Monday, February 27, 2012

Censorship is a scary thing

Apparently, Paypal decided to lay the morality smackdown on certain types of erotic content in books. A few days ago, I received this email from Smashwords. (By the way, it's not only Smashwords doing this, it's Amazon, Bookstrand, and others.)

February 24, 2012

Re: Your Smashwords account at

Dear Smashwords Authors, Publishers and Literary Agents,

This email is being sent to all authors, publishers and agents who have published erotica at Smashwords. We will also post this message to Site Updates and the Press Room. According to our records, you pubish 2 erotica-categorized title(s) out of 2 title(s) now live in the Smashwords system.

This message may or may not pertain to you. Today we are modifying our Terms of Service to clarify our policies regarding erotic fiction that contains bestiality, rape and incest. If you write in any of these categories, please carefully read the instructions below and remove such content from Smashwords. If you don’t write in these categories, you can disregard this message.

PayPal is requiring Smashwords to immediately begin removing the above-mentioned categories of books. Please review your title(s) and proactively remove and archive such works if you are affected. I apologize for the short notice, and I’m especially sorry for any financial or emotional hardship this may cause the authors and publishers affected by this change. As you may have heard, in the last couple weeks PayPal began aggressively enforcing a prohibition against online retailers selling certain types of "obscene" content.

For good background on the issue, see this Selena Kitt post here - or here - or this Kindleboards thread here -,104604.0.html

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 ( 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.

There is more to the letter, but I decided to cut it off here as the rest only give steps on how to remove your content IF you fall into those categories. Before I go further (because when I mentioned this on Facebook recently, someone misunderstood my intent) I am NOT advocating the topics of rape, incest, or bestiality. I AM advocating freedom of speech.

In my opinion, that's what this is really about. I find those topics disgusting to say the list. However, I do not have the right to tell other people what they can and cannot write, publish, or read. And neither does anyone else.

Read the Selena Kitt article listed above. It's scary and eye-opening. I had no idea any of this was going on until I got that letter from Smashwords. Thank God I decided not to write any BDSM because that is being targeted now also.

I could understand being in an uproar if someone was selling images depicting acts of rape, bestiality, etc. But these are WORDS. FICTION for crying out loud.

Perhaps they are only targeting erotica because the "morality police" are afraid of sex? If they're going to get picky about content, then mysteries and thrillers should also be removed due to content. How many mysteries and thrillers contain rape, murder, mutilation and the like? Don't even get me started on horror! But you know what? I LIKE horror and I'll be damned if anyone is going to tell me I can't read what I enjoy.

Same goes for romance. Today it's the (in my opinion) really sick shit that gets targeted. That of course, doesn't include BDSM. Targeting consensual acts between adults is way out of line.

My question (and concern) is, what's next? What if they decide that vampires and werewolves are immoral? That means I lose my source of income. But more than that, I lose my dream. I lose what I love and the best job I've ever had. And thousands of people lose their favorite form of entertainment. Not just my books (I wish) but all of those that fall into the same categories.

I do not believe that I am immoral and I do not believe my content is in any way "sick" or "unnatural." But what happens when someone else does and they happen to have the power to ruin my life?

That my friends, is scary as hell.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious. When you say Amazon is doing this too, are you referring to what they did months ago, or are they doing something new, since this Paypal censorship that came down this past week??

Tracey H. Kitts said...

I'm not sure if they're doing anything new or not, only that Amazon has started to censor some erotic content. I wasn't self-published at the time Amazon did whatever they did months ago. I've only recently become aware of ... well, any of this.

My publishers had my books for sale on Amazon, but I wasn't informed of any type of censorship. Probaly because my books didn't fall into the designated categories.

Tracey H. Kitts said...

Sorry about the spelling errors. I should probably clarify too, that I've been traditionally published for almost 5 years.

I wasn't aware of a lot of things until I decided to start self-publishing. :)

Wodke Hawkinson said...

This is unsettling because it could extend to content that most of us might find acceptable but that a few dislike. You are right. Murder is in so many books and that is the extreme human crime. Where will the censorship stop once it has started?

J.M. Sloderbeck said...

Just what we need: the Morality Police have come a-callin'.

I don't write erotica, nor do I (normally) read it. PayPal went through this awhile back when some people started citing blogs as representing "hate speech" and asked PayPal to suspend payments to said blogs (anti-Jihad/Islam/Whatever-you-want-to-call-them are the ones I remember).

Think what you want about said blogs, and think what you want about the erotica cited above. This is only going to get worse, not better.

Sigh. But still, thanks for sharing!

Wicked Leanore said...

My husband wrote a scary article about this.
Just thought it may shed some new light and some Email addy's where you can complain.