PayPal and Censorship… AGAIN

So, apparently PayPal is incapable of learning their lesson.

I hadn’t entered this crazy genre last spring when PayPal attempted to strong-arm booksellers like SmashWords into censoring the content they sell or face losing their accounts. After a couple weeks of furor, PayPal rescinded that ban.

Kinda. Now they’re not going after big companies like SmashWords. They’re going after private, individual accounts.

How do I know this? Because my cover artist, the brilliant Kerry Chin, aka DragonReine, is one of the accounts they’ve frozen for distributing indecent material.

You’ve seen her beautiful work for the covers for Inertia and Acceleration, already. Do you want to see the image that got her banned, the commission transaction that was flagged for distributing indecent material?

It’s so outrageous I don’t even dare embed it in my blog. I have to link back to it.

Here it is.

Mmhm. Yep. That’s a portrait. Of Loki from The Avengers. Fully dressed and doing nothing but smirking. And while I am fully aware that Loki’s smirk inspires any number of obscene thoughts in the minds of the people who behold it, I’m unaware of it violating any actual decency statutes. Keep in mind, it’s posted on DeviantArt, which doesn’t even allow art featuring erect penises.

So I’m failing to see how it violates this, which is the terms of service PayPal put into use after the erotica-banning debacle last March (courtesy of The Digital Reader:

Update: Paypal has clarified the new policy on their blog. (Boy did they back down.) Their new policy only affects potentially illegal images, and the blog post specifically states that it doesn’t cover text only ebooks.

First and foremost, we are going to focus this policy only on e-books that contain potentially illegal images, not e-books that are limited to just text. The policy will prohibit use of PayPal for the sale of e-books that contain child pornography, or e-books with text and obscene images of rape, bestiality or incest (as defined by the U.S. legal standard for obscenity: material that appeals to the prurient interest, depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value).

In addition, the policy will be focused on individual books, not on entire “classes” of books. Instead of demanding that e-book publishers remove all books in a category, we will provide notice to the seller of the specific e-books, if any, that we believe violate our policy.  We are working with e-book publishers on a process that will provide any affected site operator or author the opportunity to respond to and challenge a notice that an e-book violates the policy.

ETA: THIS IS NOT A COPYRIGHT/LIKENESS ISSUE. The notice she received targeted one of the transactions for my Acceleration cover as well as the Loki art, and specifically stated it was for explicit content.

Here is a snippet of the email PayPal sent her, with the transaction IDs redacted.

Dear KERRY CHIN,

We are hereby notifying you that, after a recent review of your account
activity, it has been determined that you are in violation of PayPal’s
Acceptable Use Policy regarding your sales / offers of adult commisions of
digital art on http://dragonreine.deviantart.com.

Please refer to:
- Transaction *redacted*
- Transaction *redacted*
- Transaction *redacted*

Therefore, your account has been permanently limited.

One of those redacted IDs is my second payment for the Acceleration cover. One is for the Loki art. Kerry is having a hard time tracking down the third because in the process of freezing her account, PayPal locked her out of seeing her own history and researching the transaction.

Furthermore, it’s not just Kerry. A acquaintance of Kerry’s also works in the field of erotic art, and her PayPal account has been suspended for the same reason, only hours before. I don’t know how many others have been affected, but it looks like there might be another indecency purge going on. A smaller, more insidious purge, because it targets the little guys who can’t fight back, instead of companies that are in the public eye like SmashWords and ARe.

ETA 2: please refer to http://ameliacgormley.com/2012/11/09/its-not-about-copyright-a-clarification-on-the-paypal-matter/ for updated information.

Where does it stop? Will my PayPal account be suspended for commissioning my book covers, or for selling books with those covers? After all, you can see a little bit of Derrick’s ass on the cover for Acceleration and not to mention also OMGZGAYLOVE.

Will other book cover designers also be affected? How is this going to impact our genre?

If my PayPal account is suspended, I will have to stop distributing my books on SmashWords, as I don’t make enough in quarterly royalties for them to cut me a check (or I didn’t last quarter, at least. Hopefully it will pick up after the release of Acceleration.) How many of the rest of us in this genre sell books with covers which could be deemed indecent?

So, a heads-up, folks. This could be happening again. Like last time, I think we need to raise a hue and a cry, before it gets out of hand.

31 Comments

Filed under Activism

31 responses to “PayPal and Censorship… AGAIN

  1. Azalea Moone

    Hmm, interesting. You may want to contact other authors – maybe post this in a bigger community like M/M Romance writers on goodreads and see if anyone else is having these problems.
    This is messed up though since that picture your awesome cover artist was banned for wasn’t even erotic. *rants*

    • Well, after a bit more investigating (they sort of tied her hands, in that by freezing her account, she lost access to being able to see her account history, so she wasn’t able to see the transactions that were flagged) it turns out my cover is one of the flagged transaction, though how they can say that transaction between us has anything to do with that cover I don’t know because there is nothing in the transaction records to connect the two. But even that is more suggestive than indecent.

