A development in the ongoing story about PayPal and requirements it made on e-book distributors to remove certain kinds of erotica from their catalogs: there are signs the eBay-owned company could be preparing to reverse its position as early as this week, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The digital rights group has been among those meeting with the payments company in recent weeks, as part of a process to get PayPal to reconsider its decision. The last meeting between the EFF and PayPal was on Friday, and its activism director, Rainey Reitman, told TechCrunch that she left with a “good feeling,” with PayPal’s general counsel indicating that they would be “discussing it internally and might even be able to make a public statement in the next week.”
The EFF, she notes, specifically has requested that PayPal “update their policy so that this type of legal fiction would not be affected.”
The news — or potential news — caps off a tumultuous few weeks for the payments company over its role in deciding what content is appropriate or not to sell via its payment system.
The story started in February, when PayPal issued a mandate to e-book distributors requiring them to remove from their catalogs erotica that contained references to bestiality, rape and incest — or else face a ban on doing business with PayPal. (I wrote about it early on here.)
Mark Coker, owner of one of the sites affected, Smashwords, disagreed with the mandate but also noted that his hands were tied with complying:
“It is with some reluctance that I have made the decision to prohibit incest-themed erotica at Smashwords,” he wrote at the time in an open letter to Smashwords’ partners.
That’s because PayPal plays such a big role in how the company is run: it’s used not only for book purchases, but it’s also how he pays authors, Coker told me today.
Coker also told me that in fact less than one percent, 1,000 books, of his company’s catalog were affected, but that such mandates on what is essentially legal fiction (even it’s not your own cup of tea) is a “slippery slope.”
And it turned out that the issue became a slippery slope in itself, with the news then getting picked up by Reuters, Forbes and a number of other blogs. The EFF, meanwhile, launched a letter-writing service to protest what it described as “holding free speech hostage by clamping down on sales of certain types of erotica.” ...
Apparently bereft over the season end of Downton Abbey, American women have set their sights on an erotic British novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, about a naive college student's seduction by a billionaire businessman and its accompanying graphic depictions of BDSM: "Uncoiling from the floor, rising lazily, like a jungle cat, he points the end of the riding crop at my navel, leisurely circling it — tantalizing me. At the touch of the leather, I quiver and gasp." But don't laugh—women are apparently excited enough to do it with their dudes after reading this!
While some women are raving about it (sample 5-star review on GoodReads: " Usually, I give 3 stars to all novels with erotic twist, but this one took me by suprise. First of all, all sex parts weren't pathetic with lots of dumb, sleazy words. And everything actually has a meaning and a story behind"), one Westchester woman told the Times, "What I found fascinating is that there are all these supermotivated, smart, educated women saying this was like the greatest thing they’ve ever read. I don’t get it. There’s a lot of violence, and this guy is abhorrent sometimes." Or as another GoodReads reviewer noted, "I don't know, this is like the BDSM version of Edward and Bella, and half of the time I don't know if I should be turned on or scared as hell. Probably both." And, yes, the book started as Twilight fan-fic.
The author, E.L. James, was unmasked by The Evening Standard as Erika Leonard, has referred to the book as her "mid-life crisis." Indeed: One UES mother of three told the Post, "It’s just a fun escape from the daily mundane of trudging kids around and, you know, marriage... The person who recommended it to me said, ‘It will make you want to have sex with your husband.’ And it did!"
It looks like U.S. District Judge Geoge H. King, who presided over the Ira Isaacs obscenity case in Los Angeles, may have been right to worry about jury nullification. "After less than three hours of deliberation" on Monday, AVN correspondent Mark Kernes reports, "one juror reportedly sent a note to Judge King charging that one of the other jurors had said that he/she did not believe in the obscenity laws." The judge then called the jurors into the courtroom, adminished them that "it was their sworn duty to follow the law as he had given it to them," and sent them back to deliberate some more. They adjourned at 2 p.m., and shortly after they resumed the next morning they sent King another note saying they could not reach a verdict, which was still the case even after King resorted to the "nearly unheard-of" measure of instructing the defense and prosecution to reprise their closing arguments. Convinced that the jurors had reached an irresolvable impasse, King dismissed them and declared a mistrial.
