Friday, February 24, 2012

Marketplace Censors

From the beginning, sex has been what pushed the internet forward. New ways to use technology, inventive ways to create an income stream -- most of it started with someone peddling sex online.

The biggest exception to that would be ebay, and the payment form popularized by all of the people selling and shopping on ebay -- PayPal, which has become the way many small businesses online collect their revenue.

But PayPal has decided they don't want anyone peddling "obscene" merchandise to use their services. Of course, their definition of "obscene" seems to be a moving object. A number of online book stores have recently been told unless they get rid of whole sections of their erotica books, their PayPal accounts will be frozen.

Over the past year I've heard various stories of erotica authors who have had their PayPal accounts frozen. When it happens they lose whatever money was in the account. For good. Often worse, the author is no longer able to buy anything -- obscene or not -- via PayPal, or to be paid for anything via PayPal, whether it be through their pen name or their real name. No one tied to their address or their bank account can get an account. I've wondered at that. Why is it okay for the bookstores to sell these books, but not for the authors to spend or receive money related to the books? Apparently, it isn't anymore.

For now, it appears the restrictions are going to be on any kind of incest (real or pseudo), any kind of sex with animals, and probably only non-consensual BDSM, but the jury is still out on which BDSM is okay and which is not. Minors having sex has been on the taboo list for a while, which annoys the bejeebers out of me when I read one of my daughter's mainstream YA books and the sixteen year old kids are having sex. Why is it okay in YA and not in other genres? If we were going to outlaw it, shouldn't it be outlawed in the books our kids are reading instead of the books the grown-ups read? The law is there to protect minors, and then it allows it only in the books the kids read? Hmmm, I'm off on a tangent. Back to the current ban.

Bookstrand's notice begins with --  We were informed by PayPal, without notice, and by our credit card processing company, that we are required to remove all titles at BookStrand.com with content containing incest, pseudo incest, rape, and bestiality, effective immediately.

How you define "rape" decides upon whether consensual BDSM is going to be acceptable, or whether only the non-con BDSM will be included in the ban.

Some notices are also forbidding "barely legal" sex, which seems to be sex with an 18 or 19 year old girl. But 18 or 19 year old guys seem to be in the clear.

For me, personally, the idea of any kind of incest turns my stomach, and I don't care if it's a blood relation or not (that's pseudo incest -- sex between stepfather and adult stepdaughter, or adult step-siblings, or adopted siblings). I'm also not a fan of bestiality, barely legal sex, or actual rape -- though there are a few non-con books out there I've enjoyed. I don't see myself ever writing a book with any of those elements, but I don't think it's right to censor books with those things in them.

I read and write about things a large part of the public thinks is wrong, but no one is actually getting hurt in my books. No one is actually being flogged when I write about it -- it's all in my imagination. There are no sex workers to protect, no third world people being used for their cheap labor to make my product... it's words on a page. There are warnings about what's in the books, floggers on the covers, and the blurb makes it clear the story is about people getting spanked, and more.

When an author writes a fictional book about a serial killer, they are writing about an illegal activity. Movies about really cool bank robbers -- illegal activity. I loved Oceans 11, but it's glorifying an illegal activity, right? I adore Dexter, that oh-so-lovable serial killer, but if we erotica authors tried to write about a lovable rapist, we'd be dragged through the coals.

I haven't even mentioned the fact that pseudo-incest and "barely legal" sex aren't even illegal (just ask Woody Allen), and yet they are being banned. Where is the logic here?

Also, where is the line? I believe this will ban pretty much all of Kitty Thomas' books from the smaller bookstores, and that's a shame. She writes non-con, but she does it very well. She gets into the psychology of it, not just the physical --  Comfort Food  is one of those books that stayed with me for days after I'd finished. And what about Anneke's  Owned and Owner? An argument could be made that Etrin chose to be sent to the other planet, but it could also be made that once she's there she has no choice in what happens to her. Who is going to have the final say in these things? Some drone at PayPal? A minimum wage clerk at Visa?

As of now, various publishers and the smaller bookstores are getting phone calls and notices from PayPal. I believe all of the bookstores are choosing to remove the offending books, but some of the publishers are looking for other solutions. Apparently, they are learning the credit card companies charge exorbitant fees for what they term "high risk accounts", and their definition of "high risk" is anything having to do with sex. There aren't a whole lot of options for the smaller publishers looking to avoid this censorship. One publisher signed up with Amazon Payments, only to be turned down because they weren't allowing that type of product to be sold through Amazon Payments. The irony here being the little fact those same books are currently being sold on Amazon.

Selena Kitt explains the situation in detail in this Dead Robots Society podcast - her part starts around the nine minute mark. There is also an online petition, but so far it doesn't appear to be getting a lot of attention.

I don't want the banks to be able to decide what I read.  I truly hope the publishers and indie authors find a way around the current PayPal and other credit card bans.

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