Free Speech Groups Protest Paypal Ban on Erotic Material
The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), the bookseller's voice in the fight against censorship, today joined the National Coalition Against Censorship to protest a threat by the online payment processor Paypal to close the accounts of online booksellers who sell works that include descriptions of rape, incest, and bestiality. In a letter to Paypal's parent company, eBay, ABFFE and NCAC said 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 the 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. ABFFE and NCAC made the same argument in a statement opposing Paypal's threat, on which the groups were joined by over a dozen free expression, civil liberties, author, publisher, and bookseller advocacy organizations.
Paypal began to notify online companies about its policy two weeks ago. According to a Feb. 24 email that Mark Coker, founder of e-book distributor Smashwords, sentto its authors, Paypal delivered an ultimatum to the company on Feb. 18, threatening to deactivate its Paypal service if it did not remove all erotic fiction that contains 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 email said. Published reports indicate that Paypal delivered similar ultimatums to other Internet bookstores, including All Romance Ebooks, Bookstrand.com, and eXcessica.
The ABFFE and NCAC letter notes 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," it says. Nor can it be claimed that the policy only affects "low-value speech" because literary assessments change over time. "Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover were banned as 'obscene' in the United States," it notes.