Online money transfer outfit Paypal has overstepped its mandate by threatening to shut down payments for an online book publisher for printing erotica.
For some reason, Paypal has appointed itself the arbiter of knee-jerk reactionary right-wing politics and told Smashwords unless it stops publishing material which will offend the Christian right of America it will not let the outfit use its services.
According to Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, Paypal sent out an email to all authors, publishers, and agents who received the ultimatum about some of the ebooks which are published by the outfit.
Paypal is within its rights to provide a service to who it likes and since it is not a government body it is not in violation of the First Amendment.
The books that Paypal wants censored are those that contain bestiality, rape and incest. Coker said that he has no choice but to remove them from the site. Paypal is still the most convenient way for his customers to do business online.
He said that PayPal was hardwired into Smashwords. It runs the credit card processing for its retail store, and was how it paid its authors and publishers. PayPal is also an extremely popular, trusted payment option for his customers. It is not feasible for Smashwords to simply switch to another provider, should such a suitable provider even exist, especially with so few days notice.
"I apologise 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," he wrote.
He said that Smashwords already censors underage erotica and has some of the industry's strictest policies prohibiting underage characters.
Coker said that censorship of any form greatly concerns him. It is with some reluctance that he 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," he said.
Paypal's job is to help move cash from one person to another. When you sign up to a financial system you should not be required to look to it to provide you with moral correction, he said. That has traditionally been the role of priests and philosophers. In Western society, he said, we expect our financial systems to be secular. It has been like that since the bad old days, where Christians were not allowed to loan money, were finally repealed and Europe developed a modern financial system.
Digital Reader has published Coker's letter here