Last month, PayPal contacted a number of online ebook vendors advising them of its "acceptable use" policy that prohibits businesses using its payment services from selling erotic literature that contains child pornography, rape, incest, and bestiality. The company's reasoning was seemingly based around two ideas: such works often include graphic imagery, and this particular type of content "sometimes intentionally blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction" according to Anuj Nayar, PayPal's director of communications.
The eBay-owned company also raised concerns about potential business risks it could face if tied to the "potentially illegal" content. Sites such as Smashwords and Bookstrand were instructed to rid their digital shelves of banned material or risk having their agreement with PayPal voided. Immediately thereafter, despite emphasizing a commitment to freedom of expression and an open web, PayPal was lambasted by authors, First Amendment advocates, and even the EFF for overstepping its bounds with a hardened stance many equated to censorship. The company found itself caught in an awkward position between erotica authors and its own wary finance / credit partners.
That public outcry seems to have made an impact: Nayar posted an update on PayPal's official blog Tuesday revealing that the acceptable use policy has been loosened some. Going forward, only ebooks that incorporate "obscene" images of rape, incest, and bestiality will be subject to the updated program. Child pornography remains barred in any form, be it text or photo. Additionally, the measures will now be aimed at individual works rather than blanketing entire ebook categories. PayPal will also provide a way for site operators to challenge violation notices, and claims that it has yet to shut down a single account of an erotica retailer. Whether these changes will be enough for those who remain steadfast in the belief that fictional work should be free of censorship in any way, shape, or form remains to be seen.