Visa Writes Us Back! “This is Not Our Doing”. #paypal #censorship #erotica

March 10, 2012

We have received a response to our letter to Visa from Doug Michelman, head of Investor Relations.

Ms. Madeleine Morris

Dear Ms. Morris,

Thank you for your email regarding PayPal’s recent decision to limit the sale of certain erotica content. First and foremost, we want to clarify that Visa had no involvement with PayPal’s conclusion on this issue. Nor have we seen the material in question. This fact is made clear by PayPal’s recent blog post where it states that its own policies drove the decision.

Although our company rules were not the impetus for PayPal’s decision, these issues are important to us, and we’d like to share our point of view with you.

In general, Visa takes no position with respect to lawful goods and services bought and sold by the people and the companies who use our payment service. As the largest payment network in the world, with billions of cardholders and tens of millions of retailers and individuals selling goods in nearly every country of the world, our goal is to offer the best way to pay everywhere and for everyone. In fulfilling this mission, we strive to respect the many different perspectives that citizens of the world hold, and we avoid taking sides when those opinions differ.

At the same time, we respect the rule of law in the countries in which we operate and seek to prevent the use of our payment service for unlawful transactions. As a result, generally, the sale of material that is considered lawful may be processed through the Visa system while the use of the Visa system for buying and selling illegal items would be prohibited.

Relevant to this situation, the sale of a limited category of extreme imagery depicting rape, bestiality and child pornography is or is very likely to be unlawful in many places and would be prohibited on the Visa system whether or not the images have formally been held to be illegal in any particular country. Visa would take no action regarding lawful material that seeks to explore erotica in a fictional or educational manner.

As you note in your letter, Visa is not in the business of censoring cultural product. We recognize, as courts in the U.S. and elsewhere have long recognized, that this is a challenging topic. Bright lines are difficult to establish. We welcome the input of all stakeholders regarding our policies as we work to sustain a network that supports global commerce, while respecting the laws of the countries where we operate.

We hope this provides the clarification you seek. I’d be happy to answer any follow up questions you have regarding our policies on these matters.

-Doug Michelman

Well, I think we can set the ‘Visa Made Me Do It’ bullshit to bed. Visa seems to have an eminently sensible policy.  They also seem to have a very literate  and erudite spokesperson, which is also kind of refreshing.

Here is my response:

Dear Mr. Michelman,

Thank you for your clear and erudite response. I will share this letter with my members.

Visa’s policy seems eminently sensible and socially responsible. We are glad to note that your company seems to have found a way to protect consumer choice and free expression while actively helping to stop the trade in illegal pornography. And it goes to show that there is a middle, sensible ground that can be pursued in this matter.

I wish you a good evening, and, again, thank you.


Madeleine Morris
On Behalf of

58 Responses to Visa Writes Us Back! “This is Not Our Doing”. #paypal #censorship #erotica

  1. Eden Connor on March 10, 2012 at 4:34 am

    That is indeed a breath of much-needed fresh air. Well done, Maddy!

  2. I.G. Frederick on March 10, 2012 at 4:40 am

    “Visa made me do it” came from Mark Coker, not PayPal. PayPal said “financial partners.” That could also mean their investors.

    • Remittance Girl on March 10, 2012 at 5:06 am

      Hi I.G.,

      No, I’d heard this excuse enough from other quarters to believe they were telling a whole bunch of people that it was the CC companies. They may not have outright lied, but they were VERY misleading in their communications.

      When a company doesn’t want to own up to a policy its enforcing, you gotta KNOW they already know they’re skating on thin ice.

    • Ms T. Garden on March 10, 2012 at 5:06 am

      As we continue to reach out to their “financial partners” we should come across those who instigated this mess.

  3. Carl East on March 10, 2012 at 5:15 am

    Yeah let’s be clear about this, I’ve heard the same lame bullcrap from several sources and not just Mark Coker. He was probably only repeating what he’d heard. Anyway, it seems perfectly clear now that Visa had noting to do with PayPal’s (spit) decision.


  4. Kayelle Allen on March 10, 2012 at 5:24 am

    This is good to know, and reassuring to hear Visa’s stand. Kudos. Can we share any of this with the public?

    • Remittance Girl on March 10, 2012 at 5:31 am

      Um… It’s public on this blog! Of course you can.

  5. Remittance Girl on March 10, 2012 at 5:25 am

    You know, I’m just incredibly impressed at how rational, polite, respectful this letter is. This from the biggest credit card company on the planet.

    So why, when we voiced our concerns to PayPal, could they not respond in a like manner? Why so patronizing, dismissing and plain untrue!