Isaacs, who said he had spoken to one of the jurors, told Kernes there were two holdouts, both women. "She basically said that her and another juror thought that this was art, serious art, and had artistic value, and should not be found obscene," the self-described "shock artist" said. At first, Isaacs said, 11 jurors were inclined to convict, but later one of them "changed her mind and said, 'You know, I do think it has artistic value, and there's reasonable doubt that they proved their case.'"
Those two jurors may very well have drawn that conclusion, but it is also the sort of thing you would say if you "did not believe in the obscenity laws" but wanted to avoid giving the impression that you were willfully ignoring the judge's instructions. Jurors, after all, are supposed to judge the facts, not the law (or so judges typically claim nowadays, ignoring a venerable tradition to the contrary). This case, however, did not really hinge on facts, since no one disputed Isaacs' involvement in producing or distributing the four films at issue (Mako's First Time Scat, Hollywood Scat Amateurs 7 and 10, and Japanese Doggie 3 Way). Instead, as the Supreme Court decreed in Miller v. California, it hinged on utterly subjective answers to these three questions:
a) whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards" would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Let's leave aside imponderables such as "the average person," "community standards," and patent offensiveness. Isaacs' movies, which feature scatology and bestiality, are—what's the legal term again? Oh yeah: really gross. They were so gross that the jurors had trouble watching them, which makes you wonder how they could assess them "taken as a whole." In any case, it seems fair to assume that Isaacs, who faced a possible sentence of 20 years, would have been a goner were it not for that third prong, which is what he and his lawyer emphasized: serious artistic value, a "fact" that supposedly can be determined by 12 randomly selected people. ...
A former sex slave turned the tables on her tormentor in a Brooklyn court Monday, delivering a verbal lashing before a judge sentenced him to eight years in prison.
“I walk around and carry the physical scars of the torture you put me through. The cigarette burns, the knife carvings, the piercings,” the woman, referred to in court simply as Jodi, told Glenn Marcus.
“How a human being can see humor in the torture, manipulation and brainwashing of another human being is beyond comprehension. You have given me a life sentence.”
Marcus, 58, had appealed his sex trafficking and forced labor conviction all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent the case back to Brooklyn for resentencing.
Facing more than 20 years for torturing Jodi after she tried to break off their master-slave relationship, Marcus asked for a nonjail sentence so he could care for his elderly mother in their suburban Long Island home.
Marcus appeared bored — and his adult daughter snickered audibly in the gallery — as Jodi described needing counseling for depression, panic attacks and posttraumatic stress disorder.
“I suffer from nightmares in which I wake up reliving the horror of what you did to me,” Jodi said through a speakerphone in Brooklyn Federal Judge Allyne Ross’ courtroom.
“You, Glenn Marcus, have single-handedly destroyed my life; your self-centeredness, your hatred and extreme violence toward women has impacted my life.”
Jodi later told the Daily News she had been eager to confront Marcus in person, but an ear infection barred her from flying in from her new home out of state.
“He has no remorse, no regret and no sympathy. That’s who he is,” she said. “I don’t think he’ll ever change.” Told that the Svengali she met on the Internet in 1998 wore a yarmulke to court for the first time Monday, Jodi chuckled. “That makes me laugh,” she said.
She used to call Marcus “God” — he called her “It” — but now, she says, she sees him as “evil personified.” After they met, they played consensual games until the summer of 2001, when she tried to leave and he unleashed horrible violence on her in the basement of a friend's house in Hewlett, L.I.
During the 2007 trial, Jodi testified he went medieval on her: he hogtied her and suspended her from a ceiling pipe, pierced her tongue with a surgical needle, whipped her and left her hanging for hours. ...
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The case of an adult film producer charged with violating federal obscenity laws by selling movies depicting bestiality and extreme fetishes ended in a mistrial Tuesday.
Jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict against Ira Isaacs, voting 10-2 in favor of a conviction on 10 counts, including production and transportation of obscene material for sale, said defense attorney Roger Diamond.
Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Justice whose prosecutors handled the case in Los Angeles, declined comment.
If convicted of all counts, Isaacs could have faced up to 20 years in prison. A retrial was set for April 24.
Isaacs was indicted several years ago as part of an effort by a Bush administration task force to crack down on smut in the United States. The unit has since been disbanded.
