March 27, 2015
By: Alison Flood
Clean Reader app, which changes swear words and so-called offensive terms, removes all titles from online catalogue after writers protest
Chocolat author Joanne Harris is claiming a “small victory for the world of dirt” after an app that blanked out the profanities in books, replacing them with so-called clean alternatives, removed all titles from its online catalogue following a week of angry protests from writers.
The Clean Reader app, launched by a couple in Idaho in the US, has announced that after significant feedback from authors, many of whom did not want their work being sold in connection with the app, it has “taken immediate action to remove all books from our catalogue”.
Clean Reader set out to enable customers to, in its own words, “read books, not profanity”. A filter could be applied to ebooks purchased from its online store, which exchanged words that were judged to be offensive with alternatives.
Profanities such as “fucking” and “fucker” became “freaking” and “idiot”, “hell” became “heck” and “shit” became “crap”, according to an analysis of the app by Jennifer Porter. It was not only swear words that Clean Reader scrubbed out of books: Porter, who ran a series of romance novels through the app, found that body parts were also replaced. “Penis” became “groin”, “vagina” was swapped for “bottom” and “breast” changed to “chest”. Exclamations such as “Jesus Christ” became “geez”, “piss” became “pee”, “bitch” became “witch” and “blowjob” was switched with the euphemistic “pleasure”.
Harris had led the charge against the app, with a blogpost entitled “Why I’m saying ‘fuck you’ to Clean Reader”, explaining why she felt the filter was “censorship, not by the state, but by a religious minority”, and that it “misunderstand[s] the nature of fiction writing” and gives a “toxic message” to young people.
Jared and Kirsten Maughan, the Christian founders of Clean Reader, came up with the idea after their daughter objected to the swear words in a book she was reading at school, and worked with the Chicago firm Page Foundry to create the filtering programme. This came with three settings: clean, which “only blocks major swear words from display”, cleaner, and squeaky clean, the most restrictive setting, which “will block the most profanity from a book including some hurtful racial terms”.
Harris was joined by a host of authors in attacking the premise of Clean Reader. The science fiction novelist Charlie Stross described himself as a writer who “deeply resents the idea of his books being mutilated to fit the prejudices of a curious reader’s blue-nosed and over-protective parents” on his blog. The Booker prize-winner Margaret Atwood asked on Twitter: “Could you take the kettledrums out of Beethoven because you don’t like loud noises and still call it Beethoven?” The novelist Chuck Wendig tweeted: “Personally I think #CleanReader is a bunch of HOT JEEPERS MCGEE and a bucket of MONKEY FLOPPING CUPCAKE BATTER oh gosh they got to Twitter.”
After the Page Foundry subsidiary Inktera announced that “in support of #authors #readers #books everywhere, the @Inktera bookstore system has been pulled from @CleanReader, effective immediately”, and Smashwords founder Mark Coker requested all of its titles be removed from the app, because “under the terms of our agreement with all retailers, retailers don’t have permission to alter the words of our books”, Clean Reader bowed to the pressure on Thursday and stopped selling books.
“It is a small victory for the world of dirt,” Harris told the Guardian. “And a wise move on their behalf. I think somebody would have proved how fundamentally illegal it is, and would have taken them to court … it’s interesting to see how pressure from the internet has done it, and how widespread support is for the integrity of books. A lot of people don’t want to see books tampered with.”
The Society of Authors said it was concerned “that the app contradicts two aspects of the author’s moral rights, namely the right of integrity and the right of false attribution”, with the former “the right of an author to object to ‘derogatory’ treatment of a work”, and the latter “the right not to have a work falsely attributed to you as author”.
Harris also raised the issue of the psychological damage resulting from representing to a child that “bodies are dirty”. She said: “There’s clearly a religious agenda here. And it has a sinister implication to it … it needed nipping in the bud. I’d rather my books were not read at all than they were used as part of some religious agenda to indoctrinate children into thinking body parts are bad, and sex is wicked.”
Clean Reader’s statement said that any books already purchased would still be available to users, and that it was planning to make several changes made to the app with an update to be released in the near future. It said: “These changes will also be in response to the feedback we have received from many authors and users.”
Harris said on Friday: “I don’t see what changes they can make to stop it being an offensive app. But there is nothing which stops them from starting again quietly once things have died down. It’s a question of watching.”
And as writers applauded the announcement,, others mourned it. One supporter of the app wrote: “The fact is that we readers would love to hear some of your creative stories without the icky unnecessary junk language.
“There are some really great and important literary works that are eliminated from our study because I’m not willing to compromise our standards. Not for myself or for our kids.”
Harris replied in a blogpost: “Shakespeare wrote icky unnecessary junk language. So did Chaucer, DH Lawrence, Philip Larkin, James Joyce.
“If a reader chooses to avoid reading my books, that’s fine. She has that right. If she hates it, that’s also fine. If she has opinions on how it could have been done better, that’s also fine, because she’s entitled to her opinion, whether I agree or not. BUT – her opinion does not extend to changing my work in any way. My book, my rules, and that includes my words. ALL of them.”
Source: The Guardian