PayPal clarifies position on 'obscene' ebooks

PayPal has moved to make its policy clear

PayPal has moved to clarify its position over the sale of some risqué ebooks after backlash from authors and publishers.

The payment house now says it will "focus this policy only on ebooks that contain potentially illegal images, not ebooks that are limited to just text".

Trouble brewed last month after PayPal contacted a bunch of publishers demanding the removal of books with "obscene" content from online stores and threatening them with no longer being able to use PayPal's services.

While an admirable objective, emails went out from PayPal's enforcement team to publishers that seemed heavy handed and seem to focus on publishers as a whole rather than individual titles that were a problem.

Reuters, claimed that PayPal's stance was a result of its relationships with banks and credit card companies which have strict rules on the type of content that can be bought or sold.

Mark Coker, of publisher Smashwords, said in a blog post in late February: "As with the other ebook retailers affected by this enforcement, PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal services." Smashwords has also moved to clarify its Acceptable Use Policy over the issue.

"Holding free speech hostage"

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was also up in arms saying PayPal was "now holding free speech hostage by clamping down on sales of certain types of erotica. As organisations and individuals concerned with intellectual and artistic freedom and a free internet, we strongly object to PayPal functioning as an enforcer of public morality and inhibiting the right to buy and sell constitutionally protected material."

So in a post on the PayPal blog, director of communications Anuj Nayar has moved to clarify the company's stance:

"The policy will prohibit use of PayPal for the sale of ebooks that contain child pornography, or e-books with text and obscene images of rape, bestiality or incest: material that appeals to the prurient interest, depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value."

PayPal says it has "not shut down the PayPal account of any of the ebook publishers involved in this matter."

"Our primary interest in this matter has always been to come to a mutually agreeable solution that allows freedom of expression, while still ensuring PayPal is used in ways that fully comply with applicable laws and our policies."

From the PayPal blog


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.