For those of you in writing circles you have no doubt heard about CleanReader. Much hullabaloo has been raised over this app in the past week and due to (justified) outrage from the author community this abhorrent app/reader has decided to remove its entire library completely and make some modifications to its app based on “feedback”.
For those who may not be aware, CleanReader is an app that (until recently) sold books and allowed the user to set a “cleanliness” setting. Once that setting was established the app would scan through the book and replace all objectionable words at that cleanliness level (e.g. “fuck” would likely be eliminated at a low setting but you’d have to jack it up to squeaky clean levels to get rid of the words less objectionable to puritan eyes).
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Once authors knew this was going on a great many of them went completely bat shit crazy for a bevy of reasons. In the link from the previous sentence Chuck Wendig talks about consent. This comes in a couple of flavours.
First, authors/publishers weren’t even asked if their works could be sold in conjunction with the app. Not so much as a single email saying:
“Oh hey there content creator/owner! We have this app that’s going to materially alter the text in your work and we’d like to sell your varying levels of offensive literature alongside it to maximize the efficiency of the bowdlerization process. Is that cool?”
Anyhow, once authors/publishers started to find out the floodgates opened and requests, nay, demands started pouring in for books to be removed. The popular indie author website Smashwords demanded that ALL its titles be removed. Legally the app company had to comply, and to their credit they did so in rapid fashion. Not to their credit, however, is the fact that they had to do it posthaste because they didn’t do any of the appropriate consultation to begin with.
Next there’s the obvious objection from authors that the words in the books are precisely the words that were intended for the reader. No others. Order from what’s on the menu please. No substitutions! Writers take their words very seriously, and they should. Words are our art. Manipulating them (and manipulating them for profit, no less) without consent is illegal (it’s more legally grey in the US but it’s black and white pretty much everywhere else. It’s the literary equivalent of the metric system. Take a gander at Moral Rights).
“But you can buy a copy of a book and mark it up all you want.”
True. If someone wanted to buy a book and cross out all the “fucks” and write “darn” over top, that’s fine with me. So if this app had a setting that let the user say something like, “If you encounter the word “fuck” in this book please replace it with the word “darn”. If you encounter the word…” you get the idea. It would be the digital equivalent of taking a pen to a book they bought. I’d have to be okay with that. Of course, that’s assuming that the digital copy of they book they have is actually theirs, and get this, it’s almost always not.
In just about every instance you’re not actually buying the ebook outright. You’re buying the privilege, by way of a licence, of reading said ebook on a personal device. In this case, it’s tough nuts fuckknockers, you get to read it as is, just as if you borrowed a physical book from the library. First sale doctrine does not apply.
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In summary, the not asking permission to bundle up book sales with this piece of shit app pisses me off. The fact that they’re manipulating an author’s words without permission pisses me off. The fact that some self-righteous app creator just up and decided what words were “bad” REALLY pisses me off. Sure, there are tolerance settings, but by whose assessment? The self-righteous app creator, that’s who. They’ve decided not just what words to replace (and the tolerance level at which to replace them) but also what to replace them with. Chuck Wendig has a nice round-up post here with some fabulous examples. By my assessment it is censorship, and as we learned two posts ago I’m not cool with that. This debate even started a glorious pissing contest between Jenny Trout and I on Twitter in which she went all arms-waiving-bonkers (it was good times).
So, if you’re one of the very few who think CleanReader is just the type of thing for you and you want books that appeal to your “sensibilities” I suggest you just go find some books that meet your morally high standards and then you can save yourself the app purchase.
Alternatively, and I’m going to borrow a wonderful turn of phrase from Chuck Wendig here, you can jolly well fucking write one yourself.
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