Fuck You, Clean Reader: Authorial Consent Matters

 

There exists a new app called Clean Reader.

The function of Clean Reader is to scrub the profanity from e-books.

Their tagline: “Read books. Not profanity.

You can dial in how much of the profanity you want gone from the books.

Author Joanne Harris has roundly (and to my mind, correctly) condemned the app, and I would recommend you read about her and condemnation. I would further suggest you go on and read the email she received from the Clean Reader people and, more importantly, her response to that email. (Oh, also: check her tweets, too: @JoanneChocolat.)

I am an author where much of my work utilizes profanity. Because fuck yeah, profanity. Profanity is a circus of language. It’s a drunken trapeze act. It’s clowns on fire. And let’s be clear up front: profanity is not separate from language. It is not lazy language. It is language. Just another part of it. Vulgarity has merit. It is expressive. It is emotive. It is metaphor.

So, as someone with a whole pig wagon full of fucks at stake, let be be clear:

Fuck you, Clean Reader.

*cups hand to mouth*

Fuuuuuuck. Yoooooooou.

*fuckecho through the canyon of fucks*

Please let me condemn your app in whatever obscene gesture you find most obscene.

Let me unpack this a little.

When I write a book, I write it a certain way. I paint with words. Those words are chosen. They do not happen randomly. The words and sentences and paragraphs are the threads of the story, and when you pluck one thread from the sweater, the whole thing threatens to unravel — or, at least, becomes damaged. You may say, Well, Mister Wendig, surely your books do not require the profanity, to which I say, fuck you for thinking that they don’t. If I chose it, and the editor and I agree to keep it, then damn right it’s required. It’s no less required than a line of dialogue, or a scene of action, or a description of a goddamn motherfucking lamp. Sure, my book could exist without that dialogue, that action, that goddamn motherfucking lamp.

But I don’t want it to. That’s your book, not my book.

My consent matters when it comes to the book.

If changes are necessary to the book — then I consent to making them.

An editor sends me edits, I can say whether those edits fly or not.

Just as the publisher can consent to the book they publish.

That’s the deal. That’s how this works.

And here you may say:

But what of the consent of the reader?

To which I respond:

Your consent as a reader is being able to pick up the book or not. Your consent as a reader comes into play as to whether or not you put down that book at some point throughout because something within it was objectionable: bad story, unlikeable protagonist, toxic ideas, or even yes, crass and septic vulgarity. That’s the contract the reader and the author share, and this is true with books and movies and comics and really all stories. You consent to buying the ticket. I consent to taking you on the ride. Neither of us get to modify that contract halfway in. We don’t get to change the experience unless somehow the engine of change is built into the content (as with many games). You can’t change the story. I can’t steal your book.

(Here I’ll note that on an individual level, if you really want to go through my book and hand-edit out the profanity, fine. Thing is, you still have to read the profanity to do that — and that means not relying on an app to categorically and programmatically make edits to the text.)

You may say, But I want to read your books, just without all that nasty business.

To which I say, then I don’t want you reading my books. Nothing personal, but I wrote the thing the way I wrote the thing. If that troubles you, then I don’t want you reading it. No harm, no foul. Surely there are other sanitized, anesthetized stories that will grant you greater comfort. But don’t sanitize mine. Don’t anesthetize my work or the work of any author. Do not take that consent away from us. It is immoral. Is it illegal? That, I don’t know, but honestly, I’m hoping it turns out to be true (as honestly, I’d want this thing shut down).

I’m not a fan of slippery slopes, but programmatically removing or changing information from a book? It’s bad shenanigans. Given that this app seems custom-made to serve Christian ideals (see: replacing “bitch” with “witch”) where does it stop? Cutting out an abortion scene and replacing it with a scene where the child survives? Moving a sex scene and replacing it with a scene where the young couple sits and quietly reads the Bible? If a character is objectionable, will you replace it with a goddamn motherfucking lamp so that it doth not offend?

(Sorry, I mean, “Gosh-darn Monday-through-Friday lamp.”)

Look at their website, where on their blog they note that author Mark Henshaw “…makes it a point to write well enough that he doesn’t need to include profanity in his writing.”

Oh, no you didn’t.

Conflating quality with a lack of profanity?

*vomits up a whole bag of middle fingers and dumps them into your lap*

In another blog post, they talk of this like you’re just someone ordering food at a restaurant: oh, ha ha, I don’t like blue cheese so I just order my food without it, and this is exactly like that. Except yeah, no, it’s not. Never mind the problem with conflating food you buy and books you read, let’s instead assume that if you find blue cheese so categorically offensive that you shouldn’t order food with blue cheese in it. Chefs fucking hate when you order food with inane substitutions. Instead of viewing our books like customizable meals, let’s instead pretend like our words are the ingredients list on a procured food product — just because you don’t like maltodextrin doesn’t mean I can whimsically pluck it out without the chemical composition of the food product falling apart. It’s in there. Too late. Don’t like it, don’t buy it.

Their purpose in creating the app was:

“One day our oldest child came home from school and she was a little sad.  We asked her what was wrong and she said she had been reading a book during library time and it had a few swear words in it.  She really liked the book but not the swear words.  We told her that there was probably an app for this type of thing that would replace profanity with less offensive words and perhaps we should get her a tablet that she could use to read books with.  To our surprise there wasn’t an app like this.  The more we thought about this idea the more we wanted it to be a reality.  Eventually we decided we would do all we could to bring Clean Reader to the world.  We’ve been putting as much time and money into it as we could over the last few years and we’re excited to see it launch soon!”

Hey, listen, I have a kid. He’s not even four. I don’t edit the material that reaches his eyes. I control the flow of that information and when something lands in front of him that’s deep or confusing or in conflict to my beliefs, I don’t water it down. We talk about it. My son isn’t even four and we can have conversations about it. That discussion is meaningful. Far, far more meaningful than if I had simply edited out unlikable material and replaced it with something more comfortable. (You’d be surprised how often this happens even with kids books — children’s books are surprisingly judgeypants toward obesity, and as such, requires some discussion with the boy.) What books are these people letting their fourth grader read? “This book, Requiem for a Dream, sounded so polite. I mean, requiems! And dreams! But it wasn’t! No, sir, it wasn’t! What poppycock! Wait, is poppycock profane? There’s that word, ‘cock’ and so we must create an app to find all the ‘cocks’ and replace them with pictures of happy chickens. Chickens can’t be offensive! Especially because they’re so delicious, at least when nobody has put that blasphemous blue cheese all over them ha ha ha condemn Satan praise God burn foul-mouthed witches.”)

