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

  • Ok – 1st, I agree 100% in regards to books.
    2nd – double standard, what about content displayed on television that is heavily censored depending on the channel it’s on? Yes, I can purchase the dvd (if there is one), but if I’m an antenna user and not into streaming, what are my choices? Let’s hear the same level of outrage for something we’ve all been programmed into accepting since gosh knows how long.

  • Chuck Wendig had better never make any editions to his house because the architect didn’t intend it that way. There is a contract between architect and home buyer where your consent as a homebuyer comes in whether or not you move into a house and whether or not you choose to move out. Wendig doesn’t get to alter the contract halfway, so clearly home improvements are verboten.

    • First, the word is “additions.”

      Second, your comment is ludicrous.

      Third, your other comments — the ones I did not approve — were shitty.

      Good luck elsewhere. Please find another blog to bother.

    • March 25, 2015 at 10:12 PM // Reply

      That is totally inapplicable here. That is hiring someone to do work FOR YOU, not someone taking your work and changing it to suit them.

      If you pay an architect to design a house for you, then you have the rights to make any post-building changes you choose because that contract turns over the rights to that house to you. Just as you have the right to have him/her make changes to the design during the design stage. If, however, he/she wants to make changes during the building stage, he/she must then get your permission because while they designed it, the house is yours.

  • I’m an author, an atheist, and an attorney.

    I’m also a Certified New Yorker (can’t tell the difference between an insult and a casual greeting). We New Yorkers invented porn, profanity, and dirty jokes.

    So naturally my books are naughty enough to give Christians heart attacks.

    But see, this app is no different than a pair of specialty glasses that I would gladly sell to Pollyannish readers who enjoy the romance but not the erotic parts of my novels (“KC” by P.A. Trate, on Amazon).

    I want a wide audience, and of course plenty of sales. So if “Aunt Bitty” blushes too much during my books’ uproarious sex scenes, well what do I care if she skips past those parts and, instead of doing it manually, uses an app to do it for her?

    This app is no different than the “clean-movie” service sold years ago, which I also supported.

    Why? Because a film or book, once purchased, can be altered or destroyed as the customer sees fit — it just can’t be duplicated for sale to others (copyright). And that customer is free to ask her neighbor, friend, online service, or onboard app to alter or even destroy her property for her.

    Plus, I’m just not that much of a control freak; uptight readers out there should be free to enjoy my “masterpieces” any way they want. It’s THEIR loss if their minds are closed to my erotica, not mine.

    Too, there is no power of the state involved here (hence, no First Amendment freedoms implicated), only the freedom of individual choice.

    That freedom extends to me. I should be able to enjoy any book any WAY I want. And others should be free to sell me rose-colored glasses (or tech equivalent) to enable that.

    The individual freedom to buy products and alter them — especially THOUGHT-BASED products — is a constitutional value that trumps any intellectual property law, social norm, or outburst of author’s pride.

    In fact, Chuck, I’m kind of astounded that a man of your talent (I’m truly jealous of your ability, wish I could write at your level) would lose sight of that liberty interest — one that I spend much of my career protecting. Our Constitution, let’s not forget, enshrines individual liberty as its irreducible core value.

    So I’d gladly represent these app makers in fighting off any lawsuits brought against them. They enable the self-hampered to cope. And maybe I’ll have a shot at “corrupting” and thus liberating them — something that will NEVER happen if you deny them the crutch they need to at least stick their toe in my sinful pond.

    Conversely, I would not represent those who would sue these app makers. Well, maybe if they prepaid me a big fat retainer and signed my written memo informing them that they have no case but hey, it’s their mo to blo!

    So calm down here. Celebrate the extra readers of our books, not to mention the free-market’s response to a self-censorship need you and I laugh at but nevertheless tolerate all the way to the bank with the “Christian royalty income” that we’d otherwise never cop.

    And keep writing these wonderful blogs, motherfucker! (that’s a casual greeting, not to mention a sign of respect, OK? Ah, but you can auto-bleep that with some software, I won’t mind. :)–

    • I was going to write basically the same thing but less eloquently. Mine had “rip pages out, put them in a trash can and piss on them”, though so there was that.

  • Okay, I just also looked at the App Store page for Page Foundry, Inc, (I have a MacBook Air and pulled it up that way) who is putting out the app. They also put out an app…wait for it…FOR ROMANCE BOOKS. Called EverAfter Romance eBooksFarking SERIOUSLY??? Can we say HYPOCRITICAL?? I don’t know how they’re making money when they’re giving the app away for free, I’m guessing it’s from selling books, but that leads me to the disturbing question of HOW are they obtaining the books, and are authors getting their royalties??

  • I heard back from my query about authors being able to opt out. The person who replied said he was happy to remove my books. So if anyone else is interested, shoot them an email.

