‘Paypal empale la litterature erotique’ – why la Liberation are concerned for freedom of speech

12 Mar

A French newspaper invoked freedom of speech, in defense of one’s liberty to read and publish literary works about incest and zoophilia. A recent article in La Liberation described how the US online payment system Paypal has tried to prevent customers from purchasing literary content it deems unsuitable. The author speculates as to whether the French classic by the marquis de Sade, la Philosophie dans le boudoir”, with its explicit scenes of violence and incestual relations, will one day disappear from the market.

Also included in the list of forbidden works are Nabokov’s “Lolita”, and Balzac’s “La Passion dans le Desert” (concerning relations between a soldier and a panther). Many sites have been pressured into refusing to allow purchases of these books, and others, on the grounds that the contents could be seen to encourage these forms of sexual perversion. The Self Publishing, Excessica and Smashwords have reportedly all admitted to having their transactions subject to censorhip.

Paypal defended its actions on the grounds that the forbidden works often contained pictures. And that the stories blurred the lines between fiction and reality, “sometimes intentionally”. Forgive me for asking, but is that not the point of good writing? Only a child could become so confused by these scenes as to be persuaded to reenact them in real life. No one has tried to suppress publication of the Harry Potter books, on the grounds of the number of children hurling themselves against the wall between platforms nine and ten at Kings Cross. The Twilight series has not been withdrawn to prevent teenage girls falling dangerously in love with a 200-year-old sexual predator, whose ultimate desire is to drink his girlfriend’s blood.

Protection of young children was the grounds for defence of Facebook’s censorship actions in America, where the law forbids display of explicit content where it might be available to under 13s. Yet an organisation from the US has also registered protest at this attack on freedom of expression. The Association of American editors and Reporters without frontiers have overseen the publishing of an open letter, in which they state their concern about private companies using their economic influence to dictate what people can write, hear and think (” utiliser leur influence économique pour dicter ce que les gens doivent livre, écrire et penser”)

At the moment it is only e-books that are censored in this fashion, which in itself is a distinction which makes little sense. Nothing short of the discretion of the person at the counter would prevent a 13-year-old buying a copy of Nabokov’s “Lolita” in a bookshop. Taken to its logical conclusion, Paypal’s decision would lead to a ratings system imposed on all fiction. This would be a travesty. I personally would not have learned to read half so fast if I had never pilfered my mum’s copy of “Bridget Jones’ Diary.”

Furthermore, it should not be Paypal’s job to decide what is and is not appropriate for readers. They are not even responsible for distributing and selling the e-Books in question – merely approving the transactions, as a supposedly impartial third party. Perhaps it is time that some form of governmental legislation was introduced to put closer restrictions on what can be bought, as well as viewed, over the internet. At the moment I believe it is still possible for children to purchase Ann Summers’ “rampant rabbit” over the internet, an item even a parental filter over search terms would not flag as inappropriate.

When does someone’s freedom of expression and to impart information (article 10) impinge on other basic human rights? La liberation are clearly not alone in believing their right to buy and read the marquis de Sade’s reminiscences are a vital part of their cultural heritage. Liberte, egalite… fraternite?

NB: the views expressed above are not those of the author. This was a largely directionless and satirical critique of someone else’s article. http://www.ecrans.fr/Paypal-empale-la-litterature,14233.html


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