    Maybe Visa just hires better writers? More literate lawyers? People with some grasp of the larger cultural picture?

    • Gillian Colbert on March 10, 2012 at 8:31 am

      More likely, Visa just isn’t trying to put spin on bullshit. They are stating their actual corporate policy whereas Paypal is trying to put a dress on a pig so of course it makes no sense.

      • Erica Pike on March 10, 2012 at 11:30 am

        “trying to put a dress on a pig”


    • Anjasa on March 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      I agree, I really found the tone of the letter to be kind and, at the very least, it seems like he’d be willing to talk about it.

      Paypal’s “We’re open to suggestions, but we’re not going to do anything anyways” thing is just insulting.

    • Tyler K. Barnes on March 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm

      #1 I think PayPal doesn’t know what they are doing. I suspect some disgruntled boardmember told his minions that he doesn’t want to see that stuff and the little army of jackboots gleefully picked up their bayonets and rushed out to make the world a “cleaner” place.

      #2 As many have pointed out, PayPal’s “policy” has been and is continuing to be violated by it’s parent company EBAY where you find thousands of items described by PayPal-disapproved subjects.

      #3 Is anyone not surprised that a few days after posting on the PayPal blog, where in their own words “We always welcome your feedback” THERE IS NOT A SINGLE COMMENT SHOWING? Apparently Mr. Anuj Nayar, Director of Communications, PayPal is a hit-and run blogger. This is another PayPal spin since they don’t have the stones to take personal responsibility for their mysterios “policy.” (disclaimer: I have not tried posting a comment, yet, but it seems like they should have a comment or two up there, surely they are not 100% slamming emails pointing out how terribly Orwellian PayPal is?

      • Jessica on March 11, 2012 at 8:18 pm

        Hey Tyler. I have tried leaving a comment. It’s very odd. What happens is that another comment by someone else appears, with the line “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” above it. When I reload the post, neither that person’s comment, nor mine, nor presumably the many other who have tried commenting, are visible. o.O

      • Remittance Girl on March 11, 2012 at 10:52 pm

        The comment function was locked off ‘authorized’ people only.

      • S Bush on March 12, 2012 at 12:39 am

        I did post a comment on the Paypal blog and it basically binned it instantly.

        I have to say I also seriously wonder about the credility of a PR person who has to have his pic on his blog post and then refuses to take comments.

        Having been hung up on by Paypal in the past I know they couldn’t car less about customers. It’s line up and obey or get lost.

        That said it’s a useful adn in many ways well run service on the technical level and with no real alternative I have to put up with them

  6. Zoe Galeazzi on March 10, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Well done!

    This raises all sorts of questions not only about PayPal but other processors as well. I’ve been in touch with several adult-friendly processors in prep for the BE launch and they ALL prohibit the big high-risk categories like rape and incest, often citing the policies of banks/cc companies as the reason.

    • Remittance Girl on March 10, 2012 at 6:51 am

      I think they hear those words, and they just don’t THINK. They say no because it is easier to say no than to give the issue consideration.

  7. Paypal and eBook censorship | The Writing Desk on March 10, 2012 at 7:01 am

    […] folks at sent a letter to Visa, inquiring as to their take on it. Visa’s response makes it clear that it is a Paypal policy to not process certain erotic content and product, not […]

  8. JacquelineB on March 10, 2012 at 8:49 am

    This is excellent news. At any rate, it clarifies some of the guff that’s been going around. Yes, how clear and reasonable a response, unlike the BS PayPal penned yesterday.

  9. JacquelineB on March 10, 2012 at 8:49 am

    This is excellent news. At any rate, it clarifies some of the guff that’s been going around. Yes, how clear and reasonable a response, unlike the BS PayPal penned yesterday.

  10. Sessha Batto on March 10, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I’m not surprised that this is a Paypal only policy, their insistence on blaming it on credit card companies seemed a bit too convenient, especially in light of the fact that those credit card companies weren’t taking the same actions against companies who accepted credit cards without using Paypal as a portal! It is fantastic to have confirmation of that fact! Indeed, this will make it much harder for Paypal to justify. But, that doesn’t mean they won’t try OR that they’ll change their policy. It does tell us where we need to exert all the pressure, though 😉

  11. Alessia Brio on March 10, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Fabulous news. Truly! A clear, concise reply. Visa, however, isn’t the only credit card company — nor is it the one PayPal uses for its debit card. That would be MasterCard.

    Not that I’m condoning (obviously) PayPal’s action in any way, the credit card excuse at least explains why other payment processors are turning down applications from publishers (eXcessica, Coming Together, etc.) to sell ebooks. Until the alternative payment processors like CCBill & Verotel, who handle business for the adult DVD & streaming industry, open their doors to us, I’m wary of claiming victory.

