The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU, CA), American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Authors Guild and the National Coalition Against Censorship were among groups that sent a joint-letter to PayPal over a new policy the service is enacting relating to certain types of erotic literature.
Specifically, PayPal threatened to cut off payments to accounts of online publishers who marketed books featuring incest, rape or bestiality. While the topics may not be appealing to most people, the EFF and others argue that PayPal has no right to abuse its position in order to enforce censorship.
"As scholars and booksellers can attest, these are themes prevalent in many forms of literature, from Grecian myths to the Bible," an EFF post on the matter reads.
The digital rights group said it is not the first time a payment service has attempted to interfere with access to lawful speech, citing the decision by Mastercard, Visa and PayPal to block donations to WikiLeaks. "Financial service providers are an important part of the chain of intermediaries upon which online communication depends."
"The Catholic Church's Index of Prohibited Books, like the Hays code in the film industry, has long since lost favor with the American public, and there is no reason to think that they would welcome PayPal in a similar role. The commitment to free speech is firmly embedded in our society, legally and culturally."
Below is the text of the Coalition letter sent to PayPal.
PayPal, which plays a dominant role in processing online sales, has taken full advantage of the vast and open nature of the Internet for commercial purposes, but is now holding free speech hostage by clamping down on sales of certain types of erotica. As organizations and individuals concerned with intellectual and artistic freedom and a free Internet, we strongly object to PayPal functioning as an enforcer of public morality and inhibiting the right to buy and sell constitutionally protected material.
Recently, PayPal gave online publishers and booksellers, including Book Strand, Smashwords, and eXcessica, an ultimatum: it would close their accounts and refuse to process all payments unless they removed erotic books containing descriptions of rape, incest, and bestiality. The result would severely restrict the public's access to a wide range of legal material, could drive some companies out of business and deprive some authors of their livelihood.
Financial services providers should be neutral when it comes to lawful online speech. PayPal's policy underscores how vulnerable such speech can be and how important it is to stand up and protect it.
The topics PayPal would ban have been depicted in world literature since Sophocles? Oedipus and Ovid?s Metamorphoses. And while the books currently affected may not appear to be in the same league, many works ultimately recognized for their literary, historical, and artistic worth were reviled when first published. Books like Ulysses and Lady Chatterley?s Lover were banned as ?obscene? in the United States because of their sexual content. The works of Marquis de Sade, which include descriptions of incest, torture, and rape, were considered scandalous when written, although his importance in the history of literature and political and social philosophy is now widely acknowledged.
The Internet has become an international public commons, like an enormous town square, where ideas can be freely aired, exchanged, and crcized. That will change if private companies, which are under no legal obligation to respect free speech rights, are able to use their economic clout to dictate what people should read, write, and think.
PayPal, and the myriad other payment processors that support essential links in the free speech chain between authors and audiences, should not operate as morality police.
ACLU of California
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
Association of American Publishers
Bytes for All, Pakistan
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Coming Together, charity publisher
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Feminists for Free Expression
Index on Censorship
National Coalition Against Censorship
Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
PEN American Center
Southern California Independent Booksellers Association
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance
Written by: James Delahunty @ 8 Mar 2012 13:31