At last, some good news in publishing this week: PayPal has backed off its pressure on Smashwords over erotica. Previously they had threatened to pull functionality from Smashwords if they continued to sell certain kinds of erotica, or refuse to process payments related to those works. According to Smahwords-boss Mark Coker on their blog, PayPal will not segregate against any form of legal fiction.
|Even if your way is with a St. Bernard.|
Coker bravely and wisely aired this topic on the net for weeks. The official Smashwords blog became a chronicle of every development in his struggle with PayPal, letting people know in detail the censorship that was at risk and changes of people’s favor. Generous to his clientele, Coker credits activists and authors who spread the issue’s prominence with convincing PayPal to back down. I suspect there’s more to it, though, and would pretty happily buy a book on how negotiations went up to this settlement. We can’t undervalue the tactics and appeals that work in convincing independent bodies about issues like censorship.
This is an important precedent, for if Coker really negotiated with the biggest electronic-era payment service to not press moral issues like this, then operators of smaller services will be less likely to challenge publishers, since they have less a chance of winning, and additional chances of simply forking business over to a bigger competitor.
One still marks the grim flipside: that PayPal’s operators ought to have the right to choose what transactions they facilitate. By “winning” and coercing them to continue services, Smashwords has won for the rights of authors, but hopefully not discouraged the rights of business owners. I’m inclined to overlook this because PayPal’s operators were convinced of their own will – though for anything more specific, again, we might need a journalist to write us a book.
|Dana Carvey does not necessarily endorse "Daddy" incest-porn.|
Paul Biba and other bloggers complained of our cultural double-standard, some mistakenly thinking it merely Puritanical. It’s not. It doesn't take Church Lady to be grossed out by rape-porn, and anthropology and ethnology have revealed that hunter-gatherers killed in public and rutted in private. The different handling of sexuality and violence is as old as society. Of course it keeps showing up, especially when we broach fringe issues, which encompassed all of PayPal’s targets.
To some degree this was about double-standards, but in a vital way it wasn’t: liberty of fiction is an All-or-Nothing game. Either authors are allowed to write fiction about anything, or they’re not. Either the right exists or it doesn’t. It’s that terrifyingly simple. Either you can write incestual smut, or you don’t actually have freedom of expression – just temporary allowances based on the tastes of others.
There’s never been a year in my adult life when I haven’t thrown a book across the room, but I’d never ban their publication. Seeing the markets support that notion is heartening. Sometimes, especially with recent motions of the Big Six, Department of Justice, and Amazon, you can forget the markets ever move in positive directions.