I’ve been hip-deep in homework the last two weeks, and I’ve been sick-ish since last weekend and still doing homework (grad school, kids; this is what it looks like), so I’ve actually missed a lot of the details about the PayPal vs. Smashwords thing going on. In short: PayPal popped up and said, “Hey, Smashwords, you can’t sell stories about rape, bestiality, or incest. If you keep doing it, we’ll freeze your accounts.” Smashwords responded with, “Hey, can we talk about this?” There have been talks, and late on March 2 (yesterday), I got a newsletter from Smashwords asking me to support them in their endeavor to protect free speech.
I will not. And here’s why:
From the Press Release from Mark Coker:
*Rape:* Although our Terms of Service prohibits books that advocate violence against others, we did not specifically identify rape. This was an oversight on our part. Now we have clarified the policy. We do not want books that contain rape for the purpose of titillation. At Smashwords, rape no longer has a place in erotica. It has no place anywhere else if the purpose is to titillate. Non-consensual BDSM – or any other form of non-consensual violence against another person – is prohibited.
He says the original TOS prohibits books that advocate violence against others, but since no one actually wrote the word rape into the TOS, the stories and books about people being violently violated eeked through. That should not have happened. If you put down a rule that says you prohibit books that advocate violence, that means you (or in this case, Coker and his team) get to define what what violence is, and Coker and his team chose to allow books about rape through their TOS rules. Which means they chose to define rape as non-violent. I’m going to repeat this: According to the TOS created and interpreted by Coker and his team, rape was a non-violent action until there was a chance money would become an issue. Before PayPal popped up and said, “Stop it,” no one at Smashwords was defining rape as violent.
Remember, every book at Smashwords is vetted by a real person. They pride themselves on this fact. While I know these vetting processes are generally for formatting checks, there is no way they couldn’t have caught this sooner if they’d wanted to. But they chose not to want to.
Let me state this another way: The head of a company is asking me to support said company in a time of crisis is asking me to do so while the staff of this company decided rape didn’t count as violent. Rape is violence. There is nothing sexy about rape. There is nothing erotic about rape. Rape never should have been in erotica in the first place, and Coker and his team could have removed it at any point, but they didn’t. They waited until someone else called them on it. They waited until money was on the line.
This hair-split about rape (I can’t even be coherent about “rape for titillation” as the cut off), however, is only the third worst thing that’s happened in all this. Here’s the second-worst:
*THINGS TO AVOID:* Avoid using words such as ‘bestiality,’ ‘rape,’ ‘incest,”underage,’ or ‘barely legal’ in book titles, book descriptions or keyword tags, otherwise Smashwords may conclude you’re violating the Terms of Service, or trying to push the limits. If you’re writing non-erotic works, and any of these words are necessary, then you’re okay.
What you’re seeing right there is a how-to guide of getting around this new rule about rape. Just don’t use the word! It doesn’t count then, right?
What’s the very worst thing, you ask? The fact that Coker has now asked that I show support for writers who write the rape stories that Smashwords will accept. The ones that aren’t for titilation (and, hell, all the ones that don’t get tagged rape even if they are). I cannot do this. Knowing it existed on Smashwords was one thing. I didn’t have to look at it. I didn’t have to support the individual writers who wrote it. But I cannot abide supporting a company with a CEO who flat-out admits that he and his staff did not consider rape a violent act until someone else pointed it out to them.
By the time you read this, my works will be unpublished on Smashwords. In a month (per their FAQ), I will e-mail Smashwords and have my account deleted. In the FAQ, there is the following question to consider before deleting:
Why would you deliberately want to limit the distribution of your book?
Because I choose not to associate with companies that have to redefine violence so it includes rape.
EDIT on 8/4/2012: The new version of the TOS was removed, and the previous version reinstated a few months back. I will continue not using Smashwords and continue to hope that other writers will understand my disgust with the company and consider taking down their own works.