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"The only answer I received from Paypal was silence."
February 28, 2012 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Paypal is coming down hard on online erotica retailers. The service has sent demands to such ebook self-publishing sites as Smashwords, AllRomanceEbooks and Bookstrand, demanding that they remove all titles containing bestiality, rape-for-titillation, and incest- including the popular 'pseudo-incest' category of stepparent or stepsibling sex.

Smashwords has published an explanatory and apologetic letter, sent to all Smashwords users, on its website.

For an insider's take on the situation, see this lengthy blog post from well-known indie erotica author Selena Kitt.
posted by showbiz_liz (56 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sophocles is going to be pissed.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:39 AM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I take it nobody carries nntp:alt.sex.stories anymore?
posted by ocschwar at 8:40 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


The small-l libertarian in me says "yeah, Paypal is a private business, and if the owners and operators of that business don't want to be associated in any way with a transaction like that that's their choice."

The realist in me says: "Way to go picking your battles, you dull-normal neo-Puritan asshats."
posted by deadmessenger at 8:43 AM on February 28, 2012 [21 favorites]


If they can run a secure site and deal with the price swings, Bitcoin is ideal for these retailers: there is simply no way for another business or government entity to interrupt their cash flow. I run a site that's also a "target," and have made the decision to deal exclusively in Bitcoin.
posted by Teppy at 8:52 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


They came for the smut-peddlers... what?
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:53 AM on February 28, 2012


Sees like a win-win to me. The "forbidden" nature of the topics is what makes them work in the first place.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:53 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


So if I'm a business owner and I don't want to support rape porn, then I'm a "dull-normal neo-Puritan asshat"?
posted by gwint at 8:55 AM on February 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Paypal is coming down hard on online erotica retailers.

I see what you did there.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:56 AM on February 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


Bitcoin is ideal for these retailers: there is simply no way for another business or government entity to interrupt their cash flow.

Well, not before the fact anyway. Afterwards, on the other hand.
posted by DU at 8:56 AM on February 28, 2012


So if I'm a business owner and I don't want to support rape porn, then I'm a "dull-normal neo-Puritan asshat"?

I don't like Stephanie Meyers either, but I solve it by just not reading her stuff.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 8:57 AM on February 28, 2012 [33 favorites]


I take it nobody carries nntp:alt.sex.stories anymore?
If you're a Comcast customer, direct access to newsgroups was dropped several years ago.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:59 AM on February 28, 2012


Right, but would you work for a company that sold rape porn? Would you boycott a company that did? Would you boycott a company that did by not selling them your products?
posted by gwint at 9:00 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last time I checked, ASSTR.org was still going strong, as were other sites like Literotica.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:02 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Paypal is not now, and was not then, "selling rape porn".
posted by DU at 9:04 AM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Paypal is coming down hard on online erotica retailers.

Hard and heavy. With muffled a gasp, [acting Paypal president] John [Donahoe] lurched backwards. He shouldn't be doing this. It was wrong, he knew, at every level. And yet.... he could not pull himself away. His breathing quickened as he reached across the desk and lifted the portrait of Peter Thiel, gently removing it from its gilt frame and pressing it to his lips. Suddenly, the sound of a door opening punctuated the mahogany-paneled silence. And then ... dog footsteps? Whirling around in his executive chair, John gazed in horror at Meg, his three-year-old golden retriever. Just as he had dreamed. Meg cocked her head quizzically, her tail suspended seductively in mid-wag. "Come here, girl", John said breathlessly, ...

[That's just a preview! To find out what happens, send $1.26 via paypal to qxntqpbbbqxl@mailinator.com!]
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:05 AM on February 28, 2012 [54 favorites]


I wonder how Paypal's founder Paul Theil feels about all this, since he's uberlibertarian, giving seven figure sums of money to the SeaSteading Institute, essentially libertarian communes ran on international waters.