Education isn’t about concealment of information. It isn’t about the eradication or modification of offensive language, or ideas, or information. It’s about presenting truth when a child or an adult are ready to hear it, and then talking about it. Anything else is how you get Jesus riding dinosaurs, or a loss of climate change, or the eradication of women or people of color from the pages of history, all because it doesn’t line up with preconceived notions and pre-existing comfort levels.

Stories aren’t bulletin boards. You don’t pull down thumbtacked bits and replace them with your own. And that’s what this app does — it doesn’t merely censor. It edits. It changes. You can’t do that. Changes cascade. It’s like stepping on a butterfly in the past and waking up to a future where a T-Rex is your accountant. Stories aren’t echo chambers. They’re wild, untamed, unkempt territory. You don’t get to prune it into a bonsai shape that you prefer.

Authors write the books they want to write.

And you can read them as they are written.

That’s it. Game over.

You want differently?

Go buy Mad Libs. They let you insert whatever fucking words you like.

481 comments

  • Thank you for pulling me off of the fence. Not kidding. I’ve been spinning and twirling for a while now over this very issue…only to come to the fountain, once again, to drink from the knowledge of all things Wendigo. RELEASE THE PROFANITIES!!!!

  • I agree. I am a Christian, and I agree with you, Chuck. In fact, I am going to have two stories in regards to abortion. I am going to write stories that fluff-bunny Christians won’t like. It’s my story, and I’ll tell it how I want. And yes, there will be profanity. Try writing about characters who are off the street and not use a cuss word. Oh yeah, that’s realistic. I believe in realistic to the characters. if the reader can’t handle it, then don’t read the book. My audience aren’t fluff-bunnies. If they want to read it with this app, fine, but the story will not be as good. I write as realistic as possible, regardless of how crazy the plot may seem. I write realistic characters, that drives story. And I might have a fluff-bunny character at some point, but most of them are human. I am so tired of back-seat writers. Don’t like me or my books, don’t read them and block me. Simple. I too will be ranting about this. Probably tick some folks off, oh well, they’ll shake it off. I have been called worse by better.

  • Chuck, if work like yours frees the thinking of just one person who currently needs Clean Reader… It’s worth it, no? #RedPillLit

    I’d wager most people using this tool aren’t thinking for themselves. What better tool than Clean Reader for breaking down those people’s thought-walls?

    It’s as if the Trojans posted a sign saying “All house-sized horses will be brought within walls.”

    I’d bet a million profanity-asterisks that this product would only result in *more* people seeking out your and others’ unedited work.

  • Isn’t this legally a copyright matter?

    By editing the content of books, agent they effectively creating Derivative Works? Which is a big no no? Your publishers may want to pursue that angle…

  • “There’s no such thing as bad language. I don’t believe that anymore. It’s ridiculous. They call it a debasing of the language. No! We are adults! These are the words that we use to express frustration, rage, anger . . . In order that we don’t pick up a tire iron and beat the shit out of something!”

    – Lewis Black, “Red, White & Screwed.”

  • I’m not a big fan of profanity. I don’t use it myself in conversation, and I don’t use a lot of it in my writing. That said, I’m not a fan of this app. I’m guessing it was written by a fundamentalist Christian. They’re big on getting rid of profanity. It reminds me of a video store that would edit videos after you bought them. I also remember a few years ago some writers complaining that the ACT and the SAT were doing too much editing for the reading selections. The original of one said, “The Jewish woman,”, but was edited to say “The woman.” I say it’s the author’s discretion what language to use. The only restriction I would have is to not use profanity if the book was targeted for children under 18.

    By the way, I believe the app’s legal defense is that this is being done after the book is purchased. Once you buy a book, you can do whatever you want to with it. They will compare it to someone buying a book, then taking a black marker and manually crossing out the profanity. They will say that this is just automating the process. I don’t buy it, but I don’t know what you can do about it.

    The only thing I can think of as a compromise is an 18+ sticker for books that are not designed for kids. This is very similar to the movies, TV, CDs, and video games. Kids’ books already have a suggested age range, so this isn’t a stretch.

    • Except that 13-17 year olds aren’t kids, they’re teenagers. And they swear. And their friends swear. Profanity has a place in YA novels and it is just as valid and just as thought-out and intentional as it is when it’s in a novel marketed to adults. The first book I ever edited as a YA editor was about a girl whose boyfriend shot up a school and then took his own life, leaving her behind to mourn, to question everything she knew, and to be accused and ostracized. The author originally didn’t use swears in places where swearing felt more realistic. Who the character was, and the circumstances she was going through, demanded she swear if the depiction were to feel realistic. It wouldn’t feel authentic to the teen experience to have her say “heck” or “gosh darn” or anything as ridiculous as that. The author and I talked about it and she added in a few swears. They were well thought out and intentional and the book has been embraced by readers for years.

      An 18+ sticker makes no sense either, especially if it’s just for swears. Anyone who has set foot in a high school knows that. Kids don’t need to be protected and hidden from swearing, they need to be educated on the power of language and when and how to use those words effectively (if they choose to use them at all). Why are we trying to shelter teenagers from a few words that someone, decades or centuries ago, decided weren’t OK? Why are we so afraid of the visceral reaction we have to these words that we want to forbid them from reaching adolescent ears? And what kind of delicate flowers do we (and by we I mean adults who are not me) think teens are that they will wilt or turn to the dark side if they hear or read these words? I’d wager that if the word “fuck” can sway a teen into becoming a bad person, they were already teetering on the edge already and the word had nothing to do with it.