  12. mary Gresham on March 10, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Everybody should remember that pay pal is a privately owned company, by the same people who own and run Ebay. This means they can pretty much do whatever they want and most of the time they get away with it. I’ve bought and sold on the site for years. Up until a couple of years ago, a money order was considered an acceptable form of payment. Now, you cant even add it as an option because Ebay and pay pal are only interested in making as much money as possible. The only form of payment They want you to use is pay pal, which I refuse to do because they actually took money from both my son and myself, which took us months to get back. They are crooks as well as bigots and that doesn’t surprise me at all.

    • Remittance Girl on March 10, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Hello Mary,

      Actually, PayPal are owned by Ebay which is a public company that trades on the stock exchange. So, in the long run, they are answerable to their shareholders.

    • Tyler K. Barnes on March 11, 2012 at 6:56 pm

      As I noted above, Ebay is not biding by PayPal’s policy. You can find thousands of items for sale on Ebay described by these three terms. Tail wagging the dog? Or just confusion on the part of the men running PayPal?

  13. Erica Pike on March 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Thanks for keeping us updated. I’ve linked it to my blog:

  14. Raziel Moore on March 10, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    THis is fantastic news. I, too, love the VISA rep’s tone, as well as respect his words. The contrast with PayPal, as noted by many is jarring and telling.

    I think it would be prudent to spread this information to groups like the EFF and the comic defense fund. It’s knowledge that needs disseminating, to counteract disinformation coming from PayPal.

  15. Marlene Sexton on March 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    I wonder if you’ve forwarded this letter to Mark Coker? He has said that the CC companies are behind this is well, but I’m not sure why he believes this. Is that PayPal’s line with him too? Maybe Mark is working with the CC companies to be proactive and get their TOS cleaned and tightened up as well regarding sexual content.

    PayPal’s TOS is so vague they could ban just about anything.

  16. Jordan LaRousse on March 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    This is refreshing news indeed. I am still confused though. We applied for a merchant account with Visa/MC (trying to get out from under PayPal’s thumb) and our account was rejected because of a BDSM novel that contains some force fantasy. This means we have to apply for a “high risk” account which is where Visa/MC puts businesses who sell pornography (video) and gambling services. They are brutally expensive accounts and require a massive background investigation to set up. We are in no way high risk. This letter suggests that Visa does not consider erotic fiction to be risky business at all. I wonder what it all means…

    • Remittance Girl on March 10, 2012 at 5:26 pm

      Perhaps you should reapply and forward a copy of Doug’s letter?

    • GRIM on March 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      I’ve had Worldpay recommended to me but don’t have the ‘nous to look into it or understand it myself.

  17. Mark Coker on March 10, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I think this is great news. Now the spotlight turns to Mastercard, American Express, Discover and the banks. It’s their turn to stand up, denounce censorship, and give PayPal and all other payment processors permission to allow legal fiction. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

    A lot of people have asked where I heard cc and banks where behind this. Answer: from PayPal. “Many of the items contained in our AUP are restricted by our banking partners, particularly rape, bestiality and incest related content. Our banking partners and credit card associations have taken a very strict stance on this subject matter. Our relationships with the banking partners are absolutely critical in order to provide the online and mobile services we do to our customers. Therefore, we have to remain in compliance with their rules, which prohibit content involving rape, bestiality or incest.”

    A lot of people are quick to accuse PayPal of lying. I don’t think that’s the case. They didn’t specify which credit card companies they were referring to, or which banks. This is why the question must be posed to all of them.

    I suspect there’s a game of telephone going on between cc cos, banks and PayPal. As the message passes from one to the next, the signal gets garbled and misinterpreted. CC cos and banks make vague rules, tell PP to enforce said vagaries, PP interprets and translates into more vague rules, which are then transmitted to folks like us who must then make our own interpretation of said vague rules, and then our authors and publishers must interpret our interpretation. Obviously, it’s time for PayPal to update their rules to allow legal fiction, plain and simple.

    • Raziel Moore on March 10, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Mark! I agree with you that we need answers from the other underwriters. Visa is one of, if not the biggest, but additional statements are needed for the full picture.

      That said, I am not as charitable about PayPal as you are. Their blog letter was deceptive _and_ condescending. It was certainly guilty of not providing the whole truth, and it was outright false in several other claims. PayPal has earned our distrust of its word.

      But, as you imply, there is a way to turn it around. Improved communication, and revised rules.

