Edit: Here is the link to the official petition concerning this matter: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/7/stop-internet-censorship/
If you enjoy having the right to write and read what you choose as a law-abiding, consenting adult without interference from financiers, please consider taking time to sign this petition. It’s YOUR right.
As Yogi Berra would say: It’s deja vu all over again.
A while back, I spoke on this blog about my frustration and anger with PayPal. The issue at the time was that they unilaterally froze my account because I bought $6 worth of novellas from Astraea Press in aid of a charity drive. I later reviewed these books, only to learn to my chagrin that PayPal had denied the payment and frozen my account.
After this disagreeable incident, I finally decided I’d had quite enough of PayPal and their unreasonably restrictive clauses. After all, no one has the right to view my purchases and tell me which ones are acceptable and which are not. I’m an adult male in the United States of America, and as such I enjoy all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
Or do I?
PayPal doesn’t seem to think so. Bookstrand issued a warning to some of its authors and publishers earlier today, stating that if they didn’t take down content which conflicts with PayPal’s nebulous and ever-shifting (but always preachy) Terms of Service, PayPal would cease processing transactions.
As Bookstrand is one of the largest online vendors of erotic romance, this creates a very thorny and frightening atmosphere for authors of all stripes. Bookstrand specified in their statement (reprinted from Tessie L’Amour’s blog, which you can read here) :
We were informed by PayPal, without notice, and by our credit card processing company, that we are required to remove all titles at BookStrand.com with content containing incest, pseudo incest, rape, and bestiality, effective immediately.
We request that you immediately log into your account and unpublish all titles that contain the restricted content. If you have uploaded titles containing restricted content and do not unpublish these titles as we are requesting, we will deactivate your entire publisher account, which will remove all your titles from sale.
Now, wait a minute here.
As Ms. L’Amour so astutely notes, this leaves a truly frightening amount of territory open. I can see people not wanting to read incest stories, but I also know a lot of people enjoy them when the people involved are consenting adults. The rape restriction is understandable, to a degree, but what about women and men who indulge in such fantasies as a means of relinquishing sexual control? Rape in itself is a horrible, violent, demeaning and cruel act which has little to do with sex as such and everything to do with asserting one’s power over another. Fantasy, however, is another matter entirely. Bestiality? Hey, I don’t get it myself, but if someone happens to be into horses in that way and I don’t have to see it, whatever cranks your motor.
The point I’m making here is that by PayPal flexing its muscles in such a heavy-handed manner, it is engaging in censorship and stifling the voices of authors everywhere. Will they next demand that John Sanford’s Prey series be pulled from the shelves, as these books contain depictions of pedophilia, rape, and acts of violence? How about Tom Sawyer, Catcher in the Rye, or any book containing the “N-bomb?”
Or, hey, I know! Let’s make sure that we as adults don’t have frank and honest discussions about human sexuality. Let’s go back to relegating GLBTQA fiction to the basement where certain mouthy members of the dwindling minority insist it belongs. Let’s not talk about pedophilia or child abuse in any form, even if we speak from first-hand experience, lest we offend someone who’d rather go through life with blinders on. (For the record, I DO NOT and HAVE NEVER supported depictions of child abuse or molestation for titillation as remotely acceptable. However, to refuse to acknowledge it at all strikes me as singularly short-sighted and a prime example of ostrich logic.)
A particularly blunt, forthright, and applause-worthy response to PayPal’s attempt to use its power as the leading Internet finance facilitator to censor its account holders’ activities was issued by No Boundaries Press some six hours before I began writing this blog:
We understand that Bookstrand has to follow guidelines given to them from the sources they take payment from. This also means that there will be certain books we have to remove from there…as well as certain books that we won’t be able to place there at all.
With that being said, it could be possible that our other vendor sites will have to follow in Bookstrand’s footsteps and update to the same requirements.
No Boundaries has researched today and we will be updating our storefront to a different payment source from PayPal. When/If the time comes that PayPal forces store fronts into the same thing, NBP will be ready with PayPal alternative for our readers and authors.
If you’re an author, you should be feeling a distinct chill right now. After all, being an author is all about freedom of speech and expression. This is a clear attempt by PayPal to censor authors and force them to write only what PayPal deems “acceptable” fare for its readers. Never mind that pesky First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Let’s review that. Congress, the duly appointed representative body (at least in theory) of the American people is prohibited by the nation’s highest law from passing any law abridging the freedom of speech or the press. If Congress can’t, then where does PayPal get off thinking they CAN?