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t the removal of words, any words, from an original work considered abridging? Doesn’t the new “abridged” version have to go through the some sort of copyright permissions bullshit that anyone else has to go through if the use of the work goes beyond that “fair use” line?

    If we were mean-spirited we could get a lawyer on board and file a class-action lawsuit.

    • Okay so I went to the site. I answered my own question:

      “Is Clean Reader legal or does it break copyright law?

      We’ve discussed this with several lawyers and they have all agreed that Clean Reader does not violate copyright law because it doesn’t make changes to the file containing the book. All Clean Reader does is change the way the content is displayed on the screen. The user has the option of turning off the profanity filtering tool if desired. No changes are made to the original book the user downloads when they buy a book.”

      And somehow, the fact that they promise they consulted several lawyers and they all, all agreed that this in no way violates a copyright law because the actual work remains unaltered at it’s core, somehow this does not inspire me with confidence. It has been my experience that for every lawyer that says no, there is a lawyer that says yes.

      But since they are the beacon of everything that is squeaky clean, I can trust them and take them at their word, right?

      • Between the ever-popular fan-fiction and now this app I fear for the future of intellectual property and copyright.
        If someone can take what you have written, change it and then sell it – have slippery is the slope before they combine this with fan-fiction and allow readers to remove chapters or change characters by inserting other people’s words. After all, as long as the “core is unaltered” the author has nothing to fear, right?
        If all we are concerned with is whether or not the basic story (subjective) is intact or if certain words which are considered offensive (subjective) where do they draw the line?
        I agree there is something wrong with us as a society if our children come home sad after reading a curse word in a book during library time. Half my son’s friends don’t know what a library is btw. And since the day’s of Salem, I think there has been a constant PC affliction that has infected too many of us.
        I love the idea: Don’t like the words – I don’t give a fuck. Don’t want you reading my book if you don’t like what’s in it.
        I laughed out loud when I read this.
        There are readers out there, who want (and got) an app to change what an author has written by replacing their words with the words that someone else has written?
        Then I think I peed a little…or cried. Not sure.
        This should scare every reader and author out there.

        • I apologize for butting in, but I’d like to get something off my chest regarding your comment. I know the conversation about the whole shebang of copyright and intellectual property is complicated and the opinions are varied, I’d like to ask you not to throw in fanfiction with this case though, because its relation to the source work is entirely different from the matter of this app. Fanfiction (at least in my own, albeit partially subjective understanding of it) doesn’t strive to separate, distance itself or alter its core material in the way it is consumed.
          To me, fanfiction is one possible expression of a reader’s discourse with a work and other people who are equally passionate about it. It might be immolating, it might be critical, it might be parodistic, it might be celebrating, but underneath that lies an abiding desire to engage with the source material, explore the hidden depths that the original creator left open on purpose or not. It’s not designed to change the original work towards a frame of reference one thinks better suited for one’s own tastes, but rather for the original work to be the frame of reference from which fanworks spin out. Fanworks could not and do not want to exist separately from their source exactly as it was created originally.
          Of course, some fans subscribe to this philosophy more than others, but still, considering that there’s probably not a literary community in the world AS aware of the dynamic and the relationship and the legalities of original vs. transformative work as fandom, I’d like to not be lumped in with such a poorly thought-out and frankly literary-illiterate venture as this cleaning app.
          Never mind that while I’m all for making sure that authors have the ability to earn their livelihood from their work and are protected in that respect, people tend to forget that intellectual property and copyright as codified today are deeply modern concepts (and neither as old nor traditional as it might feel to us sometimes) and not above question or reproach. Especially considering all the big shot property owners starting to game the system (I’m looking at you, Disney) and driving the commercialization of art down a road I’m not quite sure we should stay on. I’ll stop here though, before I go any more off topic.

      • As an author, if I do not authorize them to use MY books with their service, yes, IMO, they are in violation of copyright law because I have not licensed their ability to mangle my books without my permission. if ALL the app did was “block” words, MAYBE I might not be as violently unokay with that. MAYBE. Not as pissed off, sure. BUT. There is an option for them to offer up a DIFFERENT word.

        NO. Just…NO. Not an authorized use of my books. Those are NOT the words I wrote. Electronic files are different than paper books. There are licenses involved. Therefore, I do NOT license my books for that use.

        • Right on, Tymber! If they don’t like what we wrote, they can just not lay down the money for it. Buying one copy does not license them to rewrite the material.

  • Censorship is one of my BIG TALL soapboxes I will happily and often climb up on. And let’s be clear Clean App Is censorship plain and simple. I couldn’t agree more with your post. Don’t want to read icky words don’t buy the book, see the movie, watch the TV program. You can have an opinion about icky words, discuss them rail against them whatever you want but what you can’t do is take them out of a piece of art someone has created.

      • Beg pardon, Rick, but it IS censorship. Just on a very small, personal scale. These people are choosing to control what is seen by their child, their self, whatever. That is censorship. And censorship, even on that small scale, leads to the belief that censorship on a larger scale should be permissible. It leads to the belief that I can tell you what you are allowed to see, hear, believe. I can tell you how you are allowed to live. Who you can love. What you can be when you grow up. It is the first small step down a slippery slope that leads to the erosion of rights. It leads to mind control. And that, sir, is what censorship does. It makes us slaves to the ones who hold the power. Is that truly what you want?

        I’d rather you just didn’t buy the book. It won’t break my bank account. Or if you really, really want to make a point – buy it. Then BURN it. But don’t you dare change my words.

        Please note, Rick, when I say “you” here I am not referring to you personally, but to that amorphous “you” that is the “they” of “they say”. The ones who want to control us by judgmental looks and snide whispers.

        • Even though I pepper my writing with a decent amount of fuckspice, I am not going to whine about what the consumer does with his or her copy post-purchase, and I’m certainly not going to rally for a law about it. Because that’s fucking despotic.

