal, your own problem.
      A - open account with bank
      B - use it to open PayPal account
      C - close bank account
      D - always chose payments from Credit Cards @ PayPal

      If you need to use PayPal to receive payments and a bank account - just keep your funds low on that account.

  • by forkfail (228161) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:31PM (#39189697)

    Likewise, fantasy novels in which human characters transform into non-humans are affected if those characters have sex.

    Please?

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:34PM (#39189747)

    PayPal wants them to also censor depictions of consenting, non-related adults acting out incest fantasies.

    Someone better tell George Martin not to use Paypal.

    • by forkfail (228161) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:38PM (#39189797)

      And Shakespeare.

      A Midsummer's Night's Dream anyone?

    • by HellKnite (266374) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:45PM (#39189889)

      The Song of Ice and Fire series is fine, because it's not "non-related adults acting out incest fantasies" ... it's actual incest!

      • by forkfail (228161)

        It has an incestuous brother selling his pre-teen sister (after some rather violent fondling and other forms of abuse) to a Mongolian horde style war chief.

        Which is probably about right for the pre-industrial / quasi-pre-literary society being described.

        But also probably offensive to many, and probably against the pay-pal (and Amazon, for that matter) TOS.

  • Bitcoin! (Score:5, Funny)

    by stevegee58 (1179505) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:35PM (#39189767) Journal
    Everybody switch to bitcoin and put these losers outta business!
    • Re:Bitcoin! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ultranova (717540) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @05:02PM (#39190129)

      Everybody switch to bitcoin and put these losers outta business!

      Or wire transfer, or money orders, or checks, or credit cards, or cash in an envelope...

      I've never really understood what role PayPal plays. It's like a bank, but apparently not covered with any kind of regulations nor in fact any laws at all, with a reputation for stopping payments and confiscating money on your account on a whim. I can't think of a scenario where it wouldn't be the worst possible option for everyone involved. So why do people use it?

      But yeah, Bitcoin would be ideal, especially since proof of payment stays available as long as the network lasts. I don't think it can stabilize and become widely-accepted, however, especially since any sign it is becoming so would threaten every bank in existence.

      • I've never really understood what role PayPal plays. It's like a bank, but apparently not covered with any kind of regulations nor in fact any laws at all, with a reputation for stopping payments and confiscating money on your account on a whim.

        PayPal plays the role letting on-line retailers that can't be bothered to build their own processes and infrastructure to deal with payment processing outsource payment processing and let PayPal deal with the details.

        I think the main advantage (for retailers) of Pay

      • by Mitreya (579078)

        Or wire transfer, or money orders, or checks, or credit cards, or cash in an envelope...

        How stupid do you think we are? I'd love to fully boycott Paypal, but have you ever _tried_ to pay with any of the above methods? No one on eBay would accept it (anymore). International recipients (for donations) can't take money orders or checks or cash. And do you know how much bank wire transfers cost? Also, often times when a small vendor "takes credit cards", they still mean Paypal
        I mean, seriously, are you just listing payment methods, or have you given any thought to the practicality here?

        • by KiloByte (825081)

          And do you know how much bank wire transfers cost?

          In any civilised country, 0, up to a certain amount.

          International recipients (for donations) can't take money orders or checks or cash.

          Hard to mail cash (it will be stolen). Checks are as dead as miles or feet.

  • Oblig (Score:4, Funny)

    by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:37PM (#39189781) Journal

    Down with this sort of thing!

  • by Eldragon (163969) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:40PM (#39189829)

    I deleted my Paypal account six outrages ago.

    Every week I read about how some small business got burned by Paypal. However I have yet to encounter any business willing to drop Paypal and use the competition.

    Petitions and strongly worded blog posts will not change Paypal's behavior. Only thing that matters is lost business.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      I deleted my Paypal account six outrages ago.

      Every week I read about how some small business got burned by Paypal. However I have yet to encounter any business willing to drop Paypal and use the competition.

      Petitions and strongly worded blog posts will not change Paypal's behavior. Only thing that matters is lost business.

      How about eBay sellers getting burned? You state No Returns, No Refunds and somehow they decide you have to take the return because someone is a big whiner who cries all over the place (this after sniping the auction in the dying seconds - like they took any time at all to read the page.)

      Also wondering how eBay continues to get away with the practice of only accepting payment through PayPal in a near monopoly, but that's another story.

      • Also wondering how eBay continues to get away with the practice of only accepting payment through PayPal in a near monopoly, but that's another story.