  • Actually saw something about this that implied it didn’t “scrub” the words, but only changed “the display”. Probably a legality to keep them from copyright infringement. Anyone can invent an app. I don’t see this one catching on for the simple reason that a reader who’d hate my novels because of “bad words” would hate them just as much for descriptions of “naughty deeds” or “rotten ideas,” or sad endings or something else. They’d have such a bad time reading my books that it really wouldn’t be worth it to them. It would be like bad translation to a language that didn’t have a word for the concepts.

  • The fucktards at Clean Reader would get more traction if they just lobbied for trigger warnings for dirty words.
    Warning reader! This Book Has BAD WORDS!

    What a bunch of jack-offs.

    • No one can know what would trigger someone. If you put trigger warnings on everything that might trigger someone, then you’d have to put trigger warnings on absolutely everything.

      • If it should go that route, take a page from movie and TV ratings. Examples I’ve seen recently: Drug and alcohol use. Mild language. Sexual references. Strong language throughout. Some nudity. Graphic violence. Crude and sexual content. Bloody horror violence. Mild peril (that one made me laugh!). Some scary images.
        My favorite is the one from the upcoming “Fast & Furious 7” – prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem. Sounds like they’re describing my book!

    • I’m with you. From my understanding of copyright, this app creates a derivative work without prior permission of the rights holder, and then presents that derivative work to the reader as the rights holder’s work. On their site they claim they don’t violate copyright because they don’t alter the original file, but it still sounds to me like they violate the authors rights.

      I am not a lawyer, but I’d really love to hear a copyright lawyer’s take on this.

      Doc

      • March 30, 2015 at 12:11 AM // Reply

        I’m curious what will happen as this is challenged as well. I think it will be tricky to adjudicate, definitely more tricky than the case against Clean Flix, which made substantive, permanent changes to copyrighted material and then sold the movies that way. That was more clear cut than this. I imagine their defense will be that THEY don’t change anything; the reader makes the changes themselves, and it is no different than if they took a black magic marker to a physical copy of a book or closed their eyes and thought of England when they came to a naughty word. They bought the material as is, the authors are paid for their complete work, and the reader has the right then to do whatever they like with that material (as long as it is not resold).

        As an author, I don’t buy that. Anyone who has published a book knows that every word is reviewed multiple times; whatever ends up on the page is definitely a deliberate choice. Let’s hope the courts agree.

  • Anyone who still thinks that swearing is a sign of low intelligence, a limited vocabulary, or poor character needs to read Holy Shit, a Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr. Cursing/swearing is something every culture has and has done throughout history (though how cultures sear can differ), and profanity actually serves many purposes, both social and psychological. Cuss words even increase pain tolerance.

    And I call BS on that story about the kid coming home from school all sad because there were curse words in a book she’d read. Doesn’t sound like any kid I’ve ever known. We used to look up swear words in my mom’s unabridged dictionary when I was a kid. The fact that they aren’t “supposed” to say those words makes them all the more alluring to children. This too is normal. But regardless, I completely agree with you, Chuck. If a kid is upset by something he or she reads or sees out in the world, it’s the parents’ job to talk with them about it, not to limit their access to the world.

    • I didn’t care for swearing, and did find it a little troubling, but I certainly didn’t go home and cry to a parent about it (not MY parents, anyway). I just said: ‘Oh, someone who is doing something I wouldn’t do. Diversity.’ And no, my friends and I never looked up these words in dictionaries, because the dictionaries at my schools didn’t have those words in them (really – I still have my Grade 4 dictionary, and it doesn’t even have terms for anatomy, or the word sex as anything other than gender, or reproduction other than make a copy…).

    • March 30, 2015 at 12:14 AM // Reply

      “And I call BS on that story about the kid coming home from school all sad because there were curse words in a book she’d read. Doesn’t sound like any kid I’ve ever known.”

      It’s very common in LDS culture (where these creators are coming from). My daughter’s English teacher has to fight every year to be allowed to teach Of Mice and Men because parents AND kids complain about having to view ‘swears’. *smdh*

  • I couldn’t agree more with all that Joanne has said. It is the choice of the author to write with words which best suit a particular writing. When I am writing non fiction, usually on some philosophical bent, I usually don’t feel the need to use profanity, I may use language which is meant to shock, or provoke action and it is extremely possible some of that may offend. Okay that was probably what I meant to do, don’t like it, tough,

    If a book is an adventure, some series of events which are solely the product of my imagination, possibly I may use profanity to heighten an effect, or add reality to the text. If the reader finds this offensive, then don’t read it. In real life when something shocks or possibly causes us pain, we will frequently respond with the worst swear words we know, and if you are like me you know plenty. The only time I find profanity unnecessary is in a discussion (I don’t subscribe to arguing) I believe if the only way toy can get your point across is by swearing, then either your vocabulary is woefully inadequate, or you have lost your temper therefore the debate.