          Once you (the author or the copyright holder) have sold the book, whether in physical form or as a digital file, it is no longer your property. It becomes the property of the purchaser. If the changes are being made to the file or the book itself after purchase, then it is no longer your domain. The story is still your intellectual property, which means that no one can reproduce it without your permission, but the end product in its physical or digital iteration belongs to the consumer to do with as he or she wishes as long as it is for personal use. The only difference between marking up a book with a sharpie and this app is that in this case, there’s a third party doing the marking up. I could pay someone $5 to replace all the “fucks” in a book I’d purchased with “shuckses”, and it would be well within my rights as the owner of *that copy* of the book. If it’s not your shit (which it clearly isn’t after you’ve sold it), then what the consumer does with it is none of your business. Unless you want to individually interview prospective buyers of your work to ensure that they will treat the work the way you want before you allow them to purchase it, you literally have no control over what happens to it on the consumer end, beyond reproductive use. And you shouldn’t.

  • Chuck, you are an aurora borealis in an increasingly beige politically correct world 🙂 Your blogs always amuse me but this one would have to be my favourite. Like you say, if they don’t want a story with realistic characters who speak realistic language, for their circumstances, then they need not buy your books. There are plenty of fans who appreciate them for how brilliant they are. Thanks for keeping it real.

  • Someone just posted a screenshot on Twitter of an erotica scene “cleaned” by this app. I have to say it’s hilarious that “cock” was changed to “groin” (because the head of his groin is ever SO less offensive) and yet it didn’t change “clit” at all. Snort.

  • March 25, 2015 at 3:16 PM // Reply

    Chuck, I looked into this on Google Play, and the reviews mention a potentially even bigger accusation – that the app developers are reselling other people’s digital rights without permisson.

    The app apparently does not clean up ebooks already bought – you instead use the app to buy “cleaned up” versions directly from the developer store, and at interesting prices, too.

    • If that’s the case, the creators of this app need to be sued. If you can’t make money on fanfiction, you can’t make money on scrubbed versions of other people’s work.

    • This is pretty much the only reason I would object to this app. I … find that I don’t really care if someone wants to take the swear words out of their OWN copy of a book. Once you put something out there for sale, people are going to interact with it in all kinds of ways that you probably wouldn’t condone but that is their right as a consumer.. like someone said up there, it’s not really any different than if someone took a black marker to a book on their shelves. It’s obnoxious but not really “wrong”… as long as it’s only for personal use.

      Hell, I’d much rather a few ninnies read the word “witch” instead of “bitch” than have people trying to ban the work from libraries or bookstores, or trying to force publishers to edit ALL of the copies.

      Re-selling books that one doesn’t have the right to sell, THAT is mega-wrong.

      • I would think not just mega-wrong but mega-illegal. There’s this whole thing about intellectual property to consider, in addition to the publication rights, hello? This definitely needs to be looked into.

    • March 25, 2015 at 10:04 PM // Reply

      I was wondering about that myself. It kept referring to books bought FROM them. So they’re not selling JUST the app, they’re selling the books with the app included. Wouldn’t that require they alter the program or whatever that makes an ebook?

  • Chuck, have you seen Cory Doctorow’s take on this?

    http://boingboing.net/2015/03/25/i-hate-your-censorship-but-i.html

    I think I basically lean towards his view…it’s a stupid thing to do, but people should be allowed to do stupid shit if they really want to. I know Cory’s approach to publishing is different than yours, with the whole Creative Commons thing and so on, but I just wondered if you’d seen his take and what you thought of it.

    • I agree! Let them be stupid. The consumer purchased the file, it’s that fuckwad’s property now. As long as he doesn’t reproduce it without permission, he’s not violating any rights of the intellectual property holder.

  • These wannabe censors are so stupefyingly ignorant they truly don’t understand the horror of their actions.

    That said, I see them as victims. Not victims of the perceived toxicity of free and open language, but of their own backward-looking value system that tries to strangle all thinking and expression that doesn’t comport with their own particular faith and world view.

    They didn’t come up with this narrow-mindedness on their own. Someone sold them these values. This misunderstanding of freedom. This fear of “the other.”

    From their semi-literate response to Joanne Harris, they would actually seem to be “nice” people who see themselves as do-gooders. They’re the white hats! They’d never hurt a fly! Or interfere with anybody’s rights!

    If some devil-possessed writers choose to insert profanity and blasphemies into their wretched, pornographic scribblings, far be it from the Clean Reader folks to deny those writers the option that God gave all of us to choose either good or evil. They’re just giving right-minded readers the choice to avoid these cesspools of tainted words, and the disturbing ideas they represent. Oh yeah, and also to protect their children from dangerous taboos.

    This is nothing but an echo chamber. What Mr. and Mrs. Clean Reader seem to be totally deaf and blind to is revealed in stunning irony in their own backgrounder about what inspired them to invent this clever censorship app. Here are the words that made my blood run cold:

    “One day our oldest child came home from school and she was a little sad. We asked her what was wrong and she said she had been reading a book during library time and it had a few swear words in it. She really liked the book but not the swear words.”

    If ever there was a manifestation of a parent’s scolding, stultifying voice implanted in a child’s head, this is it. She was “a little sad” that she “liked the book but not the swear words.” Gee. I wonder why? And why she felt compelled to confess this all to Daddy and Mommy … the people whose love and approval she depends on, and who she knows would not like her learning any bad words, and whose permission she feels she requires to continue to read this book she really likes? And maybe this worried little girl also felt she’d better do a reality check on whether doing this bad thing – this reading of profanity – could interfere with her chance to eventually get into heaven. Yeah. I wonder why this kid was “sad”?

    Hey, kids are literal. Plant an unreasoning, restricting fear in their heads young enough and it’ll be there forever.

    This is what breaks my heart. This is how narrow-mindedness, and the culture of fear that supports it, gets perpetuated from generation to generation.

    It makes me sad – really, really fucking sad.

      • That’s not what I said, Rick. Fortunately these folks actually have no power to “prevent” free speech. But they, and lots of others like them, do have the power to spread their intolerance of to their kids and anyone else they can brainwash. Teaching people to be fearful and embarrassed by words like fuck — and enabling/encouraging them to scrub “bad” words from the language — is actually worse than frank censorship because it’s surreptitious.