        It is how I found Craigslist, and Amazon used, and so on... I do not miss eBay. I liked it, but I will NEVER use Paypal.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        Monopolies are allowed in the US. eBay/PayPal abusing the dominant status of one to push the other is just fine. And you can't get tour insurance if you don't pay the Ticketmaster Tax, another obvious and blatant monopoly engaging in abusive practices. But nothing will ever come from that. Monopolies are encouraged.
    • by GumphMaster (772693) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @06:23PM (#39191135)

      My business no longer uses PayPal and has a Mastercard/Visa merchant account and payment processor instead. PayPal were simply impenetrable when something went wrong with a payment. Refused payment from a good card? I couldn't find out why to help the customer... they'd only talk to the customer. When the customer called they'd just be fobbed off. I'd lose a customer, they wouldn't care. PayPal forces the user to duck and weave to avoid signing up for an account and surrendering unneeded information. PayPal were incapable of forwarding funds in any sort of prompt manner, preferring to pay the old cheque-clearance scam with 5-7 days of "free" money to invest. PayPal is at least partly regulated in Australia, but don't try to get a straight answer out of them about why they don't issue any sort of invoice for tax purposes. Don't get me started on their monopolist ethics.

      I have all the visibility I need with the payment processor I use now, it clears once or twice a day, they provide much better paperwork for tax purposes, and they are actually cheaper.

  • I know that this is a common theme here and it's used way too much here, but this is a case where you can and have to vote with your feet.

    This meme is popular at slashdot but I don't personally always buy it. Too many corporations have too much control of the marketplace. Paypal/ebay itself has too much control in how ebay auctions are paid for and in terms of online auction you don't really have a great group of alternatives when it comes to online auctions with a big audience. But this is porn. It's a

  • by tmosley (996283) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:41PM (#39189841)
    When asked to comment, Paypal representatives responded, "If you don't like it, you can yiff in Hell".
  • It would certainly be a difference.

    Friends had their CC number copied some how and got home to find $3,500 in pr0n charges were suddenly on it. Guess it got passed around a bit or something. They got the charges dismissed, but it took them months.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:43PM (#39189861) Homepage

    Seems like this is just the kind of break Dwolla [dwolla.com] needs to bring some much needed competition to the PayPal universe.

    • And Amazon payments, and Google checkout. There are options. Really.
      • by djdanlib (732853)

        It's too bad everybody drank the PayPal kool-aid. These other options are great, if only people would actually use them.

        You can scarcely find a non-profit organization that takes donations using anything other than PayPal anymore. Forget about using eBay without it, too.

  • Perhaps people (women? I have no idea what the target demographic for literary porn is -- I'm a consumer of the visual media myself) aren't expecting heavy bitch-on-whelp action when they buy the book. How clearly is the content explained beforehand? That might be part of the problem.

    • by maxwell demon (590494) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:57PM (#39190069) Journal

      No. The problem is that a company doing payment processing oversteps its authority by making conditions on what those payments may be made for. The only legitimate condition they can put is that the money transaction is not for some illegal purpose. Anything else is simple none of their matter. What's next? Streets which come with restrictions on what books people in the passenger seats may read when driving on it? Garbage collection with the condition that your garbage doesn't contain condoms? Television channels which restrict the type of food you may eat while watching?

      If they think those books are illegal, they should call the police. If not, they should shut up and process the payments, because that's what they get paid for.

      • by StikyPad (445176)

        I was referencing the claimed excessive amount of chargebacks for said material, not the processor's moral values.

        • by dissy (172727)

          I was referencing the claimed excessive amount of chargebacks for said material, not the processor's moral values.

          That has less to do with women and any target audience, than it does with one person in a marrage purchasing the porn because they want it, and then getting caught by their partner and trying to lie their way out of explaining it.
          This in my experience is usually married men.

          "My kid must have bought it, I would never do such a thing! My wife is watching, so you know I'm telling the truth!" or "Must have been a stolen credit card! I am an outstanding member of the *blahblah* community and would never do s

  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:44PM (#39189871)

    ... the Bible.

  • It's the fact that, once you've finished rubbing one out, there's really no more reason to pay for erotica.

    At least, not for a couple of hours...
  • by omganton (2554342) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:47PM (#39189915)
    Forgive my ignorance, but I'm pretty sure there was some incest in the bible somewhere, especially considering that whole "we're all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve" thing...
  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:47PM (#39189921) Homepage
    It is possible to end all rape by killing all men after getting a sperm sample.

    But such a solution would not be a GOOD solution. The proposed solution is far worse than the crime a few people have committed.

    Similarly, Pay Pals' actions are far worse than the complaint of higher charge backs.

    Here, I have another solution: Figure out how many charge backs are common in a single year. Add one to that number, call it "the C Limit". Pay pal simply states that any book that has reached it's C limit can not be paid for using Pay Pal.

