3/26/12 Note: Paypal has now adjusted their policy. I've also added some other links below.
I've been stewing over this for a while. Trying to figure out a way to make my point respectfully and clearly and not somehow sell out something else.
I first heard about Paypal back in the day, when I was part of a group that would gather and go the the theatre together. The leader of an outing would by the block of tickets and the rest of us would Paypal them our cost so they didn't have to wait until the night of the outing to try and collect from everyone. Paypal was really useful for things like that. And then businesses started using it. And it was great for that too, in that Paypal already had my info, so I could pay using Paypal and not worry about setting up another account with another place and handing over my bank info yet again. It's great for small businesses and places like Etsy.
And I like Smashwords. As someone who owns a reader that reads open format books, there are a lot of self-published books that I have limited access too. (I don't know why people don't make them available in all possible formats, but that's another blog post.) Smashwords provides the option for authors to make their work available in a number of formats, so I have purchased several books from them.
And, of course, I respect that Paypal and Smashwords are businesses and are trying to remain such.
But the news that Smashwords was given just a few days to either update their policies or lose the ability to use Paypal saddens me, not only because the crunch such an ultimatum put them in. Paypal has stated that any erotica containing bestiality, rape or underage characters cannot be supported. What this means is if any seller is found to sell books containing these things then their use of Paypal is at risk.
Now, those topics in erotica are not draws for me, and I can see why it causes concern for people. However, we are talking about fiction. And, as was pointed out on one of the lists where this came up, so far no one is saying you can't sell a book about killing people. Smashwords Terms of Service do state that books that advocate violence, are prohibited.
But that brings up the part that really bugs me. Beyond the whole - where do we draw the line with bestiality (are werewolf books bestiality?) issue, I'm not really sure I want Paypal making that call. I, personally, want Paypal to be a money exchange service, and while I understand that certainly I would want Paypal to make rules about the types of things it wants it's business used for, I feel like that should be more of a books yes or books no. Personal money exchanges yes, or personal money exchanges no. Shoes yes or shoes no. I don't, to use my favorite shoe example, think that Paypal should be saying shoes yes, but only if the shoes are not green.
You might think, well, I already said I don't read this stuff and I write young adult, so who cares? And that's the thing, I write young adult and sometimes my characters engage in illegal behavior, from speeding to drinking to sex. Some of my characters are victims of molestation, and no, since my stories are not erotica, none of this would apply to me. Yet. If the rules decided to eliminate all illegal behavior, well, it would be an issue for me. And as this post points out, Paypal has already gone after sales of books that were not erotica for including non-explicit discussion of consenting adults engaging in sex. So, really, what this says to me is that Paypal is deciding what's the green shoe. And maybe teal.
And then there's the issue of enforcement. One of the big complaints with SOPA and PIPA is that while many people agree that piracy is a huge issue that needs to be addressed if the rules put into place end up infringing legitimate creativity, then it hurt more than it helped. And I worry about this here. Or the reverse, how is, say Ebay, supposed to verify that a book does not contain such matter when they never see the book?
As, this article, which mentions that Paypal might be considering relaxing and/or clarifying some of their rules, points out, a strict application of this would affect all manner of things, including the Bible. It also mentions that some of this might be due to pressure that Paypal is feeling from credit card companies, so this is likely a broader reaching issue than just Paypal.
Regardless, this reminds me of the hub-bub about YA making kids into bad people. Books do not make bad people. (Lack of books might make bad people, but I'm trying to be open-minded about that.) People who write and read mysteries http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifare no more likely to turn into serial killers. People who write and read about sex, well, it seems likely that they will eventually have sex, but not so much because of the books.
Smashwords' press release states: "The moralists forget that we humans are all sexual creatures, and the biggest sex organ is the brain. If it were not the case, none of us would be here. Erotica authors are facing discrimination, plain and simple. Topics that are perfectly acceptable in mainstream fiction are verboten in erotica. That's not fair. Our decisions today are imperfect."
More linkage: Dear Author.