    • There is hope. I was that kid, once, but it was books that opened eyes and my mind to the wider world of ideas. While I completely agree that this app is a generally terrible idea and sets a dangerous precedent, I don’t think they have the capability to remove “offensive” ideas without manually editing which, as some have pointed out, is probably illegal. Hopefully it serves to inspire those kids to read things they normally wouldn’t be allowed to and (eventually) seek out the original works.

      • Er, to clarify, I mean by removing profanity they are not removing ideas so much as sabotaging style. A scene in which something “offensive”happens would not be able to be “fixed” by an algorithm like that.. Well not without being transformed into plot breaking gibberish anyhow.

    • Sing it!
      Have you read ‘Misery’? She burns his whole manuscript because he can’t/won’t delete the profanity in it. It’s IN there. That’s how those people SPEAK!

      • Right on, J! Real people talk that way. If we want our characters to come across as real to our readers, they have to speak and act as they would in the real world.

  • I’m was raised Christian and this is the stupidest thing I ever heard. My parents were like “you’ll ead swears. These are the words you can’t say in public.” I was like, “OK.” If she DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THAT how is this girl going to function in basic society?
    Hell, how did we learn swears at the K-8 Lutheran school i went to? We read them (or watched them) and we knew what not to say in class. These parents are setting up their kid to be a freaking idiot. Also, some classic books (Catcher in the Rye) are all about the swears. Do they want to get rid of the plot if it offends them as well? My books won’t be going anywhere near Clean Reader. Read them in the raw or not at all. Maybe they can edit the news and who’s president as well.
    (Oh, wait – that’s the plot of Ted Dekker’s book Three. A christian thriller author who uses a ton of swearing.)
    That poor girl should be going to therapy – a really fucking good therapist.

  • If someone ‘wants to read my books just without all the nasty business’ then that someone really does not want to read *my* books. As such, they’re free to pass me by. That’s their right. It is not their right to edit me indiscriminately without my knowledge and/or consent. Their attempt to do so is insulting to the United States Constitution.

    • Actually, once they purchase the right to read it, they own the right to edit it and consume it or parts of it however they wish.

      • Rick, AT NO TIME does the purchase of one copy of a piece of intellectual property give you the right to edit it. That right belongs solely to the publisher and author of that property. Read up on the laws. That is what the word COPYRIGHT means.

  • Do people on here not realize that NOBODY is being DENIED ANYTHING by this APP? No one is being prevented from reading the full work! It’s a single reader exercising her own free choice. No one is censoring anything!!! You’d think they were burning books by the response on here.

    Oh, and fuck. There, I said it. Just wanted to make sure you all know I’m part of the club (that also includes 85% of the middle-schoolers in America). Wahoo

    • It may not be censorship but it is changing an author’s copyrighted work without the author’s permission. If you want to buy one of my books and go through with a magic marker and black out all the words you don’t like, have at. But a third party app maker is NOT “a single reader exercising her own free choice.” It’s a third-party app maker, and the single reader in question is not even in control of what the app is doing and what it considers “profanity.”

    • You’ve been staggeringly wrong on pretty much every comment you’ve made so far (confusing the legal term “moral rights” for morality, for example), so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re wrong here as well.

      There’s a little thing called “Copyright Law” and “Derivative Works” that you might want to familiarize yourself with — this app clearly violates the first by engaging in the second. It’s not a “single reader” — it’s a third-party developer, creating unauthorized derivative works for that “single reader. And doing so, quite literally, to CENSOR material they find objectionable. Pretty much by the textbook definition of “censor,” in fact.

      So, to sum up: You’re really, really, wrong.

  • The thing that cracks me up about this is that it’s OBVIOUS where the substitution was made. So the reader no longer just skips their eyes across the text, but now gets confronted by the substitution and is forced to go there in their mind to identify what the word was. So really, this app does prevent the reader from perceiving profanity with their eyes and instead forces them to think about profanity with their minds. Isn’t this actually worse?

  • Makes you wonder if Keith McArdle gave them permission to use his book, Assassin: The Beginning, in their demos and screenshots. I know my copyright pages say that my books can’t be reproduced in any manner in whole or in part.

  • Two things that I just thought of (maybe a commenter already covered this, if so I am sorry my eyes are drooping as coffee wears off), one is can we make an app that blocks this and one that can be installed via Scrivener? And two, can I put in the copyright that my book cannot bwe re-written or re-edited without permission from the author? Just curious.

    And good point, Jenny R. A derivative is just as bad as a cuss word. Only lets the wimpy reader read in denial.

  • Apart from all the good and sensible arguments against this shit, I’d like to add one thing the app makers seem to not have considered at all, which was the first my mind jumped to when I looked at a ‘cleaned up’ example of a page… removing the so called profanities by blocking them actually draws attention to the very fact that they’re there. Besides, just like every instance where a newspaper front page might use f*** when they mean fuck, we might read the replaced words, but it’s not like their *naughty* synonyms won’t pop up in our mind’s eye just the same. So this app is not only poorly thought out, barely legal (if at all) and arguably censoring, IT’S ALSO COMPLETELY POINTLESS.

    On a purely technical note… I would never actually consider reading anything with an app that did things like opaque or hover a text, it messes with my reading flow, takes me out of the narrative and is an all over nuisance for my eyes and my brain. But hey, that’s just me.

  • I don’t use much profanity myself and am not a big fan. However, I agree 100% that you have the right to write it and it’s legitimate. If someone wants to skip those parts, well, that’s their prerogative.

  • Technically speaking, someone could give someone else the book to censor by hand, and not have to read the profanity. I’d be tempted to be the censor in that case, because I’d get paid to read a book. I wouldn’t do it for your book, because it’s clear you have a problem with that but… it’d be tempting, just for my own selfish gain.

    But I think this is also emblematic of a larger shift in the way we consume media. Editing out an abortion scene for one where the fetus comes to term? That’d be a fix fic. Changing and altering the story is something people do now. And… well they do it with or without the consent of the author. The way people interpret a story exists apart from the author. Fiction doesn’t exist on a page, it’s in the reader’s head. And once it gets there, there’s no control over it. It’s the basic concept of head-canon, really. We do have control over the story, we can edit it at whim, once it’s off the page and in our heads. The real issue is that it’s being altered before it gets that far.

