Censorship & How to Fight It

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My friend and British spanking performer, producer & writer Pandora Blake has been having censorship issues with her credit card billing company, CCBill, for her spanking website, Dreams of Spanking. It started with a requirement that she censor her use of certain words, requiring:

“…wording changes, or else they would disable my billing. “Terms, Themes, and Marketing (Other Violation – Egregious)” was the heading, followed by a list of pages (mostly blogposts) where the words “non-consent”, “force” or “rape” were used,” including “…censoring discussions of consensual and ethical production on the blog.”

What is infuriating to me, and perhaps the most egregious result of all this, is that Pandora’s website (and her blog, Spanked, Not Silenced) have been a consistent voice in the world of internet porn speaking explicitly about consent and ethical pornography production. Through her thoughtful, intelligent posts and video and audio productions, she has raised the level of discourse on the topic. But even discussing what it means to have & give consent, what it means to be explicitly consensual, was censored:

“Note that these blogposts are not advertising a non-consent scene, or talking about why non-consent is sexy. They are talking about what differentiates my work as explicitly consensual, and they are discussing the issues surrounding consent in porn production.”

“It turns out to be fairly difficult to discuss consent in porn without ever using the word “non-consent”. CCBill are effectively saying that discussions of consent are against their acceptable use policy.”

“Never mind text which isn’t sexual or erotic, but an intellectual, semantic discussion about consent, language or ethical production.”

But it didn’t end there. After she had spent untold hours carefully combing through her site and attempting to meet their demands, even when the changes required were arbitrary and inconsistent, she was told still further changes needed to be made:

“…they said I needed to remove all the age play scenes, all the sword-fighting scenes, all scenes showing red/purple marks, and any use of the word “force”. This amounted to a lot of content. Never mind that none of this was picked up on in their review last week, and their requirements are repeatedly arbitrary and inconsistent. Never mind that it means taking content offline that members have already paid for. It all needed to go.”

Because this is her livelihood, Pandora reluctantly made the required changes to Dreams. But on June 14th she made the following announcement:

“I said that if I couldn’t charge for the spanking scenes CCBill dubbed “too extreme” (however questionable that verdict), I would give them away. And I meant it.

 

Ladies and gents, I am pleased to present my own personal rebellion against corporate censorship, Darker Dreams.

 

I make spanking videos for the love of it, and in hope of reaching out to others who share my fantasies. Perhaps my films will turn you on, perhaps they will fire your imagination, and perhaps they might help you discover that you are not alone, and that spanking fantasies can be a healthy part of a vibrant sexuality. In any case, I do not believe that it is harmful for consenting adults to act out these sorts of fantasies, or to share the resulting images with likeminded kinksters.

 

After CCBill’s efforts to prevent me from selling spanking films and photo sets which include sword-fighting and severe caning (read Ludwig’s blogpost on his and Kaelah’s film being censored here), I decided to take the step of bypassing the credit card processors, and release the deleted scenes for free in their entirety. These are the spanking films and photo galleries that you will find on Darker Dreams.

 

All images and video files on Darker Dreams are available to download free of charge. No logins, no payments, and no catch.”

As I said, however, spanking porn is how she makes her living, and producing the scenes did cost her money, so if you enjoyed them and are inclined to show your appreciation – and moreover, your support in her efforts to fight censorship – please consider making a donation. Alternatively, if you enjoy what she does, consider becoming a member of her fairtrade spanking site, Dreams of Spanking. As she says:

“I am a one woman production company making the sort of spanking videos I like to watch, with no outside sponsors or investment, so every contribution, however small, is both useful and appreciated.”

I know many of you out there that read my blog aren’t strictly “spankos”, but this is about more than spanking. Censorship affects us all. Please share & tweet this story, and feel free to use the graphic, created by Pandora’s friend, @RolandHulme, below.

pandoracensored

(For the full story of CCBill’s censorship of Pandora’s site, please visit her blog: Spanked, Not Silenced: Tag: Censorship.)

Comments

  1. I.G. Frederick

    You can’t effectively fight “censorship” if you don’t know what it is and misuse the term. Censorship very specifically is a GOVERNMENT preventing the PUBLICATION of material that an official deems offensive.

    Corporations can not by definition censor. And no one here is preventing you from publishing your material.

    The way to battle corporate prudishness is not, in my opinion, by giving material away. Your only weapon against corporate blocking of your ability to monetize your material is to take your business elsewhere.

