13 April 2012

A Fresh Assault on Literature: Mastercard Steps into PayPal's Shoes

As you (almost certainly don’t) know, I have a strange love of patterns. Not the sort of patterns which are stable and predictable, patterns which leap around while maintaining a central theme, graffiti-esque amalgamations of ideas and emotions tied together only in the abstract. This post will break a pattern of beautiful and artistic narcissism on my part, but it will do it because I must once again make a stand in hopes of breaking a very different sort of pattern.

Over the past several months, we’ve had one attack on our freedom of expression after another, a string of violations as gratuitous as they are invasive. Some, like SOPA, are governmental in nature, broad stroke assaults under the guise of piracy or something equally hot button and gimmicky. These have received attention on a large scale, so we shall move briskly past them. What hasn’t, and what is worse in its way, is the economic strangulation of ‘objectionable’ writing.

I’ve spoken vehemently and repeatedly of this on G+, many comment sections, and of course the inimitable meatspace, but apart from my Lockpick Pornography post have not done so here. A new instance of it has sprung up, though, giving me both an opportunity and an obligation to do so.

Mastercard has in the past few days decided that they wish to strangle erotic content which covers ground they do not wish to see explored. They are doing so by refusing to process payments for any online outlet which allows content they dislike, and their position in the market allows them to make great strides in assaulting our freedom.

This is not the first time, but it is my hope that a show of grassroots force will mean it is the last, or at least the last for a while. PayPal, as many of you know, did something similar in the past, a policy activists like me fought back against and saw overturned. However, where PayPal did it through the banning of broad themes, Mastercard has taken a rather more Orwellian approach by banning specific words outright. Below appears the list:

Alcohol, drink, liquor etc.
Asphyxia, asphyxiate, asphyxiation etc.
Bled, Bleed, Bleeding etc
Drugged, Drug
Force, Forcing etc
Hypnotize, hypnotise etc
Incapacitate, Incapacitation etc
Intoxicate, intoxication etc
Lactate and variants
Menstrual, menstruate etc
Molest, molestation, molested etc
Murder  (and variations)
Mutlilate, Mutilation etc
Passed out
Pedophilia (and various alternate spellings)
Rape, raping, rapist etc
Scat, shit, fecal, bukake etc
Fetal, foetal etc
Sedate, sedative sedation etc
Sleep, slumber
Smother, snuff
Violate, violating etc

Now, what many of you are thinking is, “That stuff sounds fucking terrible… maybe Mastercard is doing the world a favor.” Now, yes, much of it sounds terrible (though, menstruate?), but the thing about it is that this is art. Erotica is art, and as art it must of necessity be unrestrained, must be able to deal with themes which are unpleasant, even sickening, in order to do it’s job.

If you doubt that, look to the Dirty Minds vs. Debit Cards series which Eden Connor curated on her blog during the PayPal incident. It shows that the writing and reading of such material has tremendous potential to aid in healing for those who have experienced these things in the worst possible way. The stories you find there are those of people whose lives have been directly and measurably improved by this material – for someone like Mastercard to deny that to the web is repugnant in the extreme.

Yet this is not truly relevant. Even if this material had no potential to heal, no artistic merit, no reason to exist whatsoever, the fact of the matter is that this work harms no one, indeed effectively does not exist for anyone who does not actively choose to seek it out and engage with it. There is no reason for Mastercard, PayPal, or anyone else whatsoever to be indulging their own narrow morality by attacking it.

Now, those of you who have read my work are perhaps wondering why I feel this is my fight. After all, my content is not erotic in nature, and while some of these words do appear in my work, the fact that it is not erotica will likely spare me Mastercard’s wrath. In short, you are noting that I have no immediate dog in this fight.

In answer to that unspoken question, I’m here because we as writers have a transcendent right to sell our work, to share it with those who want it or need it, to bring light to the abysmal darkness which is the human experience with the products of our minds. With that right comes an overriding responsibility to defend that right not only for ourselves and our readers but for all artists, all consumers, all mankind everywhere. It is my sincere hope that this message will inspire you to act, to spread this message and those like it to all those lovers of art in its myriad forms such that we may continue to show the corporate puppeteers who dream themselves our overlords that we will not and cannot stand idly by while they enforce themselves on those who seek freedom.