  • Just found out that they have at least one of my erotic romances, which both infuriates and boggles me. There’s a metric assload of sweet romance out there — why put an *erotic* romance through this app and lose a good fifth of the words (and the plot) in the process???

      • This is what I wrote them:

        “I have found all three of my published books listed for in-app purchase at Clean Reader. Please remove them. I consider your app to be creating an unauthorized edition of my work, to which I did not consent.

        I’d also like to ask you: How does removing F-bombs protect your children from the actual content of the work? I write about adult themes and at times controversial subjects. Does sanitizing the language somehow change the reality of government-sanctioned torture? Or a humorous sex scene written with euphemisms?

        If the fact that my main character swears is more objectionable to some readers than the outrages she is swearing about, perhaps my books are not for them.”

  • I would like to confess, openly and for the world to see, that Chuck has actually changed a reader’s mind and opinion on something.

    Before reading this (and the linked pieces) I really hadn’t thought much about Clean Reader one way or the other. I didn’t have an opinion, and to the extent I leaned in one direction, it was toward the thought that if people don’t want to read profanity, ok, the app gives them a chance to read what they want without curse words.

    I now admit that I hadn’t gone far enough with the idea.

    After considering both sides of the issue more deeply, I now think you’re 100% correct, Chuck. Words do have meaning, and the author (and, if appropriate, editor/agent/publisher) have the right to decide what a book contains. Readers’ rights are (a) to read, and (b) not to read. Attempting to change the book (the actual word here is Bowdlerize) because the reader wants it to be something other than what the author created is inappropriate, regardless of agenda. It’s a slippery slope to deleting scenes and changing things around … and from there to censorship, depending on who’s in power, when, and how many Oreos they want to charge for the privilege of freedom of speech.

    The book we write is the book we write. Nobody has to read it. My son and I have had numerous conversations about authors’ content choices in various contexts over the years, and before that I decided what he could read (and could not) based on what I thought he was old enough to process.

    My own works don’t use profanity (well, nothing people would recognize as such) because they’re set in a time when profanity as we know it now doesn’t exist. However, should I decide to fuck around with the verbiage, that’s on me…as it’s on the readers to read or not read my work.

    However, I must admit to morbid curiosity about the manner in which this app handles sex scenes…

  • While I think you’ve put the argument very clearly on why fucking with a book post purchase via this app is shit, I think you’re being too generous in your analogy of the ‘ordering food’. If I ask if it’s possible to get a steak without blue cheese, I am still negotiating my purchase. If the restaurant or cook says that they don’t do their special of the day without the blue cheese, I say thank you and I pick something else.

    Clean Reader is more like a patron getting a meal and then throwing it around as they route out every trace of cheesy contamination, making a mess of the meal and entirely destroying the experience.

  • http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3010840/What-crock-rubbish-Clean-Reader-app-censors-swear-words-ebooks-authors-aren-t-happy.html

    So this article says that the app is downloaded FIRST, then you go to their store and purchase the ALTERED books.

    That’s different then just having an app you turn on and off to filter books you’ve already purchased.

    Seems they are using a bit of run around with original verse virtual and if the changes are permanent.

    Since they claim the changes are not permanent and alterations are not done to the original because they are ebooks.

    No, technically they are not taking the original works that are on paper, scribbling out the shits and fucks and reselling them, they are taking the VIRTUAL form and altering that AFTER you download the app and buy the books through THEIR STORE.

    Scroll down the article and you’ll see a screen shot showing the store with the description that clearly reads they are selling altered books.

    And look at what they are charging for the ebooks. The prices are as much as the paper ones you can get at Barnes and Noble.

    Yeah, they’re soooo are not making money. pppppfffffftttttt

    I find it funny how this christian couple want all this censorship because some words are “bad” and “icky” yet will follow a religion that glees its life lessons from a book that is filled with rape, murder, incest, hate, bigotry, violence, hell (which the christian created), devil and demons (which they also created), fire, damnation, talking snakes (now a days they’ll take your day pass away if you say there’s talking snakes around) and a favorite….ZOMBIES.

    Yes, the bible has zombies in it. And least we forget, vampires. Yep, Christians have had their sticky fingers in that one too going all the way back to the 1700’s.

    But yeah, they did all that without saying the word fuck once. Good one.

    *shakes head*

    If I was a publisher or author, I’d be out asking attorneys if this was really legal or not and taking a good look into how exactly the app works and when it’s filtering the books.

    If you have to download the app first, then buy and the book comes to you altered, that would be where it’s illegal or at least flirting with the edge of not being legal.

    It’s that point where they would claim the “it’s not permanent” line so we didn’t violate the law.

    The explanation is just bullshit attorney speak.

    They designed it to censor books. Bottom line.

    Sanctimonious assholes.

    • Oh my, thank you for this link. Trainspotting has a whole character name deleted. Shite is left in, because Americans who believe in this sort of censorship are even bigger idjits than I thought possible. Hard to believe. Never mind the absurdity of someone that worried about dirty words even being interested in Trainspotting in the first place. And PENIS is a dirty word, which needs to be replaced. By GROIN? SERIOUSLY???? (Just curious. Was the character in Trainspotting called Dick? I can see *some* potential problems with this replacement formula..) Is the word ‘leg’ changed to ‘limb’? And ‘sex’ is a dirty word, to be replaced by love. Sex. Is. Dirty. Not even the ACT. JUST THE WORD.

      Yes, I read Cory Doctorow’s measured and logical response, butbutbut…my HEART says this is FUCKIN’ NUTS!

      It reminds me a little of the early days of dedicated word processors with the very earliest versions of autocorrect that couldn’t be turned off or adjusted (plus ça change…). I was temping at some guvamint agency doing technical manuals, and the machine changed every appearance of ‘NASA’ to ‘nausea’. This is equally brainless and renders the text equally meaningless. THHHPPPPPPTTTT!!!!!