    • Anjasa on March 10, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      The only fiction that I know of to be actually illegal in North America is stories that aim to titillate with under 18 year old characters engaging in sex. There have been a couple of cases of obscenity in pornography involving bestiality or scat, but the only successful obscenity cases I know of in North America include under 18.

      I definitely agree that PayPal should update to allow all legal fiction. I don’t feel they’re liable for any money changing hands for something that might eventually go to court for obscenity in any case, personally. Obscenity laws are ridiculously vague and very hard to prosecute, and they typically are easier to fight as everyone has their own idea of what’s obscene.

  18. Zoe Galeazzi on March 11, 2012 at 1:27 am

    I’m so glad you’re a part of the conversation, Mark. You’ve been the epitome of grace and professionalism throughout this whole ordeal. Kudos to you.

    Mark said: >>Now the spotlight turns to Mastercard, American Express, Discover and the banks.<<

    Absolutely. I wonder which banks? How does one research that?

    Let's get the adult payment processors in on this if we can. I'd love to hear where their anti-incest, BDSM, etc. policies originated from because they're also denying sites with this kind of written material. Can any of them cite which credit card companies and banks are requiring such policies?

  19. Jess on March 11, 2012 at 1:38 am

    I don’t think I’m reading their letter the same way others are. I see Visa saying they don’t take a moral stance on products purchased using their service, and that they won’t restrict or prohibit the sales of any legal item.

    But what I DIDN’T see is an assurance that they don’t count erotica or erotic fiction as a high-risk product, thereby charging more for companies to accept them as a form of payment. That’s what Paypal and others are accusing banks and credit cards of doing — not necessarily that Visa/MC/Banks are “forbidding” Paypal to accept payments from their accoutns for that type of product, but that those places are charging Paypal more money to accept those forms of payments than they do for other, “low risk” purchases.

    Before folks jump on me, I’m just as furious as everyone else about Paypal’s behavior regarding this issue — I’m just not as quick to let Visa completely off the hook.

    Does anyone know of a way to find out exactly who Paypal’s “banking partners and credit card associations” are? My Googlefu is too rusty for me to actually find anything, but if that information could be found, it could be determined who exactly has “taken a very strict stance”, or if Paypal is simply blowing smoke up everyone’s behinds.

    • Remittance Girl on March 11, 2012 at 3:24 am

      You make a good point. They don’t discuss how they classify the risks the ascribe to different products. However, they do confirm that their concern is for ‘images’ and that erotica is something they are happy to sell.

      This, for a start, is a good thing.

  20. Jessica on March 11, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Just want to mention that I’ve written to Figleaf, a sex-positive, feminist blogger who writes a lot about women’s sexual disenfranchisement, and encouraged him to get involved, and I wrote to Cory Doctorow as well. Cory wrote me back right away. He’s going to be discussing this issue in his upcoming column for Publisher’s Weekly.

  21. Cg Brumby on March 12, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Loved the ‘Visa made me do it’ humorous comment. Obviously, PayPal can’t hide behind their ‘financial partners” skirts when such partners release the extent their global financial commitment to customer satisfaction really goes. PayPal has no excuse for their action and heavy handed threats to authors and consumers. I can’t comprehend the physical figure of billions or trillions of dollars, (I’m not that rich). PayPal will forever have a muddied name over this issue not only with their ‘financial partners’, but their customers too. I agree that selling images depicting rape and other unsavoury issues is illegal, unlawful and should not be permitted, but when they cast erotic fiction or erotic romance into the same boat – that is plain ridiculous. Fictitious reading material should not be censored by anyone. Thanks for getting to the bottom of the ugly truth behind PayPal’s motives, Mark and company. You guys are awesome! <3

  22. Erica Pike on March 12, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Someone on my blog just referred me to Skrill (Moneybookers). They’re UK based, which could explain their lack of moral clauses (there’s nothing about “obscene” or “objectionable” content in their ToS). Unfortunately, booksellers don’t seem to be using them, but at least I can check if I can get paid through them. They charge very little for the transactions.

    • Erica Pike on March 12, 2012 at 9:12 am
      • Raziel Moore on March 12, 2012 at 12:02 pm

        Skrill/Moneybooker’s user and merchant agreements explicitly forbid sending or receiving fund for “pornorgaphic or hardcore” materials. We would need clarification from them about written erotica – specifically including the PayPal-excluded ‘extremes’. I words like that are the killers in all of the payment services I’ve examined so far, though I’ve by no means been exhaustive in looking.

        • Remittance Girl on March 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm

          I think what might be a next step for our group is to enter into talks with other financial transfer companies and see if we can forge some sort of alternate agreement based on an understanding of what we actually publish.