Isaacs' 2008 trial was halted after the Los Angeles Times reported Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals who oversaw the proceedings, had sexually explicit material on a personal website.
Kozinski recused himself and was admonished by a special committee of his colleagues for actions they deemed as poor judgment.
Kozinski was presiding in the criminal case under a program in which appellate judges are assigned federal trials.
At issue was whether the videos sold by Isaacs were obscene. The test still hinges on a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held that a work is not legally obscene if it has "literary, artistic, political or scientific value."
Jurors also were asked to decide whether the videos, some of which depicted fetishes involving feces, violated standards of what is acceptable to the community at large.
Isaacs has maintained his work is an extreme but constitutionally protected form of art.
"This is a monumental waste of money," Diamond said of the court proceedings.
Prosecutors will keep seeking a conviction because "they are catering to the right wing that doesn't like gay rights or sexual freedoms," Diamond claimed. "We think this is a victory."
We have become quite accustomed to Paypal arbitrarilydeciding to shutdown the payment services for a website with no warning and little recourse. Usually when it does so, it acts through its own volition. However, Paypal also has to deal with the whims of the credit card companies with which it is partnered. With that business arrangement, when a credit card company says to jump, Paypal must comply. When it does so, it effects all its own customers as well. Ebook publisher Smashwords reports that it has become one of the latest recipients of one such action. Under pressure from credit card providers, Paypal has put in place a policy that it would no longer process payments for ebooks that contained themes of rape, incest, beastiality and underage sexual content. It then decided to give Smashwords less than a week to remove all books that fit those criteria.
On Saturday, February 18, PayPal’s enforcement division contacted Smashwords with an ultimatum. 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. I've had multiple conversations with PayPal over the last several days to better understand their requirements. Their team has been helpful, forthcoming and supportive of the Smashwords mission. I appreciate their willingness to engage in dialogue. Although they have tried their best to delineate their policies, gray areas remain.
Their hot buttons are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.
This has put tremendous pressure on Smashwords to comply as it claims that it would be near impossible to change payment processors as Paypal is a major part in not only how it processes transactions but also how it pays its authors. So it has made several changes to its terms of service to account for the types of books that Paypal and its credit card partners are not happy about. Keep in mind, this is hard for Smashwords as it feels that authors of erotica are being unfairly targeted by this move.
We do not want to see PayPal clamp down further against erotica. We think our authors should be allowed to publish erotica. Erotica, despite the attacks it faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection. Erotica allows readers to safely explore aspects of sexuality that they might never want to explore in the real world.
The moralists forget that we humans are all sexual creatures, and the biggest sex organ is the brain. If it were not the case, none of us would be here. Erotica authors are facing discrimination, plain and simple. Topics that are perfectly acceptable in mainstream fiction are verboten in erotica. That’s not fair.
This is an unfortunate set back for Smashwords as well as for indie authors. While the government in the US is not able to censor speech in this manner, there is little preventing a private company like Paypal or its credit card partners from taking these actions. Yet, Smashwords is not giving up hope. In its latest update, Smashwords notes that it had managed to get the deadline extended as well as the definitions of prohibited content relaxed. It also wants to clarify that neither it nor Paypal are the real villians in this issue. ...
By now you've heard of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy. You know, it's the trio of erotic books by E.L. James that has swept into suburbia and cities across the globe, and adored by many (not just suburban moms). I am a fan. In the spirit of full disclosure, I read all three books in less than 48 hours. All of my closest friends and many of my female relatives have, too.
Yesterday I appeared on The Today Show to talk about the BDSM love story. What should have been a segment on women's fantasies and why they are an essential part of our lives (similar to a piece I have written here before) segued into a larger (and more inappropriate) discussion on violence against women. Now I am not suggesting that it is inappropriate to talk about violence against women; I am stating that "Fifty Shades of Grey" and other types of non-vanilla erotica have nothing to do with violence against women. And I'm not the only one who feels that way. If you look at "Fifty Shades" fan pages or online book clubs, people are pissed. And they have the right to be. (Though the book did shoot up to #1 on Amazon afterwards, so "Fifty Shades" has secured its best-selling status.)