      And yes, I will post to M/M Romance. This could become a genre-wide issue.

  2. What the actual fuck!? I shouldn’t be surprised, not really, because clearly there are some prejudiced people working at PayPal. But still. It’s just so ugly, going after individuals when you’ve failed to crack down the big guys.
    Apparently it isn’t the first time since March, either. Som quick googling gave this: http://www.paypalwarning.com/paypal-targets-electronic-publishers-authors/

    Just ugh.

  3. Pingback: PayPal and Censorship… AGAIN « Leta Blake

  4. Regarding the Loki picture, I’m wondering if it has anything to do with licensing of images? Could that image of Loki be considered the property of Marvel? Still, the fact that your covers are now a directly flagged transaction makes this incredibly problematic. *pimps everywhere*

    • Well, I’ve edited the initial post because in my effort to be jaunty, I didn’t include the fact that one of the two transactions flagged was for my Acceleration cover, and Kerry says the notice she received from PayPal specifically states they are being flagged for violation against a policy regarding indecent content.

  5. My question is did she sell this image of Loki or simply post it for others to enjoy? If she sold it, then I can see where she violated copyright laws, not any decency laws, because she holds no copyrights for the Marvel universe.

    Beyond that question, I think that Paypal needs to seriously step off in their so-called decency crusade. If people want to read this sort of thing, it’s none of their damn business. They’re a banking service, not morality judges.

    • One of the flagged transactions (and they were specifically flagged for indecency, not any sort of copyright violation — see Kerry’s comment below) was my Acceleration cover, which has no copyright infringement issues.

  6. I’m not entirely sure this is the sort of content problem you envision. She may be running up against likeness rights, not problems with obscenity. Keep in mind that there are laws about likeness rights. You can make up your own idea of what Loki looks like, but by using the actor’s likeness and costuming owned by the production company, you have a potential problem with those complaints. If you are selling anything with that on it, you may have a problem, especially. If the company/individual that owns rights has a complaint, action may be taken against you. Yes, I know a lot of people do this sort of fan fic art, but it is up to the owners where they draw the line, and many draw the line at you making money on something they own. PayPal’s TOS clearly defines using the copyright/trademark of another as against the TOS and illegal. Not that they usually handle it correctly. Either they do nothing for weeks or months, while true pirates go unchecked…or they do something like this, and this is ridiculous and uncalled for.

    We’ve gone through this with PayPal before, unfortunately. They have one canned response they send out that does not explain precisely why something is being banned and leaves those affected to try and make sense of what they received, which bears not resemblance to their situation. In a related instance, one particular author had her blogger account locked and a notice sent to her that she was infringing on the copyright of another. She wasn’t infringing, and the actual problem wasn’t copyright. It was trademark, but the notice to the affected author SAID copyright. In the end, it took weeks to clear it up and get her moving again. These big companies often send those notices out with the wrong description/terminology. Criminally stupid and bad business sense? Undeniably. If you’re taking this ridiculous a step, be precise in what you are objecting to. No argument.

    I do think locking down her account is the WRONG approach. Anyone with common sense would have sent a C&D and had her remove the single offending item and stated the reason clearly. Done. If she REFUSED to comply, that’s another item on the agenda, but usually they don’t take the right steps and just go off half cocked. This is what makes PayPal and the other biggies look like reactionary idiots.

    • Kerry Chin

      I wish it was an issue with likeness or copyright or derivative works or fanart. I practically live on deviantArt, home of fanart and also (sadly) a major source for art theft, and I help run several large fandom groups. Copyright laws are something I HAVE to know, to protect the interests of my groups as well as the members that support us. I do not sell prints of this art. What I sold was my skill to be able to create this piece, not unlike how Amelia hired me to paint her characters. But I am well aware that I am technically violating US Copyright law simply by creating fanart, and by profiting off derivative works based on existing intellectual property, I can get legal action taken against me by the owner of the IP. The issue of fanart commissions is a legal minefield that deviantArt has in fact covered in one of their panels at the recently held Comic Con. http://techgnotic.deviantart.com/journal/Fan-Art-Law-326536193

      If Marvel approached me with a cease & desist letter, then yes, I will take ithe Loki portrait down. If PayPal approached me with a similar letter, I would have sought confirmation from Marvel that PayPal is indeed acting on their behalf. Like this artist http://lexxercise.tumblr.com/post/5965105973/intellectual-property-copyright-law-and-fan-art

      But nope, it is stated quite explicitly (har har) in PayPal’s email to me that I have my account made permanently limited for violating the “no sexually explicit products” part of their usage policy, and the Loki commission is listed as one of the violating transactions. Additionally, a payment Amelia made to me is also listed, but here’s where it gets interesting: NOTHING in the transaction or its notes indicate that it is a specific payment for a specific illustration. The attached note basically said “thank you, you’re awesome” or something to that effect, unless my memory is playing tricks on me. If that alone is the grounds for freezing an account, I shudder to think what might happen to other freelance artists using PayPal who are also involved in creating book covers for romance or erotic novels.