If you’re a reader, you should be absolutely furious. This bold, big, bad move by PayPal will directly limit what your favorite authors can and cannot write, and hence what you can and cannot read. Ultimately, it paves the way for much harsher restrictions upon the content of fiction of all types.
So what can you do?
For starters, if at all possible, stop using PayPal immediately. Let them know that we, the people, are still the final arbiters of right and wrong. PayPal only has the power we give them. By closing your account and thus stripping them of their power as an entity until they cease this illegal activity, you can show them we mean business.
Next, write a letter to PayPal letting them know how you feel about this issue. Whether you’re a professional author or a reader, your voice needs to be heard. The greater an outcry we create, the more likely it is PayPal will be forced to understand they’re breaking the law and violating our First and Fourth Amendment rights.
(Oh! Did I forget to mention that one? Here you go:)
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
See above, concerning PayPal’s unilaterally and without notice seizing funds from people who do things they don’t like. With no warrant and no probable cause, no oversight by a judge or justice of the peace, and no legal right to do so except their own Terms of Service, which are subordinate to the laws of the United States of America, and yes, that means the Constitution.
Here are a list of all the pertinent email addresses (I advise copying the list in its entirety into your email addressing bar). All email addresses here were obtained through http://screw-paypal.com/paypal_contact_information.html. The author makes no warranty as to the accuracy or currency of any address included herein.
email@example.com (Michael Barrett, Chief Information Security Officer)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Let public relations know you are filing complaints)
email@example.com (Amanda Pires — Media Relations Contact)
Finally, encourage your friends, family, and business associates (including your favorite book publishers) to seek out other methods of online payment, such as prepaid debit cards or other financial services in competition with PayPal.
We cannot remain a free society if anyone has or assumes the right to deprive us of our most basic freedoms under the law. Censorship hurts readers and authors alike. Don’t let this battle be lost because you didn’t believe your voice could make a difference.
One voice is all it takes. And if one doesn’t do it, we’ll find two, four, eight, as many as it takes. DO NOT ALLOW CENSORSHIP to destroy our freedom, not from our appointed representatives, and certainly not from people who are supposed to do one thing and one thing only: move money around.
If y’all will excuse me . . . I have a letter to write.
Here is a copy of the letter I sent to PayPal.
To Whom It Concerns:
PayPal has sunk to a new low. By attempting to enforce a nebulous moral code upon your users, from personal to large businesses, you have violated the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, to wit: freedom of speech and the press and the right to be secure in one’s person, home, effects, and papers. Your Terms of Service are still subject to the law, and no one is above the Constitution. I myself have been a victim of your violations of my Fourth Amendment rights on more than one occasion. I refuse to permit myself or any other individual to fall prey to your attack on authors’ and publishers’ freedom of speech and the press.
For this reason, I am writing you to advise you that I and others have reported this matter in the blogosphere; that we are communicating our displeasure at your heavy-handed attempt to enforce morality through manipulation of interstate commerce; and that you can expect an onslaught of negative publicity and a torrent of letters such as mine. I am also remitting copies of this letter to the District Attorneys of the States of Nevada and Texas and to the Federal Circuit Courts having jurisdiction in these areas, as I am quite certain you have violated no less than two and in all likelihood more Constitutional Amendments by your actions. In addition, rest assured I will be forwarding this letter to local and national news outlets for their perusal.
I should be very surprised if you do not also receive, at some point in the very near future, a class-action lawsuit against PayPal by those customers, present and former, whom you have mistreated and whose property and rights were misappropriated by PayPal in the past and present. I am personally and publicly urging my PayPal-using friends, family, and business associations to seek alternative methods of online payment. As a former customer, I can assure you this entire affair has not encouraged me to resume any form of business relationship with PayPal or its affiliate companies. As an author of material PayPal may find “objectionable,” I find your actions utterly beneath contempt.
Until next time,
Author’s note: I encourage any reader of this blog to reblog, repost, Tweet and republish the content herein, with proper accreditation, and to feel free to use any portion of this blog, with proper accreditation, for your own blogs and other social media. Spread the word, folks.