  • Not that I think it will do any good, but I emailed asking if they’d offer an opt out option for authors. Something that would pop up on the screen that says this author has opted out and then they could choose another book to read. I don’t want anyone who would use this app to read my work because they wouldn’t like it. We’re not a good fit as far as the stories I want to tell and the way I want to tell them.

  • I have a visceral reaction to this app. I hate even the thought. Look, I don’t use profanity in my own life, and I have ZERO problem expressing myself. My choice. I use little-to-none in my writing as well. My choice. I read a boatload of books that are chock-full of profanity, including everything of Chuck Wendig’s I can get my grubby wee hands on. Also my choice. The writer’s words are his/her choice. I refuse to allow an app to bowdlerize my books. Bowdlerize. An interesting word from the name of Thomas Bowdler, who did the same thing to the works of William Shakespeare that Clean Reader proposes to do to books today. He failed to screw up The Bard permanently. I hope Clean Reader is soon consigned to the proverbial dust heap.

  • Chuck – anyone who regularly reads your blog is NOT going to disagree with you – if we were offended by Profanity, we wouldn’t be here.

    But (unsurprisingly) I agree with you – to a point. An author creates the content of their book (with the contribution and control of editors and publishers etc etc ) and they should be the arbiters of this content. IF an author chooses to release a ‘clean’ version of their book – they can (indeed, in this day and age, it would be easy). If they choose not to – then I don’t believe that Cleanreader should make money from selling a formatted version of the book.

    Cleanreader should instead consider providing a ‘Cleanreader Audit’ – an author can pay cleanreader to remove the ostensibly offensive words, and they can sell the book as ‘Cleanreader approved Version’ – much like getting the Heart Foundation Tick.

    This would still be censorship and fuck that, BUT importantly it would be under the artist control.

    How many musicians release Radio Edits of songs with offensive lyrics? This is artist (or at least label) content control, and puts the power where it should be.

    Just thoughts.
    KT

  • I can tell a lot of people didn’t really go to the website and investigate. No one is altering the book file. In fact you are allowed to choose your level of “cleanness”. So if you were reading the same book you could have it uncensored but then give it to your kid with the bad words censored. They don’t replace words they just block them out on the screen so it’s the reading equivalent of bleeping a swear word on tv.

    Once you create a work of art and it goes out into the world it is the buyers to do with as they wish. If you buy a painting you’re free to paint over it as long as it’s yours or display it upside down if you prefer it that way. If you buy a movie you can fast forward or skip parts you don’t want to see. If you buy a book you can take a marker and blot out all of the swear words which is exactly what this app does.

    It’s not violating copyright laws or intellectual property. So much ado about nothing.

    Censorship is wrong when others decide what you can and can’t see. If you self censor that’s not censorship that’s just a person deciding what they do and don’t want to take in. A vegetarian is free to not eat meat but they’re not free to force others to forgo eating meat.

    When you create a work of art you send it off into the world for the reader/viewer to experience as they so chose. If they want to read your book backwards from end to beginning that is their right. You don’t get to dictate how they read it as long as their way is limited to themselves and minor children. Readers add meaning to the written word and interpret it based on their experiences and literary training. Are you also going to track down everyone who may have misinterpreted some symbolism or phrase and correct them and tell them indignantly that they’re reading your work wrong? Come off of your high horse and realize that unless you own the physical copy/reproduction you don’t get to tell someone else how to experience it.

    If you’re against this then no swear word should ever be bleeped out, no scene on television ever fast forwarded through. You may not like it but they are not wrong, you are wrong for telling them how to view art that they bought and paid for.

    Now if they’re distributing edited copies that would be wrong but from everything I’ve seen on the website this isn’t the case.

    • Audra, you did miss it. You download the app, and then you must purchase the book from CleanReader. It is not an app that you purchase, that edits a book you purchase from, say, Amazon.This is messing with intellectual property, and is an infringement of copyright law.

      • Sorry, Audra. Perhaps I should use the weasel words. It *appears to me* that this is messing with intellectual property, and *I believe that this* is an infringement of copyright law.

  • as an aspiring linguist, i find it interesting and sad that some words – some parts of language – of judged “better” than others. words are just words. as long as they effectively convey the intended meaning all words are created equal.
    in english the worst swear words are primarily anglo-saxon derived terms for natural body functions. “fornicate” and “fuck” mean the same thing, but the latin derived word is far more generally acceptable than the anglo-saxon. on the other hand there are multitudes of euphemisms for the same function which are considered by many people to be far less offensive than either. yet they all mean the same thing, and everyone knows it.
    contrarywise, in french-canadian it is far more common to swear through blasphemy. “tabernak” basically means church, but you are far more likely to hear it from a pissed off quebecois than “merde”.
    i understand the cultural biases at work here. i understand semantics and shades of meaning. clearly some words pack more punch than others, and clearly it is precisely these cultural biases that writers exploit when choosing the most effective words for their purposes.
    i think this app is a terrible idea, and i believe that there are legal ramifications, or will be if enough people make enough noise. it seems to me that this is a grey area in copywrite law. however, one of the salient points of copywrite law is that it is the creator’s responsibility to protect his work.
    i certainly would not want my work to be modified without my permission and i am prepared to step up and make some noise and protect my work. if we make this an issue, it will have to be examined in a legal context and i think the creators of this app are standing on shakey ground, regardless of what their lawyers say.

    so let’s make lots of noise.

    • Just an FYI, Jennifer – that’s copyright, not copywrite. It refers to the rights to the various forms of copy (the intellectual material). Sorry, this is just a pet peeve of mine, and I can’t always keep my hands off the keyboard when I see it. No offense intended. 😉

  • Fuckin’ A, Chuck!

    Aside from the issues of editing an author’s words post-publication and where that might lead to, this is yet another example of how we cede control to the machines and the apps. Technology should not do the thinking for us.

  • Fucking nora! What is it with Americans and swearing? Did punk and liberation just pass by the USA? The picture on the telegraph link you sent us to… it’s bleeping out the word ‘damn’ I mean lord in heaven! I don’t give a shit if people dislike swear words in my books but I really loathe and detest prissiness and this app and the whole non swearing thing… I’m sorry but it’s just prissy and po faced and ugh (shudders).