  7. Reblogged this on AJ Rose and commented:
    Heads up, people. How long before Power Exchange gets me frozen?

  8. I would imagine that it’s a problem with a copyrighted character, rather than eroticism

    • Unfortunately, no. There is no copyright issue with my Acceleration cover and that, along with the Loki image, is also one of the flagged transactions. And the notice specifically stated it was for indecency, and Kerry’s acquaintance, who is a fetish model, was also suspended for the same reason within hours of Kerry being suspended.

      Here is a snippet of the email PayPal sent her, with the transaction IDs redacted.

      Dear KERRY CHIN,

      We are hereby notifying you that, after a recent review of your account
      activity, it has been determined that you are in violation of PayPal’s
      Acceptable Use Policy regarding your sales / offers of adult commisions of
      digital art on http://dragonreine.deviantart.com.

      Please refer to:
      - Transaction *redacted*
      - Transaction *redacted*
      - Transaction *redacted*

      Therefore, your account has been permanently limited.

      One of those redacted IDs is my second payment for the Acceleration cover. One is for the Loki art. Kerry is having a hard time tracking down the third because in the process of freezing her account, PayPal locked her out of seeing her own history and researching the transaction.

  9. Selena Kitt has several good posts about censorship. See the link in the 6th paragraph, and the two at the end. I’m linking you to an article I wrote which also give an overview of the subjects covered, not because I’m a brilliant writer, but because one link looks tidier than three.

    http://smutwriters.com/2012/10/01/censorship/

    In this case, it does seem more like an issue of licensing as opposed to content. One thing Kitt spends a fair amount of time talking about is money. Transactions involving erotica/pornography/sex toys are more likely to be disputed, and because of that, there’s more risk involved in selling these things. In this case Paypal may not want to be sued for being involved in selling a licensed image.

    • Kerry Chin

      If copyright is the reason PayPal gave me for permanently limiting my account, then I would not bring this up to Amelia in the first place.

      But this is the exact copy-paste of the reason PayPal used:

      ” The PayPal User Agreement states that PayPal, at its sole discretion, reserves the right to limit an account for any violation of the User Agreement, including the Acceptable Use Policy.

      Under the Acceptable Use Policy, PayPal may not be used to send or receive payments for certain sexually oriented materials or services or for items that could be considered obscene.”

      My concern is that a payment Amelia made to me is also flagged as a “violation”, but bizarrely the payment itself has no details of any obscene image it is supposedly payment for(the only link it has to any adult material is that the payee writes m/m romance with sex scenes), and yet it was put forth as grounds for violating the usage policy. :-\

  10. Jesus. Bullies go at it again. Are there still no international alternatives for PayPal? Honestly, what about all those photographers who take artfully nude pictures? Will they be closed down?

    I have my first two Erotic pieces in the works, with semi-erotic covers (erotic, not pr0n!), but now I’m thinking of making them free instead of selling them. Until there’s an international alternative for PayPal, I can’t afford for my account to be locked down.

  11. Google wallet isn’t an alternative; they have similar policies regarding “decency”. And, yeah: this stuff with Paypal is getting old.

  12. @ Amelia re:sic dA on PayPal (because I can’t directly reply to your comment for some strange reason)

    I’d already put out notices to the moderators of two deviantART groups that I am personally involved in, and will be sending more notes to more groups over the next few days.

  13. Pingback: Is Paypal Back up to Their Censorship Tricks Again? « kracktivist

  14. Pingback: PayPal Showing Signs of Censorship Once Again | Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

  15. PrudeCensors

    This censorship stuff on erotica books and movies is ridiculous. I am an adult. I will choose what I wish to purchase with my own money as long as it is licensed material. I also have a brain and will decide what I will or won’t purchase. Paypal does not need to treat grown people, who, by the rating of the material, are allowed to purchase it unlike children, who cannot purchase said materials.

    What Paypal is doing is nothing short than censorship, something I often see in religious cultures that are scared to bits about the mere sight of a leg on the cover of a book. If I want to read a book about erotica it is my business, not paypal’s or some prude. I don’t even read homosexual literature at all but barring others from reading it because some might not like it is ridiculous.

    People have different tastes, and fiction is an expressive medium that caters to a wide audience. If paypal wants to play okey-doke religious then i’ll just patronize the physical stores instead with purchases instead of using pay-pal services.

  16. Reblogged this on Steelwhisper and commented:
    Going at it again, I don’t believe it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s