Down the Rabbit Hole: Avoiding the Slippery Slope

It seems as if, like Alice, we’ve all slipped down the rabbit hole into a world that is less Wonderland and more WTF-land. In the year 2012, politicians are on TV actually discussing the legalities of birth control, even as banks are telling legal adults what we can and can’t sell and buy for our own personal use. It’s surreal. It’s frightening. It’s angering (if that is even a word).

It’s a slippery slope I don’t want to go down. So what can we do? Mark Coker, the owner of Smashwords, explains the situation better than I can in his email to indie publishers, which I have pasted below. He outlines steps we can all take to make sure we don’t go down that rabbit hole and find ourselves in a place we don’t want to be….




In case you haven't heard, about two weeks ago, PayPal contacted Smashwords and 
gave us a surprise ultimatum: Remove all titles containing bestiality, rape 
or incest, otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal account. We engaged 
them in discussions and on Monday they gave us a temporary reprieve as we continue 
to work in good faith to find a suitable solution. 

PayPal tells us that their crackdown is necessary so that they can remain in 
compliance with the requirements of the banks and credit card associations (likely 
Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, though they didn't mention them 
by name).

Last Friday, I sent the following email to our erotica authors and publishers: Then on Monday, I issued an update, 
and announced we would delay enforcement of PayPal's guidelines so we and PayPal 
could continue our discussions:


PayPal is asking us to censor legal fiction. Regardless of how one views topics 
of rape, bestiality and incest, these topics are pervasive in mainstream fiction. 
We believe this crackdown is really targeting erotica writers. This is unfair, 
and it marks a slippery slope. We don't want credit card companies or financial 
institutions telling our authors what they can write and what readers can read. 
Fiction is fantasy. It's not real. It's legal. 


There's no easy solution. Legally, PayPal and the credit card companies probably 
have the right to decide how their services are used. Unfortunately, since they're 
the moneyrunners, they control the oxygen that feeds digital commerce.

Many Smashwords authors have suggested we find a different payment processor. 
That's not a good long term solution, because if credit card companies are behind 
this, they'll eventually force crackdowns elsewhere. PayPal works well for us. 
In addition to running all credit card processing at the store, 
PayPal is how we pay all our authors outside the U.S. My conversations with 
PayPal are ongoing and have been productive, yet I have no illusion that the 
road ahead will be simple, or that the outcome will be favorable. 


Independent advocacy groups are considering taking on the PayPal censorship case. 
I'm supporting the development of this loose-knit coalition of like-minded groups 
who believe that censorship of legal fiction should not be allowed. We will grow 
the coalition. Each group will have its own voice and tactics I'm working with 
them because we share a common cause to protect books from censorship. Earlier 
today I had conversations with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), The 
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National 
Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). I briefed them on the Smashwords/PayPal 
situation, explained the adverse affect this crackdown will have on some of our 
authors and customers, and shared my intention to continue working with PayPal 
in a positive manner to move the discussion forward. 

The EFF blogged about the issue a few days ago: 
Today, ABFFE and NCAC issued a press release:

I will not be on the streets with torch in hand calling for PayPal's head, but 
I will encourage interested parties to get involved and speak their piece. This 
is where you come in...


Although erotica authors are being targeted, this is an issue that should concern 
all indie authors. It affects indies disproportionately because indies are the 
ones pushing the boundaries of fiction. Indies are the ones out there publishing 
without the (fading) protective patina of a "traditional publisher" to lend them 
legitimacy. We indies only have each other.

Several Smashwords authors have contacted me to stress that this censorship affects 
women disproportionately. Women write a lot of the erotica, and they're also 
the primary consumers of erotica. They're also the primary consumers of mainstream 
romance, which could also come under threat if PayPal and the credit card companies 
were to overly enforce their too-broad and too-nebulous obsenity clauses (I think 
this is unlikely, but at the same time, why would dubious consent be okay in 
mainstream romance but not okay in erotica? If your write paranormal, can your 
were-creatures not get it on with one another, or is that bestiality? The insanity 
needs to stop here. These are not questions an author, publisher or distributor 
of legal fiction should have to answer.). 

All writers and their readers should stand up and voice their opposition to financial 
services companies censoring books. Authors should have the freedom to publish 
legal fiction, and readers should have the freedom to read what they want. 

These corporations need to hear from you. Pick up the phone and call them. 
Email them. Start petitions. Sign petitions. Blog your opposition to censorship. 
Encourage your readers to do the same. Pass the word among your social networks. 
Contact your favorite bloggers and encourage them to follow this story. Contact 
your local newspaper and offer to let them interview you so they can hear a local 
author's perspective on this story of international significance. If you have 
connections to mainstream media, encourage them to pick up on the story. Encourage 
them to call the credit card companies and pose this simple question, "PayPal 
says they're trying to enforce the policies of credit card companies. Why are 
you censoring legal fiction?"

Below are links to the companies waiting to hear from you. Click the link and 
you'll find their phone numbers, executive names and postal mailing addresses. 
Be polite, respectful and professional, and encourage your friends and followers 
to do the same. Let them know you want them out of the business of censoring 
legal fiction. 

Tell the credit card companies you want them to give PayPal permission to sell 
your ebooks without censorship or discrimination. Let them know that PayPal's 
policies are out of step with the major online ebook retailers who already accept 
your books as they are. Address your calls, emails (if you can find the email) 
and paper letters (yes paper!) to the executives. Post open letters to them 
on your blog, then tweet and Facebook hyperlinks to your letters. Force the 
credit card companies to join the discussion about censorship. And yes, express 
your feelings and opinions to PayPal as well. Don't scream at them. Ask them 
to work on your behalf to protect you and your readers from censorship. Tell 
them how their proposed censorship will harm you and your fellow writers.


American Express:



Ebay (owns PayPal):


Starting Sunday, if our email systems can handle it, we will send out an email 
to several hundred thousand registered Smashwords members who are opted in to 
receive occasional Smashwords service updates. The email will combine Read an 
Ebook Week with the censorship call to action. Let's start a little fire, shall 

Thank you for your continuing support of Smashwords. With your help, we can 
move mountains.

Best wishes,


Mark Coker

2 responses to “Down the Rabbit Hole: Avoiding the Slippery Slope

  1. wow. I´m scary too – yesterday I was reading about the congress hearings about birth control and all I could think was that at some point, United States were actually a reference for freedom and liberty for the rest of the world. We use to look up to your country, and now… Even here, in Brazil, the world´s biggest catholic country, where gay marriage is far from being a reality, something like that would never happen. But again, if the credit card companies are really behind this, it will all come knocking on our doors sooner than later. This is definitely an international matter, not only because affects writers and readers from all around the world (and without online shopping, how we are suppose to buy these books??), but because it shows a scary side of globalization – internet should only increase and make it easier to burn down frontiers. it definitely should´t be a weapon for censorship – and that´s what´s happening. I will make sure to use all the links and write to everyone I manage to. Hopefully the good guys can still win sometimes. 😉

  2. Yes, I am sharing on Facebook and with all my friends verbally etc. But am I being paranoid OR are all these “censorship” stopping birth control etc etc all aimed at women? Intelligent, reasonably affluent, controlling their own lives and bodies women who would be back under the control of who? Men! Surely not! And I am a happily married middle-aged women not a leftwing burning the bra type…..