The Paypal Fiction Crackdown Roundup
Back in 2007, Jayne and I reviewed ebookstores. There seemed to be new ones that were announced everyday. When All Romance eBooks launched in 2007, it lacked the Paypal option. It would later add Paypal in October of 2007. Commenters informed us that Paypal had content restrictions. One reason that Loose Id does not partner with Paypal is because of Paypal’s content restrictions.
Paypal had a “Mature Audiences” definition.
PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy prohibits the sale of items for mature audiences. After a review of your site/account, you have either received payments via PayPal, or have PayPal referenced on your site. Due to the violation of the Acceptable Use Policy your account will be closed and the remaining balance will be sent to you by check. Please be sure that your account information is accurate, as we cannot be held responsible for checks issued to an incorrect address. We do ask that you please remove reference(s) to PayPal from your site.
But according to another commenter, there was an exception:
Most websites sell both printed and eBook format which puts them into the Physical Goods clause above the Digital Goods category…
Notice where it reads…
PayPal may consider some or all of the following factors:
Literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
This policy no longer appears on Paypal’s website. Their policies have been changing. According to this comment here at Dear Author by Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, Paypal has changed because of new business partners:
I think the folks at PayPal are honest, honorable people, and I take what they tell me in that spirit. It doesn’t mean I agree with their policies. This is what they told me, in their words, unedited: “We work with a number of acquiring banks and credit card associations as part of our business. Many of the items contained in our AUP are restricted by our banking partners, particularly rape, bestiality and incest related content. Our banking partners and credit card associations have taken a very strict stance on this subject matter. Our relationships with the banking partners are absolutely critical in order to provide the online and mobile services we do to our customers. Therefore, we have to remain in compliance with their rules, which prohibit content involving rape, bestiality or incest.”
Paypal has not accepted erotica since 2003, they are just slow and arbitrary in who they close down, but talk to ebookad, Belhue Press and any one of a score of erotic romance writers and artists many of whom lost not only their accounts but their money. Using paypal with erotic content including normal romance is gambling with your customers money.
In August of 2007, Paypal amended its Acceptable Use Policy in the following fashion:
Amendment to Section 10 of the PayPal User AgreementEffective Date: Aug 23, 2007
- Amendment to Section 10 of the PayPal User Agreement
Beginning August 23, 2007, section 10.5 of the PayPal User Agreement is being amended to allow PayPal to hold your funds for up to 180 days and fine you up to $2,500 (increased from $500) for the following violations of the Acceptable Use Policy:
- Using the Service to receive payments for any sexually oriented or obscene materials or services in violation of the Acceptable Use Policy; or
- Using the Service to receive payments for any narcotics, other controlled substances, steroids or prescription drugs in violation of the Acceptable Use Policy; or
- Using the Service to receive payments for wagers, gambling debts or gambling winnings, regardless of the location or type of gambling activity in violation of the Acceptable Use Policy; or
- Using the service to receive payments for tobacco products in violation of the Acceptable Use Policy.
The Paypal crackdown first came to my notice a couple of weeks ago when Bookstrand sent out this notice:
Dear Indie Author,
We have made a decision to no longer maintain most indie author accounts at BookStrand.com. Therefore, we are deactivating all titles associated with your account and no new uploads will be accepted. Your final distribution payment will be disbursed to you within 30 days and your account will be closed. During this time you will still be able to access your sales report from your account.
BookStrand will focus on its core business by servicing accounts of publishers with clear submission and publishing guidelines that best serve our targeted audience. Our customer base was successfully built on this premise, and it’s time to go back to our roots.
While we understand you may be disappointed in losing a distribution outlet for your work, there are still several outlets that currently accept self-published titles. We wish you the best in your endeavors.
Bookstrand wanted me to make sure that we knew that it didn’t publish beastility, incest or pseudo incest:
Kindly get your facts straight.
Siren-BookStrand Publishing NEVER has and NEVER will publish books with the disgusting themes of incest, pseudo incest, rape for sexual titillation, or bestiality with naturally occurring animals. ALL of these incest, pseudo-incest, rape, and bestiality titles were uploaded to the e-book store, BookStrand.com, mainly by self-pubbed authors who don’t know where to draw the line when it comes to obscenity. We have deactivated those self-pubbed titles from BookStrand as per PayPal’s specific request. Currently, these are the same titles still offered for sale by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and All Romance Ebooks.
As for rape, we carry about a small handful of titles (out of the 2,000 we have published) where rape was portrayed as a criminal act of sexual assault that left our heroines psychologically damaged as they struggled to rebuild their lives and found love and trust again with the heroes. As for bestiality, hopefully you aren’t mistaking this filthy act with a family dog or a pet goat for an HEA romance and sex with shape-shifting sentient beings such as wolf-shifters, dragon-shifters, etc., in their human or partial human form.
I don’t know what your agenda is, but it is irresponsible of you for not checking your facts before making such an outlandish and false statement.
I demand that you remove such blatant inaccuracy that stems from your ignorance about what we publish.
All Romance eBooks
AllRomance eBooks sent out this email to its clients:
All Romance reserves the right not to accept any particular Work submitted by Publisher at All Romance’s sole discretion, and may remove any particular Work from sale at any time and for any or no reason. Pornographic and obscene Works are restricted and not allowable for upload on the All Romance site, including without limitation, Works depicting sexual acts involving persons under eighteen years of age (exceptions may be made for certain works of literary fiction involving time periods wherein the age of consent was less than 18 and the purpose of the depiction is not for sexual titillation), Works involving any exploitation of minors, sexual or otherwise, Erotic Works which contain incest or pseudo-incest themes, Works that are written for or being marketed to the barely legal market, rape for the purposes of titillation, scenes of non-consensual bondage or non-consensual sado-masochistic practices, bestiality with naturally occurring animals, sex with non-animated corpses, snuff or scat play.
and then answered some questions for me:
1. You are creating a new area for certain types of books. How will readers access those books?
We’re currently in the process of concluding a project that was initiated several months ago. What we are actually doing is splitting the current Erotica category into “Erotica” and “Erotica Romance” so that readers will be able to more easily find the types of books they most like to read. The goal is not to create a new area that will house a new type of book. We are not looking to expand into a new market. In fact, we are working to stay true to the original vision of our company.
As you know, All Romance eBooks was conceived to be a specialty store to cater to the digital romance market. “Gay” on our site has always meant “Gay Romance”. “Vampire/Werewolves” has always meant “Vampire/Werewolves Romance”. And, “Erotica” has until fairly recently meant “Erotic Romance”. In the past few months we’ve noted more and more Erotica without Romance elements appearing in that area. We know that there is a segment of our customer base that is interested in reading Erotica. There are others who wish to read Erotic Romance. Some prefer both and still others neither. We formed a task force to develop a long-term plan for improving the discoverability function that included conceiving of a way to separate the current “Erotica” category into “Erotica” and “Erotic Romance”.
Readers will be able to access these titles the way they currently do with one exception, Erotica titles will only appear to users who are logged in (which requires they be eighteen years of age or older).
2. Will the bestseller list include those books in the Erotica category?
At this time, no changes are occurring to the algorithm of our best-seller list. We’ve merely undertaken a project to split out our current Erotica category.
3. How will ARE be policing those books? By the author’s submission of metadata?
The procedures we’ve had in place since we opened on November of 2006 will continue, as will some new ones.
All publishers are vetted prior to acceptance. Part of the process is a review of their representative catalog of titles. When content we feel may be in violation is discovered upon review, we normally write to the Publisher and reiterate our restrictions and clarify the types of content we intend to sell. Often this results in a mutual decision not to proceed, sometimes a commitment to only a partial submission. In other cases, when the market goals are extremely divergent, we just deny the application.
We reserve the right to deny acceptance of any title for any reason. In the past several months, we’ve received more requests from publishers who wish to sell incest, pseudo-incest, and barely legal erotica and had to deny them. Those restrictions were recently added in an attempt to curtail those applicants. As many publishers and authors have pointed out to us, there is a market for those titles. We just don’t want to be in that market.
You ask about policing and we’ve had to do a considerable amount of that in recent weeks. We have responded to complaints very swiftly, but more importantly we have been pro-actively sweeping our database for tags, titles, and appropriateness of category placement. We’ve also been collecting data to help us size the issue and analyze possible ways of automating some of what we’ve been manually doing (as the manual review takes far longer).
We have approximately 400,000 titles in our inventory. Approximately %.05 are in the current Erotica category. We believe most of those are within acceptable guidelines and are working diligently to inactivate those that are not and contacting those publishers.
4. Is this in response to the Paypal crackdown on epublished books?
As indicated, we’ve been working on this for quite some time. We shelve titles based on a combination of BISAC and our own codes that we’ve created for sub-genres BISAC has yet to recognize. Because of some emails from our customer base wanting “warnings” about particular types of content, we created an enhancement in September that was added to the publisher panel that would alert readers to certain themes. We also clarified image content guidelines at that time and require publishers to provide information about cover content so we can determine if it’s appropriate for general viewing on the home page.
We receive feedback constantly from our customer base and our publishing partners and have an enhancement queue that we work through. These improvements, as well as the split of the Erotica category, are a result of that process.
We are aware of the recent Paypal crackdown and it did prompt another review of our policy on restrictions. At this point we feel that the action plan we have in place is sufficient to meet their guidelines. Our goal has been to complete the steps by March 2, 2012 and we appear to be on target for that date.
5. Will you be revising your policy as to what is placed in the new books section?
We’ve been working for several weeks on guidelines to assist publishers and readers in identifying the types of titles they can expect to find in the new Erotica and Erotic Romance sections. These have been circulated to publishers in advance so that they can begin planning. The guidelines were sent out to a dozen industry publishers and authors, both Erotica, Erotica Romance, Indie, and Big 6 for comment prior to finalization.
We have notified our publishers that those who have current Erotica titles will be asked to re-shelve using those guidelines and we’re testing a streamlined process we’ve created so that they may accomplish this quickly.
These guidelines will appear prominently in the publisher panel so they will easily be accessible and there for viewing every time a title is uploaded.
Here are our guidelines for the split:
Erotic romance is a Romance containing frequent, sexually explicit love scenes. The main plot centers around two or more people falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. The love scenes are a natural part of the romance and described using graphic and frank language. Typically these stories have an HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happy for now) ending.
Erotica is a sexually explicit story, which explores and focuses on a character’s sexual journey rather than an emphasis on a developing romantic relationship. While such an erotic story may have elements of romance, it is the sex that primarily drives the story.
Works that are restricted, as always, will continue to be deleted. We self-monitor these issues and monitor the various social spaces for comments. For the quickest response, offending titles can be reported to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Smashwords also sent out a notice:
On Saturday, February 18, PayPal’s enforcement division contacted Smashwords with an ultimatum. As with the other ebook retailers affected by this enforcement, PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal services. I’ve had multiple conversations with PayPal over the last several days to better understand their requirements. Their team has been helpful, forthcoming and supportive of the Smashwords mission. I appreciate their willingness to engage in dialogue. Although they have tried their best to delineate their policies, gray areas remain.
Their hot buttons are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.
The underage erotica is not a problem for us. We already have some of the industry’s strictest policies prohibiting underage characters (we don’t even allow non-participating minors to appear in erotica), and our vetting team is always on the lookout for “barely legal” content where supposed adults are placed in underage situations.
The other three areas of bestiality, rape and incest were less well-defined in our Terms of Service (https://www.smashwords.com/about/tos) before today. I’ll tackle these one-by-one below, and I’ll provide you a summary of the changes that will go into effect immediately.
*Incest:* Until now, we didn’t have a policy prohibiting incest between consenting adults, or its non-biological variation commonly known as “Pseudo-incest.” Neither did our retailer partners. We’ve noticed a surge of PI books over the last few months, and many of them have “Daddy” in the title. I wouldn’t be surprised if the surge in “Daddy” titles prompted PayPal to pursue this purge (I don’t know). PI usually explores sexual relations between consenting adult stepchildren with their step parents, or between step-siblings. Effectively immediately, we no longer allow incest of any variety in erotica.
Like many writers, censorship of any form greatly concerns me. It is with some reluctance that I have made the decision to prohibit incest-themed erotica at Smashwords. Regardless of your opinion on incest, it’s a slippery slope when we allow others to control what we think and write. Fiction is fantasy. It’s not real. It unfolds in our imagination. I’ve always believed fiction writers and readers should have the freedom to explore diverse topics and situations in the privacy of their own mind. From an imagination perspective, erotica is little different from a literary novel that puts us inside the mind of farm animals (1984), or a thriller novel that puts us inside the mind of a terrorist, or a horror novel that puts us inside the mind of an axe-murderer or their victim. All fiction takes us somewhere. We read fiction to be moved, and to feel. Sometimes we want to feel touched, moved, or disturbed. A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved.
Incest, however, carries thorny baggage. The legality of incest is murky. It creates a potential legal liability for Smashwords as our business and our books become more present in more jurisdictions around the world. Anything that threatens Smashwords directly threatens our ability to serve the greater interests of all Smashwords authors, publishers, retailers and customers who rely upon us as the world’s leading distributor of indie ebooks. The business considerations compel me to not fall on the sword for incest. I realize this is an imperfect decision. The slippery slope is dangerous, but I believe this imperfect decision is in the best interest of the community we serve.
*Bestiality:* Until now, we didn’t have a stated policy regarding bestiality. I like animals. Call me old fashioned or hypocritical (I’m not a vegetarian), but I don’t want to be a party to anyone enjoying animals for sexual gratification, for the same reason we’ve never allowed pedophilia books. I don’t want to publish it, sell it, or distribute it. The TOS is now modified to reflect this. Note this does not apply to shape-shifters common in paranormal romance provided the were-creature characters are getting it on in their human form. Sorry I need to clarify it that way, but we don’t want to see bestiality erotica masquerading as paranormal romance.
*Rape:* Although our Terms of Service prohibits books that advocate violence against others, we did not specifically identify rape. This was an oversight on our part. Now we have clarified the policy. We do not want books that contain rape for the purpose of titillation. At Smashwords, rape has no longer has a place in erotica. It has no place anywhere else if the purpose is to titillate. Non-consensual BDSM – or any other form of non-consensual violence against another person – is prohibited.
*NEXT STEPS:* If you have titles at Smashwords that are now expressly forbidden, by the end of day Monday (Feb 27), please click to your Dashboard at https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard and click UNPUBLISH then click ARCHIVE. This will also cause our automated systems to remove the titles from retail distribution.
DO NOT try to hide or obfuscate violating content by changing book titles, book descriptions and tags. If we discover such shenanigans, said authors/publishers will risk account deletion and forfeiture of any accrued earnings, per our Terms of Service.
We take violations of the TOS seriously, because such violations jeopardize the opportunities for your fellow authors.
We do not want to see PayPal clamp down further against erotica. We think our authors should be allowed to publish erotica. Erotica, despite the attacks it faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection. Erotica allows readers to safely explore aspects of sexuality that they might never want to explore in the real world.
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. Please, act responsibly, don’t try to game the system or publish content that pushes the limits of legality. Help us continue to help indie authors around the world to continue to publish and distribute with freedom.
*THINGS TO AVOID:* Avoid using words such as ‘bestiality,’ ‘rape,’ ‘incest,’ ‘underage,’ or ‘barely legal’ in book titles, book descriptions or keyword tags, otherwise Smashwords may conclude you’re violating the Terms of Service, or trying to push the limits. If you’re writing non-erotic works, and any of these words are necessary, then you’re okay.
On Tuesday (Feb 28) we will begin removing content that we deem in violation. When we remove a title, you will receive an email notifying you of such, and that email will append this letter along with instructions on how to notify us if we made an error. I promise you, we will make mistakes, so please work with us, take a deep breath and honor us with your patience.
If you believe we removed something in error, please click “Comments/questions,” mention the title we removed, provide the hyperlink to said title, and provide your *calm* reasoning for why we should reconsider.
Our support team is backlogged, so it may take several days for them to respond. As we mention in the Terms of Service, we reserve the right to remove anything for any reason. That said, we will also try to make our decisions with care and prudence.
You might wonder if Smashwords should simply switch to a different payment provider. It’s not so easy. PayPal is designed into the wiring of the Smashwords platform. They run the credit card processing for our retail store, and they’re how we pay our authors and publishers. PayPal is also an extremely popular, trusted payment option for our customers. It is not feasible for us to simply switch to another provider, should such a suitable provider even exist, especially with so few days notice.
Please note our Terms of Service is subject to additional modifications as we work to bring Smashwords into compliance with PayPal requirements. Let’s hope today’s actions mark the limit of the slippery slope.
Significant gray area remain. Erotica is still permitted, though if authors try to push the limits of what’s permitted, we risk further clamping down. Please be responsible. Don’t go there. If you’re going to push the limits, push the limits of great writing, not the limits of legality.
Thank you for assisting our compliance efforts on such short notice. We know these decisions will be upsetting to some of our authors and publishers, and for that we apologize. We do believe, however, that these decisions will place us on a stronger footing to represent the best interests all indie authors and publishers from here forward.
Mark Coker Founder Smashwords
P.S. Please contact our support team for inquiries regarding this change in our Terms of Service by clicking the “comments/questions” link at the top of any page at Smashwords. If your inquiry regards a specific title, please include the hyperlink to the book page of that specific title.
Update x1: New email from Mark Coker which came across my inbox:
I’m writing to give you an update on where things stand. We are extending the deadline (previously set for tonight) for Smashwords authors/publishers/agents to voluntarily remove certain content (erotica featuring themes of rape, bestiality, incest) from Smashwords . I’ll communicate the new deadline in a future email once I gain new information.
I had another call with PayPal this morning. Our conversation is continuing with them as I seek to achieve a less onerous, more sensible result.
There’s a sliver of hope that I might be able to obtain a more positive, less restrictive outcome than I communicated on Friday, yet it’s unlikely we’ll achieve the true result I want (no censorship) in the near term. Today, PayPal hinted at a more relaxed definition of prohibited content as, according to them [I’m paraphrasing], “books for which rape, bestiality and incest are the major theme. If rape, bestiality and incest are incidental plot points, then that content might be allowable.”
This represents a significant clarification in our ongoing attempt to delineate the gray areas and push back the onerous, unfair and restrictive definitions as they now stand. It’s an opening, but it’s not the final word from PayPal. Our friends at PayPal are trying their their best to help Smashwords authors and publishers.
This potential relaxation doesn’t solve the broader issue of censorship. I think if a writer wants to write fiction around the theme of [anything], I think they should be able to write it if it’s legal.
Today’s progress, while encouraging, also opens up new gray area. How does one judge whether the taboo subjects are incidental instances or major themes? Where does one draw the line? The PayPal rep and I agreed our discussion will continue, and they assured me our PayPal services will not be cut off as we both work in good faith to advance the discussions.
A lot of people have been attacking Smashwords for my decision to comply with PayPal’s requirements. They’re pointing their arrows at the wrong target, and they’re not helping their cause. We’re working to effect positive long term change for the entire Smashwords community, and that includes all our erotica authors and readers. This change is possible only if we work together toward a common goal. When people spread lies that this is all part of a Smashwords
plot to dispose of “icky books” (their words, not mine), or try to portray our actions as some sexist attack against against women, or worse attacks I won’t repeat here, they’re wrong. Despite the ugliness shown to me and Smashwords
over the weekend, I’m still working to protect these very people who attack us. The attackers don’t understand what we’re doing on their behalf behind the scenes, and even if they did understand I don’t expect them to agree with our approach. I’d rather work with PayPal in good faith than martyr the entire Smashwords community upon the stake of this impending deadline.
This is only the first chapter in this battle. Even if we fail in the short term we survive to fight another day. Regardless of the near term outcome, we will continue to engage to effect positive change with your help.
Over the weekend, many Smashwords authors and publishers demanded we abandon PayPal and find a new payment processor. It’s not so simple, and it doesn’t solve the greater problem hanging over everyone’s head. PayPal is trying to implement the requirements of credit card companies, banks and credit unions. This is where it’s all originating. These same requirements will eventually rain down upon every other payment processor. PayPal is trying to maintain their relationships with the credit card companies and banks, just as we want to maintain our relationship with PayPal. People who argue PayPal is the evil villain and we should drop them are missing the bigger picture. Should we give up on accepting credit cards forever? The answer is no. This goes beyond PayPal. Imagine the implications if credit card companies start going after the major ebook retailers who sell erotica?
My objective is for PayPal and Smashwords to pull the credit card companies into a more open discussion about these issues. I want all financial institutions to reevaluate their policies. I want the banks to change or clarify their policies toward something more enlightened. I want PayPal to loosen their policies. We need financial institutions to get out of the business of telling writers what they can write and what readers can read. Without this much-needed debate, the slippery slope gets more slippery for all indies.
Indie authors are the biggest publishers of erotica. Already, one retailer/distributor, Bookstrand, decided to drop all indies from their store. I can only assume they decided the angry authors were more trouble than they were worth. Our business is all about serving indie authors, so even if some segments of our author community are shooting arrows at us, we still want to help them work through this. The campaign at hand goes beyond erotica authors. It’s an indie issue. Indies are breaking the boundaries previously set by large traditional publishers. This boundary-breaking scares people. We should welcome the debate about what a “good book” should look like. I think a good book is anything legal that readers want to read, even if I don’t want to read it myself.
This campaign represents an incredible long shot. To move this forward, I need your help. Even if you don’t publish in the categories directly impacted by this crackdown, this campaign matters to you.
What can you do to move things forward? First, direct your attention where it matters most. Contact your credit card company or congressperson and tell them you want financial services companies out of the business of censoring what writers and readers are free to imagine with fiction. Blog about it. Tweet about it. Contact your favorite blogger and encourage them to raise awareness. Start petitions and tell financial institutions you want their censors out of your head. Contact the media. The media, with your urging, has the power to shine a bright light on the dangerous slipperly slope of censorship by financial institutions.
If the media (both traditional and social) calls on credit card companies and banks to honestly answer these simple questions, then they’ll either be compelled to acknowledge the absurdity of their policies or they’ll be compelled to rewrite their policies. This troublesome tide can shift if financial institutions are forced to answer why they’re prohibiting legal fiction.
I realize my message to you today cannot possibly answer all the questions you may have. Know that we’re working for all authors, even those likely to suffer from whatever ultimate changes we implement in the near term. We all want censors off our backs and out of our heads, and if that’s not the result we achieve, then we’ll at least work to get you more clearly defined rules. Bear with us.
I will post this message in the Smashwords Press room at http://www.smashwords.com/press so it’s archived.