The contact information for Mastercard may be found on their website below:

If you have any more information on this issue, better contact information for Mastercard, petitions or open letters to sign, or even if you just want someone to rant to about all of this, by all means email me.


  1. What's the source for this information?

    1. It comes from a mass mailing which went out to sellers on a few erotica websites. One writer forwarded it to a group of us who were active in the protests against PayPal. I strongly considered posting the entire thing, but since it wasn't sent to me I didn't feel comfortable with that.

    2. I understand not wanting to post the whole thing, but could you name a couple of the websites? I haven't heard anything yet, but it would be nice to be prepared.

  2. Murder ... alcohol ... child ... hypnotize ... infant ... This isn't just about erotic literature. This is a broad swath through literature of all types. Think about it:

    Mastercard will refuse to process payments on any kind of detective fiction/mysteries (which all deal in one way or another with "murder").

    Any book that deals with children in any fashion could be on the "ban" list - and that could potentially include nonfiction books on child and infant care!

    Hypnosis? Why is that on the list? Ditto "tentacle." That takes out every book written in the Lovecraft-type horror genre.

    You can't write a book that mentions alcohol or people drinking? There goes a lot of stuff written by Hemingway ...

    What are the people at Mastercard eating/drinking/sniffing? Have they lost their collective minds?????

  3. Yes, more than the list itself, it's the wording: "They are doing so by refusing to process payments for any online outlet which allows content they dislike." Uh, even the Bible has many of the words listed.

    This decision was obviously devised by someone who forgot to bring their brain to work. Sleep is offensive?

  4. I agree completely. Credit companies and payment processors have no business censoring the content of fiction. These are not non-fiction instructional books.

    Censorship should not be used against works of fiction because not only does it restrict conversations about the topics in question, but it also restricts conversations against the topics in question.

    There's a petition against censorship regarding these companies: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/7/stop-internet-censorship/

  5. It is my understanding that these words are so far only banned in erotic literature. Lovecraft and so forth would not be at risk. That being said, where they will go if this is left unchecked I do not know.

  6. The banned words list comes from a combination of places, including Zombaio who are an adult site processor. The list is called the BRAM list - Business Risk Assessment Model - which is Mastercard's compliance model.

    Getting hold of a definitive list of words is almost impossible and knowing exactly how the compliance organisations are going to use it is really impossible to predict. It could be they look on an organisation such as Amazon with a different attitude to the joeblogs outfit with a few hundred mostly BDSM titles. My guess is we will never know.

    On the face of it, this list applies equally to any adult site, be it ebooks, movies, dating, casinos, pharmacies etc. The list is used by compliance services such as g2webservices.com - one of the companies used by card processors such as Zombaio, Verotel etc etc, to check websites have no non-compliant (I did not say illegal, deliberately) content. How G2 check whether a movie has an actress saying "would you like a drink" in it is beyond me, unless they watch every film ever made, but it's obviously a lot easier to check an ebook site where the text is on display for all to see and partly I think that is why authors and publishers are particularly vulnerable to this kind of blatant censorship.

    The point here is the item (ebook, movie or whatever) can be totally legal but if it contains any of the banned words then it is now going to be faced with the label of being non-compliant - and that, in my opinion is censorship. It is definitely now looking like Mastercard have decided they no longer want people to buy certain adult products or services using their cards, despite assurances given by them during the recent PayPal saga regarding adult ebooks in particular.

    In my humble opinion the BRAM list should be product specific - so a drugs store would have to comply with one list of words, a casino would have other relevant words and so on. I can see they may well want to consider rape in movies as unacceptable - if they don't then real rapes could be recorded and sold online (if you take it to the extreme), but there should be no restrictions on authors including rape-themed storylines that are fictional. After all, we see enough of these themes on TV these days in the docu-dramas and such subjects even get included in some of the daytime soaps from time to time - so why ban the subject in fictional stories. The only real reason can be censorship for the sake of trying to control what Mastercard want people in the world to read or see.

    1. Very valid points, and I'm glad to have a bit more specificity on this issue. Do you have any links I can include to the policy you're talking about?