PayPal as moral arbiter? Is it correct for a corporation to decide what ebooks we may or may not buy?

The whole ebook world is in an uproar just now owing to Paypal’s decision to cancel agreements with any online ebook seller who offers ebooks dealing with incest, rape, bestiality or sex with underage children as a main plot feature.

A slippery slope to total censorship?

Not surprisingly many commentators have leapt to arms over this decision on PayPal’s part, claiming that this represents an unacceptable form of censorship, and that it is no part of such a corporation’s work to decide what we may and may not read, and others have equally forcefully stated that a company such as PayPal has every right to decide what sort of transactions it will be part of.

So confusion reigns supreme.

For those of you who have somehow managed to miss the excitement over the last few days, this action on PayPal’s part has been chiefly aimed at Smashwords, a well known indie website where independent authors may place and sell their ebooks. But it has become known that it is in fact not only aimed at Smashwords, but at a number of other online ebook sellers who carry erotica, including ebooks that deal with the forbidden topics mentioned above.  And further, it isn’t only PayPal who are enforcing this decision, but a number of other online payment companies are following their lead in this.

Why now?

What is not clear to me is why this has happened just now?  It has been well known for a long time that Smashwords carries (among many, many perfectly  innocent ebooks) a quite large number of erotic ebooks, many of which will inevitably deal with the topics that PayPal has decided they find unacceptable.

Nowhere on the net have I been able to discover what the catalyst for this act on PayPal’s part has been, which puzzles me a lot.   Why have they suddenly had a rush to the head of a sort of puritanical zeal?

Conspiracy theories abound.

Many commentators see the hand of supra- governmental corporations in this decision, and fear a sort of totalitarian anti-democratic move in society, in which corporate groups will control our lives, rather than the law and our elected representatives (as if this wasn’t already very much the case in some parts of the world), and that this move to censor ebooks, which are legally available according to the law  in the USA and Europe at least, is simply another step in this inevitable takeover of our rights by large corporations.   It is a thought, I agree.

How on earth do you censor Smashword’s ebooks?

What seems to me to have been overlooked in all of this fuss and bother is the practical side of this attempt to censor our reading, and that is the difficulty of identifying ebooks that fall under this rule on two grounds.

The first being simply the enormous number of ebooks that are submitted to Smashwords every day by writers – who will have the time to read them all to identify “unacceptable” ebooks?

And secondly, what constitutes a “main feature” of any such ebooks?

As has been pointed out, many books that are considered as good to read, such as for example, the Bible and many of Robert Heinlein’s books contain a fair amount of rape and incest particularly, and other books (Lolita springs to mind) are also accepted as literature, and thus not as obscene.   It seems to me to be an impossible task to separate the truly obscene from the non-obscene books.

PayPal can decide what to allow – or not……

Whilst obviously any company has the right to decide what it will accept and what it won’t accept, as PayPal has apparently done here, I am very concerned at anything that smacks of unregulated censorship, and this particular situation, as it does not only involve Smashwords and PayPal is very worrying.

Share with us:

What are your views on this particular situation, and the entire question of censorship by non-governmental organizations?

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