    Yes, words have power but they are also just words. Nobody’s going to be eternally damned or morally maimed for reading the word ‘bollocks’. And yes, I’m a Christian but I’m British and over here we’re allowed to swear like billy oh and I don’t like the implication that such a prissy up it’s bottom app has ANYTHING AT ALL to do with my religion because it makes it look as if all of us are bible thumping Darwin denying wankpots.

    And sorry I didn’t mean to sound racist, it’s just that I hadn’t really encountered anyone getting hoighty toighty about swearing until I started to meet Americans on the internet. This includes my American relatives, though, who are totally unafraid of swearing, so I know it’s not everyone over there who has an attack of the vapours if somebody says ‘damn’. Sorry. Chanelling Jeremy Clarkson.

    I spurn clean reader and all who sail therein.

    Cheers

    MTM

    • March 25, 2015 at 8:13 PM // Reply

      On behalf of Americans, especially we Southerners, who do not mind swearing and despise bible thumping–and I live in the middle of the bible belt so I know how irritating that is–thank you for not judging all of us by those fucking idiots. Frankly, we’re rather sick of the fuckers ourselves.

      • Thank you, Gina. I’m not a Southerner, but I know how you feel. Back off, Brits! We’re not all this silly.

        Quite apart from the preposterousness (if that’s a word) and offensiveness and possible illegality of this app, there’s something pitiable about these people. They claim that their school-aged daughter was “sad” that the book she liked had bad words. Either they’ll have to keep her chained to her bed for the rest of her life, or she’s going to spend a lot of time “sad” when she encounters the real world outside the one her foolish parents are trying to construct around her.

      • 🙂 yeh, I can imagine they drive you crazy. Unfortunately a lot of the craziest mothers seem to have the loudest voices and that’s true of everywhere in the world I guess.

  • PS, it’s like having your whole book translated into another language by google and then translated back into English. ie, not a good idea. Try it with a few lines, you’ll laugh your pants off.

    Just beggers believe that anyone would bother to design something like this.

  • March 25, 2015 at 7:40 PM // Reply

    Quite frankly, I have the same opinion of this app and the couple who created it as those who oppose profanity, nudity and sex in movies and TV claiming it’s to protect the children: If you don’t want your child seeing/reading this kind of thing then be a parent and actually PAY ATTENTION to what media your child is accessing.

    While I am not a proponent of profanity, violence, nudity and sex just for the sake of having it in there, I do not object to its proper use to move a story along, get a strong emotional point across or merely demonstrate the nature of a character.

    I am an as yet unpublished author who writes within a genre that contains situations that, honestly, call for the use of vulgarity, violence and yes, sex and nudity–paramilitary. Specifically, mercenaries and espionage agents. For years, I wrote this genre ‘cleanly’ and was never satisfied that my characters were true to the nature such people would have. But because I grew up reading books, even in this genre, when such things simply weren’t done–yes, I’m *that* old–I thought I COULDN’T have them say ‘fuck’ or, heaven forbid, “goddamn”. Anything beyond maybe “damn, hell and shit” really, though I felt even those could be pushing the limits. Then I started reading a series of books that were more of what I wanted to write, where the characters were using “goddamn and fuck” pretty much every time they opened their mouths and guess what? The author was on best selling lists all over the place, profanity, violence, nudity, sex and all.

    Now, anyone who has ever been around people in this type of profession–usually ex-military–will undoubtedly have heard quite a bit of vulgarity and I, as an (would-be) author refuse to portray someone who would in reality use this type of language as someone who instead sits around with a doily on their knee and a cuppah in one hand and a biscuit in the other discussing gardening tips when they should be out blowing some fucker’s head off or fucking the shit out of someone in order to get the information they need to save lives.

    Okay, Clean Reader, let’s see you clean that last sentence up without losing enough context for it to be nothing but a bunch of words strung together without making sense.

    As for the religious connotation touched on, while I am not a religious person though I grew up attending Baptist church, I agree that any editing done with the slant of a particular religious belief driving is VERY OFFENSIVE. I have friends from just about every religion out there–Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Pagan (Wiccan and Druid) and even a Muslim or two among others and enjoy a rousing conversation over the various beliefs, differences and usually most common–similarities.

    If you don’t want to see/read these types of situations then don’t watch/read those movies, TV and books which contain them. That’s why there are warnings telling you such things are contained in them. If you want to only read books with a Christian slant, then I find it hard to believe you live someplace where there isn’t a Christian bookstore ready and able to supply you with any books you might want.

    • Thanks, Gina Scott Roberts! Because heaven forbid the parents should take responsibility and monitor what their innocent little darling is getting into. If they don’t want their child to see something, they shouldn’t put their child in a venue where it is there to be seen. Or better yet, take the opportunity to make it a learning experience!

  • Thomas Bowdler would have loved this app. I do have to admit, part of me would find reading sanitized erotica hilarious. Can you choose the words that are substituted? The comedic possibilities are endless.

  • I actually feel the chef analogy paints a vivid picture.

    I set up a restaurant and I make delicious food. If people come into my restaurant and order a meal and then proceed to peel off my delicious onions and mushrooms because they don’t like it… whatever. They paid for it. I didn’t make that meal to please them, I made it because they paid me. It’s a package deal; they don’t like mushrooms and onions, they don’t have to eat them.
    However! If some dude sets up shop RIGHT OUTSIDE MY RESTAURANT with an ugly banner that says, “FTFY,” where people can take the food they ordered from MY restaurant so that he can peel off those ugly, smelly onions and poo colored mushrooms, winking at me while he does so – for free no less – I would go outside, kick him in his mushies, shove my DELICIOUS onions down his throat and yell at him to go take his stupid business elsewhere because what he is doing is incredibly offensive to me.

    Do not “fix” my work. More importantly: DO NOT assume that a lot of people who come to my restaurant don’t actually like to eat what is being served.

    I don’t ask that the app be taken down. I think it is a silly idea but if it works and people like it, good for them. I do, however, think that:
    “AUTHORIAL CONSENT MATTERS”

    Thank you for sharing, Chuck.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds