Response to PayPal’s blog about its ban on sales of certain erotic literature

Last week we sent a complaint to PayPal about its policy to shut down accounts of online merchants who sell erotica containing descriptions of rape, incest, and bestiality. Many other organizations have since registered their concerns over the policy.  Today, PayPal posted a response on its blog.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t say much.  It refers to “brand, regulatory and compliance risk associated with this type of content,” but doesn’t explain what those vague references mean. All PayPal does is process payments.  It already holds users “independently responsible for complying with all applicable laws in all of your actions related to your use of PayPal’s services, regardless of the purpose of the use.”  IF PayPal were ever charged with processing a payment for something illegal, they would surely deny responsibility and say that the buyers and sellers are solely responsible.

Besides, we’re not talking about illegal content.

Then there’s this peculiar statement: “This type of content also sometimes intentionally blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction.”  So what?  Why would non-fiction be more objectionable than fiction? Besides, how can they possibly divine the author’s intent?

Finally, there’s the comment that “this category of eBooks often includes images.”  The largest eBook distributor, Smashwords, says its erotica do not contain images.  But if images were the problem, why not direct the policy to them?  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting that would be any more acceptable than targeting textual material.  Images are also protected expression, and, like erotic books, erotic art has existed throughout history and is a respectable and respected subject for artistic exploration. For example, John Currin’s highly erotic and provocative art has received critical acclaim and been shown in museums around the world.

PayPal’s post is also interesting in what it doesn’t mention: credit card companies and banks.  In its previous statements, the company consistently defended its actions on the ground that “the credit card companies made us do it.”

Most telling is PayPal’s refusal to address the real problem – which is that the policy, no matter what its basis or motivation, has the effect of shutting down sales of legally-protected expression.

All the protestations about the commitment to free expression ring hollow in the face of its actions.

About Blog of the National Coalition Against Censorship

Blogging Censorship is where National Coalition Against Censorship staff weigh in on the censorship issues on their minds.
This entry was posted in Joan Bertin: Author and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Response to PayPal’s blog about its ban on sales of certain erotic literature

  1. Pingback: CBLDF » NCAC Rebuts PayPal’s Response to Criticism of Erotica Policy

  2. anneominous says:

    Isn’t PayPal a LLC? Making it, inherently, without blame for the products sold on web pages that use its service? Sure someone can go after PayPal for allowing its services to be used, however the they wouldn’t get very far since paypal already states that it’s not responsible for the products/content sold. Says so in the first paragraph of their own User Agreement “PayPal does not have control of, or liability for, the products or services that are paid for with the PayPal Services.”

    By blocking the sale of erotica, and their own response, they are claiming responsibility for the content/products sold using their service.

    They need to make up their mind. Are they are payment service or a content provider? If all they are is a payment service then they need to step back and allow ADULTS to decide what THEY want to spend THEIR money on. Know your place and stay in it. (cross posted this to their comments as well)

  3. anneominous says:

    BTW, I find it funny that not a single credit card company has ever been worried about its reputation when people use their services to purchase things much worse than erotica. Can they possibly be arrogant enough to believe that their reputation is more precious than that of the credit card companies?

  4. Maybe they’re worried about those very lewd covers? Here, let me show you mine:

    Terrible, isn’t it?

  5. Pingback: Dear Morality Police, Let Us Choose What We Read « David Kubicek

  6. Pingback: PayPal defends, NCAC condemns erotica publishing restriction | Ebooks on Crack

  7. A great summary, I used a quote from your post at, I hope you don’t mind! Karl

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