On Saturday February 18, PayPal began threatening indie book publishers and distributors with immediate deactivation of the businesses’ accounts if they did not remove books containing certain sexual themes - namely, specific sexual fantasies that PayPal does not approve of.
PayPal told indie e-book publishers and retailers - such as AllRomance, Smashwords, Excessica and Bookstrand - that if they didn’t remove the offending literature from their catalogs within a few days of notification, PayPal would close their accounts.
In case you haven’t noticed, PayPal has a monopoly on the market of online payment processing. There are few alternatives, though none that are widely used by online shoppers.
Take special note of the blackout day for tomorrow (1/18). A list of sites participating in the blackout is here: sopastrike.com
Much to my happiness, the internets are in a frenzy about the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (aka SOPA). Congress is currently in recess, but the House announced a hearing on the potential impact to the Domain Name Service on January 18 and everyone expects the Senate to begin discussing a similar bill “PROTECT IP Act” when they return to DC on January 24. There’s a lot to these bills – and the surrounding furor – and I’m not going to go into it, but I recommend reading the actual bill and Open Congress info, the Wikipedia article, EFF’s blog, and the various links at Stop American Censorship. Tomorrow – January 18th – a bunch of geeks are planning a SOPA Blackout Day to voice their discontent.
Libraries and librarians
They’re not alone. Libraries represent another educational group that could face fallout from SOPA. The Library Copyright Alliance, a group whose members include the American Library Association and two other major library organizations, has also written a letter to the House of Representatives [pdf]raising major issues with the bill.
Alarmingly, the librarians point to “three pending copyright infringement lawsuits against universities and their libraries relating to their use of digital technology,” reflecting “a growing tension between rights holders and libraries, and some rights holders’ increasingly belligerent enforcement mentality.” That same enforcement mentality, under SOPA, could lead to criminal prosecutions of libraries, even for activities that are a fair use and conducted without the intention of commercial gain.
… But the fact that apps must routinely face approval masks how extraordinary the situation is: tech companies are in the business of approving, one by one, the text, images, and sounds that we are permitted to find and experience on our most common portals to the networked world. Why would we possibly want this to be how the world of ideas works, and why would we think that merely having competing tech companies—each of which is empowered to censor—solves the problem?
This is especially troubling as governments have come to realize that this framework makes their own censorship vastly easier: what used to be a Sisyphean struggle to stanch the distribution of books, tracts, and then websites is becoming a few takedown notices to a handful of digital gatekeepers. Suddenly, objectionable content can be made to disappear by pressuring a technology company in the middle. When Exodus International—”[m]obilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality”—released an app that, among other things, inveighed against homosexuality, opponents not only rated it poorly (one-star reviews were running two-to-one against five-star reviews) but also petitioned Apple to remove the app. Apple did.
To be sure, the Mac App Store, unlike its iPhone and iPad counterpart, is not the only way to get software (and content) onto a Mac. You can, for now, still install software on a Mac without using the App Store. And even on the more locked-down iPhone and iPad, there’s always the browser: Apple may monitor apps’ content—and therefore be seen as taking responsibility for it—but no one seems to think that Apple should be in the business of restricting what websites Safari users can visit. Question to those who stand behind the anti-Exodus petition: would you also favor a petition demanding that Apple prevent iPhone and iPad users from getting to Exodus’s website on Safari? If not, what’s different, since Apple could trivially program Safari to implement such restrictions? Does it make sense that South Park episodes are downloadable through iTunes, but the South Park app containing the same content was banned from the App Store?
If the fights of 2011 have shown us anything, it’s that the Internet and the quest for human rights are inextricably linked. The Internet is where human rights fights are rescued from obscurity and brought to the world’s attention—whether Ustreams of Occupy protestors being forcibly evicted, Lt. John Pike’s pepper-spraying of students at UC Davis, or YouTube footage of Tahrir Square or the Syrian protests. Yet even as America’s leaders chastise their foreign counterparts for censoring the Internet, with SOPA they are laying the groundwork for an expansive, copyright-based regime of domestic censorship.
The U.N. characterizes access to the Internet as a human right, and government research in the U.K. and in the U.S. shows the enormous humanitarian benefits of network access for poor and vulnerable families: better nutrition, education, and jobs; more social mobility and opportunity; and civic and political engagement. Yet the services that provide the bulk of these benefits—search engines, Web hosts, and online service providers like Blogger, Tumblr, Twitter, Wikipedia, and YouTube—could never satisfy the requirements set out in SOPA. The only way for these platforms to satisfy SOPA would be to all but shut off the public’s ability to contribute and to throttle free expression for all but those entities that can afford to pay a lawyer to certify that their uploaded material will not attract a copyright complaint.
The next time Band Books Week comes around, it would be less selfrighteous and much less annoying if the ALA and its minions stopped going on about nonexistent censorship in America, and instead started publicizing all the places in the world where censorship really does occur, where books really are banned, and where librarians who toed the ALA line would be imprisoned.
Instead of patting ourselves on the back for showing false courage in the face of nonexistent oppression, solidarity with librarians in intellectually unfree countries would show more awareness of what censorship really is, and why it’s not librarians who are special heroes of intellectual freedom, but a whole country.
Anyway, reading about all of the banned book displays and banned book read-outs has got me thinking about how highlighting
banned challengedcontroversial books matches up with the policies recommended by the ALA. Surprisingly, these displays are a violation of ALA policies on intellectual freedom. Specifically, it seems that a lot of the hoopla surrounding banned books is in direct violation of the ALA’s official position on labeling. That’s right…by pulling controversial titles from the general collection, assembling them into a special exhibit, and encouraging patrons to read them, librarians are going against an official policy of the ALA regarding censorship.
Excellent post about a difficult topic.