Also, while it's not got much retention beyond 400 days, here's a site offering free usenet for life. 1mbit per second, so it's not exactly warez friendly unless you're patient, but Usenet isn't 100% dead. Although vBulletin forums seems to be taking its place.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:06 AM on February 28, 2012


why are you attacking paypal's decision, what do you have to hide

we are good people and we are laughing at you
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:09 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The big question I have is ... why? There are only a handful of reasons I can think of that a payment processor would turn down a porn-related gravy train:

1. Threat of brand corruption or boycott
2. Threat of legal action
3. Some crazy-pants CEO that wants to moralize from their roost
4. Pressure from a government entity

So which is it? I know it's not #1.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:10 AM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


At least one of the links mentions that Bookstrand was also given the same ultimatum by the credit card processing company. Which seems to complicate things. If there are people higher up the chain who have decided to turn this into an issue... Paypal needs to keep its credit card processor happy as much as Bookstrand does.

And honestly? At least part of the argument seems to center on things like 'pseudo-incest isn't actually illegal', except that there are states where it is, especially where stepparents are involved.

Private entities aren't responsible for maintaining free speech. There are a lot of things you can say without having the right to charge people for saying them. Paypal does not have an obligation to allow its service to be used on sites with incest and rape porn any more than it has an obligation to allow its services to be used to sell racist propaganda. And yes, I would think less of Paypal if it allowed the latter, so it's got a good reason not to.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:10 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are only a handful of reasons I can think of that a payment processor would turn down a porn-related gravy train

I can think of lots of reasons to turn down a porn-related gravy of ANYTHING.
posted by pjaust at 9:13 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


They didn't want to ask Vic Toews for a quote?
posted by Kabanos at 9:14 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how Paypal's founder Paul Theil feels about all this, since he's uberlibertarian, giving seven figure sums of money to the SeaSteading Institute, essentially libertarian communes ran on international waters.

This is the 21st century. Money talks and bullshit walks has all the money.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:26 AM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can think of lots of reasons to turn down a porn-related gravy of ANYTHING.

I agree. I wouldn't vote for Santorum either.
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 9:33 AM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


mccarty.tim: "I wonder how Paypal's founder Paul Theil feels about all this, since he's uberlibertarian..."

When asked for comment, reporters received an answer of "I got mine, I got mine, I got mine..." on seemingly infinite loop, later to be discovered to be originating from a gold-plated auto-responder, which is the membership gift given to all billionaire uberlibertarians.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:36 AM on February 28, 2012 [15 favorites]


Might be that it's easier to drop the business for that subject matter than to deal with the logging requirements and/or legal entanglements that may be coming down the pike ere long.
posted by Mooski at 9:50 AM on February 28, 2012


...people are still using PayPal? Why?
posted by xedrik at 9:50 AM on February 28, 2012


I think this is a business decision, not a moral decision. The hassle of dealing with the higher number of charge backs, possible pressure from government, etc. all makes it cheaper for Paypal to quit servicing porn than to deal with it.
posted by COD at 9:52 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just to clarify; weird text porn isn't actually illegal in America yet, right?
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:55 AM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


This, of course, alludes to you: "why are you attacking paypal's decision, what do you have to hide"

Nothing to hide, personally. This is one of those rare incidents where something hits someone I know and I get protective. Namely, I worry about my friend's ability to sell her dirty werewolf books.

Is it bestiality if there is a werewolf involved?
posted by charred husk at 10:02 AM on February 28, 2012


Is it bestiality if there is a werewolf involved?

The consensus seems to be that it's ok if the werewolf is in human form during the sex, but not if he is in wolf form.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:04 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to clarify; weird text porn isn't actually illegal in America yet, right?

It's legal up until it crosses an imprecisely defined border into obscenity.
posted by Zed at 10:07 AM on February 28, 2012



The consensus seems to be that it's ok if the werewolf is in human form during the sex, but not if he is in wolf form.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:04 AM on February 28 [+] [!]


