PayPal Backs Off on "Erotica" Policy After Criticism of Censorship

PayPal recently announced that it would allow e-book merchants who sell erotic content to use their payment system. Previously, the company prohibited erotic e-book sellers from using its payment services. On PayPal's corporate blog, spokesperson Anuj Nayar wrote:

Unlike many other online payment providers, PayPal does allow its service to be used for the sale of erotic books. PayPal is a strong and consistent supporter of openness on the Internet, freedom of expression, independent publishing and eBook marketplaces. We believe that the Internet empowers authors in a way that is positive and points to an even brighter future for writers, artists and creators the world over, but we draw the line at certain adult content that is extreme or potentially illegal.

Then, he stressed the indirect role that PayPal plays in facilitating this type of digital content, going on to say:

PayPal is a payments company. The right to use PayPal’s service is not the same as the right to speak.

The new policy will focus on potentially illegal and obscene images of rape, bestiality or incest, Reuters reports. E-books that are solely text will not fall under this policy. However, books with child pornography themes will still be banned from PayPal payment processing. The main difference between the old policy and the new policy is that PayPal plans to treat each book individually rather than grouping them into a general category and policing them broadly.

The change comes after the payment company received criticism from the Authors Guild and the National Coalition Against Censorship, who voiced concern that middlemen like PayPal were being given too much control over print material and therefore threatening to freedom of speech. Said Mark Coker, founder of e-book seller Smashwords, of the new policy: "This is going to be a major victory for writers, readers and free speech. They are going to build a protective moat around legal fiction." Guy Adams of The Independent called the move a save to literary porn, as Paypal abandons effort to censor merely "smutty books." Paul Wallis on Digital Journal wrote, "PayPal has done the world a favor with this decision. This really does straighten out an extremely difficult situation for both media producers and their related services."

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