Thursday, February 23, 2012

The thin (panty) line between erotica and porn: freedom of speech edition

To anyone whose known me for more than five minutes, it's not a secret that this is one of my favorite rants. For those not in the know (or who felt that blog entry was tl;dr), I've been ranting for years about innocent *snort* erotica writers being painted as pornographers. (Again, I have nothing against porn, just against the producers of either being mistaken for one another.) So what's got my sexy Victoria's Not So Secret undies in a bunch?

Recently, paypal decided to put the kibosh on their services for websites (booksellers and such) that sell so-called obscene material. This could be anything from booksellers who host YA stories with sexually active characters to writers like me who have free fiction on their blogs and websites with a paypal donation button. Now, I'm not a big fan of reading about the barely legal stepdaughter seducing her horny stepdad and three of the neighbors (or anything remotely close to that), but to each their own. I know as a business, they have the right to restrict their service any way they want to, but throwing a ginormous obscene blanket over a lot of erotic material is not the way to go about that business without pissing off a large number of people.

If you didn't read that other blog entry (which is long, but definitely worth the read), the gist is paypal is threatening booksellers to stop selling certain stories or lose their services and have their other credit card options in jeopardy as well. A little extreme for what's at stake here. Limiting the ability to buy these types of stories is not going to stop them from being available, just making it harder for writers to offer them on legitimate, safe websites that don't do not nice things with your credit card number. And where the eff do they get off? *ahem* They're not restricting the obscene content label to just stories with illegal acts, like bestiality, but bdsm and pretty much anything with graphic erotic content is liable to suffer from this blackout.

What does this mean? Well, recently, my favorite online bookseller All Romance Ebooks has sent out a memo to publishers alerting them to some changes coming to the site. If you visit the site now, the erotica section has been split into "erotica" and "erotic romance" and they now reserve the right to delete stories for violating their new publishing content rules or for no reason at all.

Now, I get why they've decided something had to be done. It's a romance site that has recently been flooded with a number of overpriced, fairly graphic titles and I know for a fact they've gotten complaints from readers. I'm completely okay with them separating those from the romance novels that most of their long time readers come for. What I strongly dislike is feeling like any or all of my stories have to meet someone else's criteria (A sex to story ratio? A suitably bland cover?) to not be considered obscene. I don't like that my entire publisher account could be deleted because I have a story that doesn't have the main characters skipping off into the sunset together at the end, because some of my characters merely want to have sex with one another and walk away, because at some time, someone might get offended. Maybe. Possibly. In order to spare the stories in my account that I've published for other writers the possibility of my account being frozen, I deleted four stories yesterday, none of which are technically "porn". What's killing me is I don't know if the change at ARe is only because of paypal or if there is going to be a crackdown on erotic writing all over the internet and this is just the beginning of the censorship.

And yes, while I do not love sharing "erotica" websites with stories that I think belong in the "Letters to Penthouse" category, there are some great stories (with actual character development and clothes and stuff) that are suffering from these changes. There are writers vowing to boycott paypal whenever possible and there is the very real possibility that we're all going to lose money, and readers will lose quality products from reputable sources, because some people are throwing a huge prude blanket over our work. It sucks. I can't think of another way to describe it other than as a sucky situation that's probably going to get worse before it gets better.

And there's not really a lot of alternatives to paypal are there? So, now what?

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