Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You Can't Say That!

What is censorship? Many people insist only government can be a censor. Joe Konrath wrote an entire blog  about how PayPal’s threats to cut off publishers and book sellers unless they ceased selling certain books was not censorship because PayPal was a business, not a government. Say it ain't so, Joe! With apologies, Mr. Konrath, you’re wrong.

(Waiting for a thunderbolt to strike for having the audacity to offend The Pompous One).

Since I’m still standing, unscathed, let me grab a dictionary.  Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: "Censor: One who supervises conduct and morals: as a) an official who examines materials (as publications or films) for objectionable matter; b) an official (as in time of war) who reads communications (as letters) and deletes material considered harmful to the interests of his organization. Censorship: The institution, system or practice of censoring; the actions or practices of censors; esp. censorial control exercised repressively."

Hmmm, no government mentioned there. Let's keep looking. Ugh, this one's heavy. Oran's Dictionary of Law: "Censorship: 1. The denial of freedom of speech or freedom of the press. 2. The review of books, movies, etc., to prohibit publication and distribution, usually for reasons of morality or state security."

No elected officials there, either. Not even the county dog-catcher. Let's try Encarta Encyclopedia:

"Censorship: supervision and control of the information and ideas circulated within a society. In modern times, censorship refers to the examination of media including books, periodicals, plays, motion pictures, and television and radio programs for the purpose of altering or suppressing parts thought to be offensive. The offensive material may be considered immoral or obscene, heretical or blasphemous, seditious or treasonable, or injurious to the national security."

Darn. But Joe Konrath can't be wrong! He’s the god of wannabe writers! (It must be true; I read it on his blog!). Gotta keep trying!

Academic American Encyclopedia: "Censorship is a word of many meanings. In its broadest sense it refers to suppression of information, ideas, or artistic expression by anyone, whether government officials, church authorities, private pressure groups, or speakers, writers, and artists themselves. It may take place at any point in time, whether before an utterance occurs, prior to its widespread circulation, or by punishment of communicators after dissemination of their messages, so as to deter others from like expression. In its narrower, more legalistic sense, censorship means only the prevention by official government action of the circulation of messages already produced. Thus writers who "censor" themselves before putting words on paper, for fear of failing to sell their work, are not engaging in censorship in this narrower sense, nor are those who boycott sponsors of disliked television shows."

At last! I knew that Big Government had to stick its snout in somewhere! But even this last definition explains government can be one of many censors. In its narrowest sense, the word may mean what Joe says it does. But in every other sense, it means anyone can be a censor. Including PayPal. Censorship is more egregious when committed by government, or, as in the case of PayPal, by an entity with near-monopolistic control.

Now, before Joe debates the definition of “monopoly”, I realize PayPal is not a monopoly – yet. But it has achieved a position of market dominance – to the point where many smaller booksellers would find it infeasible to sell online – such that its edicts will have a chilling effect on free speech. Writers will not be able to sell their books if they stray from PayPal-approved subject matter – that’s the bottom line.

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