I need to send out a public thank you and a round of kudos to Mark Coker of Smashwords. He is doing a tremendous job keeping the censors at bay. If I were an artist, I'd draw him as a knight standing before a pile of books, wielding a sword of words against bankers and investment firms who stand ready with lit matches.
For those of you who don't know, PayPal has revised their Terms of Service stating that, from here on out, Paypal will no longer allows businesses that use their service to sell books containing rape, incest or bestiality.
On the surface, that sounds justified, yes? Who would want to support any company that promoted such activities, especially since they are illegal?
And yet, on closer look, such a blanket prohibition includes any story that illuminates the plight of women in war-torn countries where rape is the weapon of choice. It prohibits stories that use a pseudo-incestuous relationship (the "Daddy"-type story, for example). And, if you want to get technical, it also prohibits stories like Animal Farm and Watership Down, both of which are told from the animal's points of view.
But Mark Coker said it beautifully in his February 25th email to the authors who host their stories at Smashwords:
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 is 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 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 touch, moved or disturbed. A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved.
You go, Mark! You make me proud to be an author at Smashwords and I hope all my readers will buy their ebooks from your site instead of any others.
Today he sent an update. Apparently he's undergoing some heat for not just telling PayPal what it can do with itself. Instead, Mark is working with PayPal to find a better option. He admits Paypal isn't the one originating this change, but that they are doing so in order to maintain their own business status:
PayPal is trying to implement the requirements of credit card companies, banks and credit unions. This is where it's all originating. These same requirements will eventually rain down on every other payment processor. Paypal is trying to maintain their relationships with the credit card companies and banks just as we want to maintain our relationship with PayPal.
(Note: both of these letters can be read in their entirety here and here.)
In a time when there are so many people running around with lit matches, it's wonderful to feel like someone's looking out for me and for my interests for a change. Thank you, Mark -- and may my words add to the strength of your sword.