    I have been saying for years that erotica writers need to band together and boycott the organizations that employ these kinds of tactics but still make thousands of dollars off our labor. I refuse to use PayPal for just this reason but editor after editor after author after author continues to use that system to exchange funds for explicit material. PayPal has no reason to change it’s tune if there’s no financial penalty. Ditto CCBill.

    There are only two ways to bring about corporate change: 1) legislatively, which is almost impossible given that legislators throughout the world are owned by corporations; and 2) financially. Boycotts are effective, but only if participation is high.

    If we all move our business elsewhere and support only corporations that have reasonable terms of service, CCBill, PayPal, and others will change their tune.

    Reply
    1. Jade Post author

      Point taken on the literal definition of the word censorship. Although (without an actual dog in this fight, as I don’t have a pay website of any sort myself) I *think* it could be argued that in a world that is largely run by corporations, even indirectly, the definition could be extended to encompass their actions, when they effectively have a monopoly on the system. I’ll let others with more expertise chime in on that though, because I have an admittedly minimal amount of knowledge about big business and how it interacts with governments (or how governments might use business to further their own means, as some have claimed to be the case with this issue.) (I’m not a conspiracy theorist myself, but again, I have no expert or inside knowledge to go by one way or another.)

      I also do not contend that giving away content is the only way to combat (what I and others are calling) censorship by these corporations. It is one that Pandora has chosen to use because, like many people that believe strongly in their work, she wants people to see it. With few (if any) payment options for getting that content to viewers, it seems a viable approach to me, along with trying to find a credit card company that she can work with. Again, though, it’s not my battle, and she can speak much more eloquently to why she feels it is important and why she is choosing to do so.

      Reply
    2. Pandora

      “Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body.” (Wikipedia)

      Fulfilling the legal security requirements to process credit card transactions online is sufficiently complex that it requires several full-time staff members. It is impossible for small businesses to process their own payments online, and so they are dependent on billing agents, companies large enough to handle the necessary security. These are international bodies free to impose their own restrictions. I’d say that counts as a “controlling body”.

      I don’t see why a boycott which prevents funds from going through a billing agent by not accepting payments at all, and a boycott which transfers payments to a competitor, are any different in terms of financial impact on the company that is no longer getting their fee.

      I had my own reasons for going the free route, anyway, which boil down to the following:

      1. CCBill is not unique in imposing this sort of unpredictable content restriction – producers will tell you that most billing agents do this from time to time. The vagueness of their policies and the inconsistent way they’re enforced mean no content provider can “guarantee” they’ll be save with one billing agent or another. All of them have vague terms which give them leeway for random clampdowns; all of them are subject to the requirements set by the credit cards themselves, eg Visa.

      2. One of the banned films was written by the performers as a positive representation of their kink for severe caning, which is a controversial fetish. They were sick of arguing their corner against people who insisted anyone who liked that sort of thing was “sick”, and decided to make a film complete with a behind the scenes documentary to show how it can be conducted in a healthy, consensual, empowering way. They refused to allow me to pay them for the shoot. As soon as it was singled out for removal, giving this film away seems like the best way to honour the spirit in which it was created.

      3. I come to production from the open source community and have long been fascinated by free economics and the future of commercial media distribution in the age of file-sharing. I’m interested in exploring alternative business models that exploit the economics of abundance offered by digital media – for instance, I have a “pay what you like” porn site in the pipeline. This seemed like a good opportunity to road-test one possible alternative business model (giving content away and inviting donations from those who enjoy it) in a relatively risk-free way. After all, the content has already earned its keep on Dreams of Spanking; I can make the experiment without having to invest more money producing brand-new content.

      4. A free site is technically easier, quicker and cheaper to build than a separate site that uses a new billing agent; or than changing the billing agent for Dreams of Spanking. This solution allowed me to make the content available as quickly as possible after I was required to deleted it.

      5. Generally speaking, if content is deemed dangerous or offensive by anyone, controlling corporations or governments alike, the best way to prove that it isn’t is to make it publicly available.

      Your last paragraph depends on alternatives being available. If you know of a Paypal alternative that will let me accept payments for adult media, or a credit card processor that isn’t going to change their mind about the sort of content they’ll let me charge for a year after they cleared my site for launch, I am very interested to hear your recommendations.

      Reply
  2. I.G. Frederick

    As I mentioned on Twitter, Wikepedia is unreliable source, edited by PR hacks, corporate lackeys, and vicious, backbiting megalomaniacs. I have yet to see a dictionary that extends the definition to corporations.