Stop the presses!
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:09 AM on February 28, 2012


I've been following this issue for several years -- actually more on the "rape porn" side -- precisely because I think that fiction pertaining to rape is not in itself rape, or supportive of rape, but a legitimate and even healthy exploration of a person's darker desires.

Having said that, I've recently begun my research into the legality of this material. In New York state, at least, the obscenity laws are so draconian that a person could be convicted of a felony just for possessing six or more similar "obscene" works. Any work depicting illegal sex acts (rape, bestiality, incest) is, by the NY state penal code's definition, obscene. Things get much worse as you distribute the works.

I am not in any way supportive of PayPal's decision, but I do wonder if obscenity laws like the one in NY had something to do with it. Even if no one has been charged yet with possession of rape or incest erotica, PayPal doesn't want to get caught in the middle when it does happen.
posted by brina at 10:16 AM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


gracedissolved: "Private entities aren't responsible for maintaining free speech. There are a lot of things you can say without having the right to charge people for saying them. Paypal does not have an obligation to allow its service to be used on sites with incest and rape porn any more than it has an obligation to allow its services to be used to sell racist propaganda. And yes, I would think less of Paypal if it allowed the latter, so it's got a good reason not to."

But what happens when the private company gets an effective monopoly? Credit cards and PayPal are pretty much the way of purchasing goods and services online. This is a pretty unpleasant example, but the impression I am getting is that the content (the literary depiction of an act, not the act) is actually, strictly speaking, legal. It sets a concerning precedent if they can refuse to process transactions solely because they object to the completely legal product being sold.

I can't accept that a private entity retains no responsibility for safeguarding free speech when they possess such an incredibly dominant position in the international market. That opens a potential for censorship that governments could only dream of.
posted by vohk at 10:17 AM on February 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


There was a thread/how-to on SomethingAwful a few weeks ago about epublishing erotica, and several goon authors started getting stories pulled right before this policy change. I wonder if the Paypal/SA history played into this at all.
posted by Benjy at 10:18 AM on February 28, 2012


Yes, but does the werewolf SPARKLE?
posted by kuanes at 10:18 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just switch to Dwolla already.
posted by dave78981 at 10:22 AM on February 28, 2012


Paypal is coming down hard on online erotica retailers.

Dear Paypal: I never thought this would happen to me. First of all, I'm a plumber and cable guy, and I moonlight as a pizza delivery boy...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Werewolf sex? More like BESTiality amirite?*


* I am not rite
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:50 AM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


eBay, which of course is cozy in bed with Paypal, does heavy traffic in books that fit under all the banned categories. Adult paperbacks from the seventies and eighties were generally more than racy, even patently offensive or questionably legal today. There's a lot of slavery, Nazism, incest, violence, and underage stuff that generally gets a pass as long as the sellers censor the title of the book. I await the day when Paypal issues an ultimatum to eBay to tighten the reins or be cut off.

Or maybe it's just a targeted attack on small e-publishers.
posted by vathek at 11:03 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


showbiz_liz: "Is it bestiality if there is a werewolf involved?

The consensus seems to be that it's ok if the werewolf is in human form during the sex, but not if he is in wolf form.
"


I love to think about an actual panel who decides questions like these and decrees the "official" consensus.

I probably love it because it would mean, after years of searching, I would have finally found my dream job/reason I was put on this earth (or at least what I've been preparing my whole life for).
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:05 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The consensus seems to be that it's ok if the werewolf is in human form during the sex, but not if he is in wolf form."

What about mid-transformation. 'Cause that's kind of hot. Like, at what point in the transformation is the person not-enough-human and too-much-wolf for it to count?

I NEED TO KNOW!
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:16 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having once worked in the online erotica sector, I can say that the only business reason for a payment processor to turn down erotica providers is the high number of chargebacks. You know, dude buys a subscription, dude's wife finds out, complains to the CC company, CC company says "okay, don't worry about it", then says to the merchant bank "hey, give us back that money". Merchant banks HATE THAT SHIT. So if you're in the erotica business, typically you need to use a merchant bank that specializes in that sort of thing, and they usually charge a high premium for their services. Sucks, but if you're in that business, where else you gonna go, right?

Don't quite know how this effects Paypal though, since they're sort of a middleman between the customer and the credit card. I'd imagine chargebacks aren't good for their business, but then again, I can't imagine the porn they're trying to target has a higher rate of chargebacks than, say, regular porn.

Were I to guess, it's some moralistic prig in charge who's trying to shut out porn that he doesn't like. And hey, I don't like it either. But whenever someone wants to eat away at your liberties, they always choose an example they know you're gonna agree with, like porn that most people won't like. That's why I support the ACLU, because they'll stick up for your ass even if you're into some fucked-up, reprehensible shit. So long as you're not breaking any laws, who cares?
posted by Afroblanco at 11:23 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


@afroblanco

you're right, we need to change the laws and make it illegal
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:27 AM on February 28, 2012


Heh. Not quite what I was saying.

I do not agree with you.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:29 AM on February 28, 2012


I figure PayPal has a choice, they can either be an economic common carrier and simply process payments and not try and manage who does what, or they can be responsible for the morality and legality every single transaction they process.

If they want to be the arbiter and responsible moral and legal party for the payments they process that's fine. But it means that PayPal should be charged with crimes when people, say, buy illegal drugs using PayPal.

But they shouldn't get to say "we don't like smut, so we're going to police the smut and only process payments from people who write smut that doesn't squick us, but otherwise we aren't responsible either legally or morally for anything else that goes through our transaction processing service".
posted by sotonohito at 11:31 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


i don't either, it was sarcasm
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:32 AM on February 28, 2012


Ah. Got it. All good :)
posted by Afroblanco at 11:33 AM on February 28, 2012


PayPal is just doing us a favour here. Most self-published fiction, erotica or otherwise, is really terrible.

See, they are lowering the chance of you running across it, so the good stuff bubbles to the top.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:02 PM on February 28, 2012


I know you're (somewhat) joking -- but it does bring to mind another thought I had earlier too. My first thought at this story was "people are still paying for twisted erotic content to get them off? How quaint." Shutting down a well-known marketplace may force people to learn how to use Google better.

/doesn't seriously want that to happen
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:12 PM on February 28, 2012


. In New York state, at least, the obscenity laws are so draconian that a person could be convicted of a felony just for possessing six or more similar "obscene" works. Any work depicting illegal sex acts (rape, bestiality, incest) is, by the NY state penal code's definition, obscene. Things get much worse as you distribute the works.

Then every library with a full set of VC Andrews books better sneak 'em into the trash before they're found out.

Which raises an interesting point- maybe PayPal is just trying to stamp out terrible writing? Next up: Dan Brown novels.
posted by fshgrl at 12:44 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


fshgrl, according to the statute the predominant appeal of the material must be "prurient interest in sex." It also must lack "serious literary, artistic, political and scientific value." One might argue that VC Andrews has significant literary value.

I do wish they'd go after the Dan Brown novels, though.
posted by brina at 1:20 PM on February 28, 2012


One might argue that VC Andrews has significant literary value.

One might argue. Two, however...
posted by thomas j wise at 1:26 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


fshgrl, according to the statute the predominant appeal of the material must be "prurient interest in sex."

Thats why teenage girls read 'em.
posted by fshgrl at 5:47 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Next they come for Second Life?
posted by showmethecalvino at 7:25 PM on February 28, 2012


The consensus seems to be that it's ok if the werewolf is in human form during the sex, but not if he is in wolf form.

Hey, it's good enough for Tycho. In fact, I sense an untapped (hee) political gold mine of a wedge issue here!
RON PAWL 2012
MAKE CREEPY, VIOLENT, ANIMALISTIC LOVE
NOT CREEPY, VIOLENT, ANIMALISTIC WAR
posted by Rhaomi at 1:47 PM on March 3, 2012


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