    But that means actual WORK has to be done by Pay Pal.

  • by ThreeGigs (239452) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:51PM (#39189979)

    There are many things you are not allowed to accept money for on PayPal. Most of them are illegal, but some, like guns and erotica, are not. But I do remember in PayPal's TOS that they did exclude sellers from taking payments for adult material.

    So yeah, don't take PayPal and then complain because YOU didn't follow the rules.

    However I will grant that the definition of what is, and isn't 'erotica', could be subject to wild swings of interpretation. However any merchant with enough volume has their own merchant account and doesn't need PayPal anyhow, so shouldn't need to worry about PP's interpretation.

    • by ultranova (717540)

      So yeah, don't take PayPal and then complain because YOU didn't follow the rules.

      This does rise an interesting question: should TOSes or other unilateral declarations from private individuals or businesses be allowed to undermine the free market? As long as PayPal acts as a payment processor, it seems to me that allowing it to discriminate who it delivers payments to works against the interests of the consumer by reducing the number of suppliers available.

      In other words: should we let PayPal decide who can

      • This does rise an interesting question: should TOSes or other unilateral declarations from private individuals or businesses be allowed to undermine the free market?

        The ability to enter into binding contracts is an essential part of the free market—as is the ability to choose not to do business with someone, for any reason (or even no reason).

        In other words: should we let PayPal decide who can and cannot buy or sell over the Internet, and what?

        You give them too much credit. They can't "decide who can and cannot buy or sell over the Internet"; they only have the power to offer their services as an intermediary for payments. Others offer similar services, and there are even decentralized online payment systems like Bitcoin with no controlling authority to dictate wh

    • So yeah, don't take PayPal and then complain because YOU didn't follow the rules.

      These aren't rules handed down on stone tablets, they're company policy. Something being in the TOS isn't a good justification. The motivation for these rules isn't "Because otherwise chaos will rule, and justice will be defeated." It's all about PR for paypal. They censor erotica not because erotica is immoral, but because some knuckle dragging religious schmucks will organize a lot of bad PR for paypal if paypal did and their churches found out about it.

      That's why they're protesting the rules, not

  • by jafiwam (310805) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @04:54PM (#39190009) Homepage Journal
    Until PayPal is regulated by the federal government as a bank properly (which they are, de facto) only an idiot would do business with them.
  • There is plenty of erotic literature for free on the net in the first place. Second why not use your cc directly? I killed my Paypal-account last year because they changed their policy once again (in their advantage of course). Plus their attitude against Wikileaks reason enough to end relations with them.
    • by ErikZ (55491) *

      The same reasons you buy books/epubs when there's thousands available for free.

  • Log into paypal, contact us, there are no good topic sub topics so I chose Business Solutions/Other Business Resources to log a complaint. I suggest you do the same if you feel they should hear from the community

  • by Firehed (942385) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @05:18PM (#39190341) Homepage

    I hate to defend anything PayPal does - but they're absolutely telling the truth here: their partner banks are complaining (for whatever stupid, arbitrary reason), and they risk having those accounts closed (read: kill the company) if they don't stop providing merchant services for the seller in the article. One of the things that screws you over when you're only pretending to be a bank.

    Don't get me wrong - I'd love to see paypal refuse to comply with their partner banks and get shut down, but we all know that's not going to happen. There's a ton of stupid things they do that are certainly their fault, but this is (based on my own experience with bitchy partner banks) not one of them.

    • by Xacid (560407) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @05:46PM (#39190743) Journal

      Yet I could feasibly buy a horse cock dildo at my local adult store using my credit card from potentially one of these banks...

      Just a paperweight, right? Neighhhh.

    • by Ecuador (740021) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @05:49PM (#39190801) Homepage

      One of the things that screws you over when you're only pretending to be a bank.

      Ehh, you got it backwards, Paypal is pretending NOT to be a bank when they are one (they hold customers' funds and they issue lines of credit), to avoid regulation that would prevent them from profiting by screwing their users (most of whom can't help using them due to ebay being a monopoly).

      What is peculiar is that if "poor" paypal got a complaint from a bank that there are many charge-backs that are costing them, they would not threaten to cut them off (they would lose more than paypal), but pass the carge-back cost to them and paypal could pass it to their customer. But paypal never does anything logical or good, they usually do whatever boneheaded move is the easiest for them and they think will not hurt their bottom-line, even if it screws some customers. After all, they have the online auction monopoly which guarantees them customers that have no alternative (the definition of anti-trust violation IMHO), so they never care about sounding bad.

  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @05:29PM (#39190509)

    The crux seems to be that erotica buyers have a higher rate of 'chargebacks' — customers who buy stuff then demand their money back. Fair enough, but is a customer really more likely to return a book because it depicts one kind of fantasy between consenting adults vs. another?