    I do believe it’s important to use the word correctly because the tools for combating government censorship are very different than the tools for combating corporate prudishness and oppression.

    Other than that, Pandora, you’ve made some very valid points. I have stated previously that copyright law needs to change because current law does not protect the creator. It is (and always has been) about corporations monetizing content. We need laws that will both enable all content creators to be appropriately compensated for their content and free those of us who produce content that some consider morally reprehensible to monetize it.

    As to an alternative, unfortunately the only one I know of at this time offers services exclusively in the United States. I do not know of an international alternative.

    I applaud you for trying other options — just be careful. Even if you only accept donations rather than selling specific material, I know that PayPal TOS can still be used to shut down your account and (has happened to too many others) steal your funds. (I’m not familiar with CCBill.)

    Good luck in finding ways to make all this work. Not all innovators in monetization of content are successful, but all contribute to the changes that are developing.

    Reply
    1. Pandora

      Yah – Paypal froze my account a couple of weeks ago after I started using them for donations. Had done so in the past without any trouble, but this time there was a bit more cash involved, or maybe they’re feeling more assiduous these days. So now they have a hundred quid of my money. Meh.

      Anyway, the site now uses the clips4sale donate button because I already had an account with them, but they take a 40% cut and they use the word “tribute” rather than “donation”, which I personally loathe. So I’m still on the look out for other adult-friendly donate button providers.

      Reply
  3. W

    I operate a site that delivers erotic bondage content. For years the imagery on my site has been censored by one payment processor after another. Pandora is correct that the policies of such organizations are capricious, arbitrary, defy logic and present an unpredictable moving target. Some are better than others in dealing with this, and whether the payment processors themselves are subjected to the same arbitrary process by other banking institutions is impossible to know. Given how prevalent a problem it is, I suspect they are.

    The new wrinkle recently is that due to what I presume is the supreme laziness of some organizations they are now censoring specific words regardless of context, as has been well illustrated by Pandora’s situation.

    By nature, fetishes appeal to relatively small audiences. I therefore doubt that boycott actions would ever achieve sufficient mass to even annoy the financial organizations that impose these policies. I myself haven’t used Visa in several years. It provides me personal satisfaction but I doubt they notice my protest.

    What Pandora is doing builds awareness of this issue, bringing to light an obstacle that is helping paralyze small and medium sized producers and reduce the quality and diversity of content available to consumers. I too have considered offering for free my “censored” content on an alternative site. The only reason I haven’t done so at this point is my own laziness. Perhaps her actions will inspire me to do so and explore alternate methods to receive adequate value from my efforts as well.

    Consumers and producers alike love the convenience and security provided by the use of credit cards. Unfortunately this option is increasingly less available, and denied to ever more conventional and less edgy offerings of fetish and erotica. (And now apparently even intellectual discussions of the same.) There are many alternate methods which could conceivably be employed to provide producers with adequate revenue to continue in operation. Direct bank transfers, Western Union, checks through the mail. Donations. Patrons. Advertising. Internet micro-payments systems still in development. I don’t know. The concept of a PayPal like service is great, but my personal experience is the same as above. PayPal itself is absolutely NOT an option as their terms of service prohibit its use for any adult materials and they viciously enforce those terms.

    Unfortunately most of the above possibilities are less familiar or comfortable to use for consumers. In my opinion, for small producers to survive, the general public is going to have to come to the realization that the convenience of credit card processing is no longer an available option for custom producers of the content they want and they have to be willing to pursue other payment alternatives. Until these payment alternatives become commonplace, producers of anything other than the most bland and narrowly focused adult content will either continue to restrict their offerings, go out of business – or give their “censored” content away free.

    In times past the only way to obtain erotic material was to travel to an adult bookstore, perhaps in a distant city, and pay cash, – a model burdened with its own “inconveniences” and forms of censorship. Hopefully we won’t have to return to that.

    So I applaud Pandora – at least she’s trying. Support her.

    Reply
  4. Ramsey Campbell

    “As I mentioned on Twitter, Wikepedia is unreliable source, edited by PR hacks, corporate lackeys, and vicious, backbiting megalomaniacs.”

    I’m sure some of it is, but not all. And I’m sorry, the definition of censorship extends far beyond the government kind. Publishers censor books, for instance, and Pandora’s definition seems perfectly valid to me.

    Reply

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