          From PayPal’s blog post, it’s pretty clear they don’t even have a grasp of what they have banned. Images?

          • JR Wesley on March 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm

            I agree about getting in contact with the various payment processing companies regarding their erotica policy. I’ve been digging through more TOS pages than I can count in the last few weeks, and nearly all of them have some clause that could be interpreted to pose problems for selling erotica through their service.

            Google’s is the most concrete one I’ve found:
            (second item, “Adult goods and services: …including fiction…”)

            And I believe Jess’s comment is correct: CC companies take every chance they can to classify “high risk” merchants. Most have a $750 minimum buy in, with $500 annual renewal fees. And those are the BEST terms I’ve found. There is no separation between erotica and pornography.

            However, there does seem to be a distinction for publishers who don’t solely sell erotica. I’m attempting to narrow down the potential of that loophole, and am going to be looking into if an imprint of a larger publisher would also receive “high risk” scrutiny.

            • Raziel Moore on March 12, 2012 at 6:36 pm

              I wonder about some of the “blazing hot” romance subgenres by the likes of harlequin. Some of those storylines from what I gather, do in fact border on the non-consensual, or at least reluctance or dubious consent – all validated in the end by true love, bu nonetheless a romanticization of borderline consent issues in mainstream genres. I’d need someone more knowledgeable than myself to find actual examples to validate my hearsay.

  23. Adriana Kraft on March 12, 2012 at 2:08 pm has created a petition to paypal. You can find it at this link:
    They’ve also referenced your post here, and Forbes has picked it up as well.


    • Remittance Girl on March 13, 2012 at 2:47 am

      Actually, we have this petition neatly embedded at the bottom of this site

  24. Thinking Horndog on March 12, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    ‘An important factor in our decision not to allow our payments service to be used to purchase material focused on rape, incest or bestiality is that this category of eBooks often includes images.

    This type of content also sometimes intentionally blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. Both these factors are problematic from a legal and risk perspective.’

    This came from the ‘acceptable use’ posting by PayPal. What TOTAL CRAP! People who write about these things know that WRITING about them is perfectly legal under the First Amendment, but PICTURES are illegal under Federal law! Who are they trying to kid, anyway? And how many porn sites do they gleefully process transactions for daily — including sites with THOSE TYPES OF CONTENT?

    Recent laws that have been under consideration by Congress tend to follow the pattern of some unknown mandate against pedophile writings that got pushed through a while back that back-doors the First Amendment by putting pressure on the payment processors and credit card companies — that’s how I heard it, although I haven’t yet found the actual legislation. What I HAVE seen is Congressmen referring to the procedure as a valid way to curb everyone’s access — and I can SHOW you a note I got from one who thinks he’s doing us a favor! What we’re seeing here is us all already beginning to slide down that slippery slope of having some jerk in Congress decide that they need to control what we write and publish for our own good. The excuse is that if you read about it, it might inflame your imagination and you might go out and do it. HEY, WHAT ABOUT IF YOU SEE IT??? You can find videos on this stuff on the Internet in 5 minutes or less! Who is trying to stop THAT? THAT is illegal — and writing IS NOT!

    What’s next? Murder and mayhem? Stuff we’ve been watching on TV for a century, but won’t be able to write about because it’s so dangerous to the imagination? Jeez, anybody ever watch ‘Criminal Minds?’ What? You don’t think watching psychos on TV isn’t more dangerous than reading about one?

    Somewhere down this road lies the end of publishing ALL fiction…

  25. JR Wesley on March 13, 2012 at 4:21 am

    May I just point out your wording…

    …fucking a pig…


    I hope it’s not in poor taste to find the overlap snicker worthy. 😉

  26. […] letters responding to inquiries from Banned Writers, Visa and MasterCard have very publicly denied that they had any involvement in PayPal’s decision […]

  27. […] of PayPal’s statement. Charman-Anderson further discusses and quotes Visa’s response to Madeleine Morris from, in which Visa denies any role in PayPal’s erotica policy: However blogger Madeleine Morris, […]

  28. Corporate Bullies : on March 20, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    […] and their particulars when it comes to sex. He heard the news about Paypal and Mastercard and Visa, and he rejoiced. Finally! He was going to be able to sell all those books the CC processing […]

  29. Corporate Bullies « on March 20, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    […] and their particulars when it comes to sex. He heard the news about Paypal and Mastercard and Visa, and he rejoiced. Finally! He was going to be able to sell all those books the CC processing […]

  30. […] that in mind, it makes perfect sense that at least one credit-card company, Visa, denied putting any pressure on PayPal, saying that “Visa is not in the business of censoring […]

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