When you are on television, you get a short amount of time to answer some pretty big questions. It is absolutely impossible to do justice to a subject (especially a potentially controversial one) in four minutes, so I will use this forum instead. Now I don't find anything about "Fifty Shades of Grey" controversial, but if yesterday's media hype has got you questioning all of this, consider the following:
1. In our culture, it is politically incorrect for women to become aroused by something that makes us appear/seem/act submissive. However, we don't control how and if we turn on to something or someone. We may not desire to have fantasies about losing control, but many of us do. It doesn't make us bad women or bad people. It doesn't even say anything about our psyche or whether or not we want to "lose control" in our own lives. We may not have even known that we could turn on to a particular scene or experience until reading about it. And in the case of "Fifty Shades," if it got you hot and bothered, it got you hot and bothered. That's about it; there's no underlying psychological issue here. This is not about feminism or the demise of the women's movement, which is what I fear may have come up during the Today Show segment.
2. You cannot read three books and attempt to understand the BDSM and kink communities at large. This is one author's perspective, and it's fiction. BDSM is not as simple as "pleasure from pain," which is how it is often described. BDSM is about exploring different power dynamics, sensations, restraint and control. If you are part of that scene, it is highly negotiated and orchestrated; submissives have a great deal of power. And by the way, submissives are not always women. "Fifty Shades" is one story but not representative of an entire community. (I wonder how the television segment would have changed if we talked about the many women dominants or the many men who submit willingly and lovingly.) But quite honestly, I am not the expert on BDSM and kink. However, I certainly know enough to tell you that its portrayal in mass media (think "CSI" and "Law & Order") is inaccurate and dangerous, and in turn, keeps the real community fairly closeted because of all of our incorrect preconceived notions. ...
?A group of Denver kinksters staged a protest at the KinkForAllDenver conference last weekend. The demonstration was planned and executed amid accusations -- prior to the event -- that two KinkForAllDenver organizers censored presentations to discourage too much BDSM content and actively sought to exclude local kinksters.
The event, which took place on February 25 at the Tivoli Student Union, included about seventy people, who attended discussion groups, presentations and teach-ins. It was organized by Rebecca Crane of Boulder and Meitar "Maymay" Moscovitz, formerly of New York the co-founder of KinkForAll.
But several prominent local kinksters were noticeably missing, including Denver's premiere dominatrix and kink community leader Mistress Saskia, who was originally planning to present on biofeedback breathing and scene identities and roles. Saskia and husband, Jeff Jizz, were involved in the planning stage of the event, and donated $50 to help secure conference space.
But after her initial support Saskia backed out of the conference -- and she didn't mince words about her reasons why. "I decided not to present because Rebecca Crane was contacting me privately, saying my suggested presentations weren't appropriate for KFADEN -- too much BDSM content -- and also because Maymay was making it clear on the Google group for the event that he intended to destroy any safe space for people he calls 'traditional and privileged BDSMers,'" Saskia says.
A "safe space" is nominally defined by BDSM and GLBTQ advocates as a space kept free of discriminatory speech, violence and harassment.
Saskia and Jizz say that after Moscovitz and Crane approached them about participating in the conference and -- after their donation was made -- they were participating in an online discussion on the KinkForAll Google group about presentation topics when the conversation became heated over the issue of what topics that Crane and Moscovitz felt were too skewed toward BDSM.
Saskia says, "I posted other proposals, like 'Erotic Humiliation vs. Degradation.' She wasn't receptive to that and kept suggesting I try other things with broader appeal. I think my final suggestion was something on roles and identities, but after all the comments from Maymay about creating a hostile environment, I just removed my proposals and unsubscribed from the Google group."
According to Saskia and Jizz, the divisive quote was this one posted by Maymay on the KinkForAll Google group: "Maybe you don't know this about me yet, so now's a good time for me to be direct: It is my expressly stated intention to make BDSM 'traditionalists' uncomfortable. I *enjoy* it, I'm *good* at it, and I'm not going to pull any punches in Denver or anywhere else. My aim is to destroy every 'safe space' for privileged BDSM bullshit anywhere within my reach. And yes, that includes KinkForAll. So, rubbing people 'The wrong way'? Depending on who you're talking about rubbing the wrong way, hell, that's part of my *success criterion*." ...