    People who buy porn have more chargebacks because the companies that sell porn tend to be bigger scumbags than other companies. I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of porn related chargebacks are the result of either not getting an item you paid for or getting something that has been substantially misrepresented.

  • by IonOtter (629215) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @05:33PM (#39190571) Homepage

    I left Paypal about six months ago. I'd never been screwed over by them, but I saw so many other people getting screwed, that I felt why leave myself open like that? Because I have used Paypal to purchase porn in the past.

    Leaving and cancelling my account was almost alarmingly easy. Just delete a few things, clean up the history, then click on the "delete account" button. *bink* Done.

    No blubbery emails, no phone calls, no nuthin, just a "Thanks" and a slamming door. And I had a merchant account from selling stuff on eBay, too.

    I think this is one of those cases where Paypal is making so much money, they honestly don't need to give a shit.

  • by sdhankin (213671) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @05:33PM (#39190579)

    Why? They've shown their true colors long ago.

    Of course, if you care more about convenience than you do about their censorship and not standing up for what's right if it might cost them a buck, go ahead.

    It's your choice. It always was.

    • Of course, if you care more about convenience than you do about their censorship and not standing up for what's right if it might cost them a buck, go ahead.

      Thank you, I certainly will.

      If I want erotic fiction with incestuous fantasies, I will simply turn to a store with payment methods other than Paypal. In fact, in light of these events, I would expect stores who do stock such fiction to offer other payment methods anyway. How Paypal is run is Paypal's business, and whether I use it is between me and the

  • Oh Shit, My Wife Found Out

    You see the same thing is hotels.

    Also could be:

    SPMMFG

    Society Pressures Made Me Feel Guilty.

    • by hey! (33014)

      Oh Shit, My Wife Found Out

      You see the same thing is hotels.

      Except that *books* labeled as erotica are usually written by women and targeted at a female audience. This is just the explicit end of the romance market. I have a friend who's a published author of urban fantasies whose editors keep pushing her to be more explicit.

      I have another friend who writes squarely in the insert-tab-a-into-slot-b world of erotica. She *loathes* pornography, which she regards as demeaning to women, but I am at a loss to say how what she writes is not pornography. It describes a wide

  • From the Smashword FAQ [smashwords.com]

    Are books returnable if I don't like them?
    No. All sales are final. This is why most authors allow you to sample much of their book for free so you can try before you buy.

  • by hipp5 (1635263) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @06:09PM (#39191003)

    I'm sure this has been asked on previous /. PayPal horror posts, but...

    Does anyone know of a good alternative to PayPal? As far as function goes, PayPal works really well for me. It allows me to easily buy and sell things on bricklink.com (a LEGO marketplace), it has a worldwide acceptance that pretty much ensures compatibility with the user on the other of the transaction, and it handles currency conversions.

    Of course, all the moral side of things, PayPal blows. So is there an alternative? Or am I to continue bending over, taking it in the ass, and then thanking them for the privilege afterwards?

  • Not News (Score:4, Informative)

    by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @06:13PM (#39191043) Homepage

    This isn't something new or arbitrary, Paypal has an Acceptable Use Policy [paypal.com] and sexual material isn't accepted:

    You may not use the PayPal service for activities that:
    [...]
    relate to transactions involving (a) narcotics, steroids, certain controlled substances or other products that present a risk to consumer safety, (b) drug paraphernalia, (c) items that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity, (d) stolen goods including digital and virtual goods (e) items that promote hate, violence, racial intolerance, or the financial exploitation of a crime, (f) items that are considered obscene, (g) items that infringe or violate any copyright, trademark, right of publicity or privacy or any other proprietary right under the laws of any jurisdiction, (h) certain sexually oriented materials or services, (i) ammunition, firearms, or certain firearm parts or accessories, or (j) ,certain weapons or knives regulated under applicable law.

    That of course doesn't make it any better, it shouldn't be Paypals business what people are buying over their system.

  • by Bieeanda (961632) on Tuesday February 28, 2012 @08:03PM (#39192137)
    Christ on a crutch, folks. Paypal has been doing this literally for fucking years. At this point, you either have to have no contact with people who make and sell porn, erotica, or anything that could be mistaken for either, or have been living under a rock not to have heard of this happening. This is one of the reasons why your favourite porn sites only take credit cards and use processors that you've probably never heard of before.

    But for that matter, the other processors often aren't much better. I know of one that requires sites to have absolutely no references to celebrities in them whatsoever-- not just the prose (or whatever they're selling), but right down to posts on any forums they're running, and probably even the advertisements too.

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