Tuesday, March 6, 2012

For Certain Values of Censorship

The recent move by financial institutions to restrict how people use their money has garnered a lot of attention lately. PayPay seems to be taking most of the damage when it comes to public relations , but if the PR department is to be believed, it's just following the guidelines established by the credit card companies with whom it does business. Specifically, the banks don't want to do business with people who sell certain types of erotic fictions, i.e. anything with incest, bestiality, rape, or underage sex as the central theme. That's their choice, and probably their right under the law.

I'm not even going to pretend that I have some kind of deeper understanding, or access to knowledge that may not be available to others, but I think the claims of censorship are verging on the hysterical. These companies don't want to censor, they just don't want to be associated. That being said, these actions are, effectively and for certain values of censorship, censorship.

That's why I was so interested to see an article on TorrentFreak this morning about copyright and patent law, and how it stifles innovation. It reminded me that one of the corollaries  to the 'censorship' arguments I've heard lately relates to how companies like Amazon and Apple use copyright and patent law to keep competing products out of the market place. They use tools like DRM and contracts to retain (restrict) consumers--to force those consumers to keep coming back, instead of seeking other markets. They do this with music; they do it with video; and they do it with ebooks. They use piracy as the excuse to censor, and so are encouraging piracy with their short-sighted actions.

The activist John Gilmore claims that the internet sees censorship as damage, and routes around it.  So far that seems to be true, and that means that these censored markets won't go away, they will simply change. If the financial systems continue to use their economic power to censor markets they don't like, maybe these markets will find another economic system, and something like bitcoins will take off and take over.

Maybe PayPal and it's masters will have to change or die.

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