    Currently I am writing a book on eroticism with lashings of BDSM. Mm mm It is hard hitting, definitely eighteen years of age plus. Even to a habitual reader of this genre, the language and scenes described would make your hair curl and I don’t just mean the hair on your head. The writing is intended for the more mature reader in fact younger persons merely looking for sex and violence will miss the plot. It will be clearly labeled, only suitable for adults readers only, recommended for eighteen YOA plus. If any person finds such material offensive, then what the fuck are doing with you nose inserts between these leaves.

    Finally, is there a place for foul language in literature, poetry, plays or movies. Definitely, it is part of our culture, whether you approve or not, and all of the above represent life as it is. No matter how protective you are of your precious offspring, they will be exposed to it, probably from their first day of school, or possibly the first time Daddy hits his bloody finger with that goddamn fucking hammer.

    Go on read the worst of it, it may spice up your pure as the driven snow, humdrum, uninteresting life.

  • I know you’re going to disagree with me on this, Chuck, but the ease with which this is being accepted comes about as a consequence of treating creative work as a simple commodity. There is a reason why the Bern Convention established the ‘Moral Rights’ of the author, which covers the right of attribution, to publish psuedonymously, and to maintain the integrity of the work. It bars the work from “alteration, distortion, or mutilation”. There is no question that Clean Readers distort and mutilate. But, on a more philosophical level, it limits the right to what a consumer of the work can do to it. As you rightly point out – they can and should exercise their critical choice to read or not read, to close a book, to give it a blistering critique. But the Moral Rights establish that they cannot mutilate it. Unfortunately, the US is not a full signatory to the Bern Convention. But what Clean Readers do is illegal in all countries who are full signatories to the Bern Convention. And the emergence of the Clean Reader app is a very good argument for why the US should consider becoming a full signatory.

  • I’ve got to disagree with the estimable Wendig on this one, because of the simple fact that once a person buys an ebook, that file is his or her property, NOT the author’s. There are protections against reproducing it without the copyright holder’s permission, but everything else is on the table. It’s like if you buy a hard copy from the bookstore, you can cross out all the curse words with blood if you want, or draw pictures over entire sections of dialog, or make paper snowflakes out of the pages, or use the book as fire fuel, or take a big fat steaming shit on it, and no one can prevent you from doing that, because once you purchase it, it belongs to no one else but you. The same with an ebook file. Intellectual property law extends only to reproductive uses, not to what a person can do or hire someone else to do or use an app to do with their own legally purchased copy of the work, whether physical or digital. I think this makes sense. While it may make me feel uncomfortable to have people censoring my (or other people’s) writing in this way, I also respect property rights as one of the foundational tenets of civilization. And so I say, have at it!

    • @lesliestarrohara Actually, that is not a simple fact and it is not true in every country who is a signatory to the Bern Convention. If you listen to audiobooks you will often hear this phrase: ‘The moral rights of the author have been asserted’. It is the very recent trend to consume creative works in the same way you might consume a product like a pack of gum that has led you to believe authors have no say in the way their works are consumed or treated. But indeed, Moral Rights affirm an author’s right to not have their work distorted or mutilated – and this has nothing at all to do with the economic rights covered under copyright law. The US is not the world. There are indeed more culturally civilized places.

      • The very next phrase is about those modifications being prejudicial to the author’s honor or reputation. Given the usual interpretation of those words, it would be quite a stretch to claim this sort of end-user pasting-over-words-with-other-words has any effect on the author’s reputation, and therefore I doubt this sort of thing is covered under Article 6bis.

        • Firstly, the term distortion matters. It is not helpful to fixate on single words because that is not how writing is read. The layer, and the choice of overlaid word affects the context, the tone, the voice and the poetics of the language.

          Creative writing is not mathematical. It is a conglomeration in which the whole is greater than its parts; not just a collection of disparate words.

          • But the Bern Convention does not assert that authors have moral rights for their works to not be distorted or mutilated. It says they have rights for their works not to be distorted or mutilated /in ways prejudicial to their honor or reputation/. The extent to which the modification does harm to the author’s intent or style is irrelevant to the Bern Convention, therefore the Bern Convention is irrelevant to this particular situation.

            Unless, like M. Hutfles, you would think badly of an author for using words that they did not actually use and that you personally decided that you wanted to be displayed over their words and therefore know that they did not actually use. In which case, maybe it would apply…in your own mind….

        • I’m going to quibble on the “any effect on the author’s reputation” part of your statement above. I find certain uses of certain words objectionable, I own this entirely by looking for patterns of use of those words I care about by authors. If authors continue to use them in ways I object to, I vote with my dollars & library card usage and no longer consume those works. My prerogative.
          I also go out of my way to tell my peers with similar views about this and thusly inherently impact the reputation of the author. They become no longer welcome in the circle of people to whom these terms also matter. Chuck’s example of substituting “witch” for “bitch” is EXACTLY an example that would cause me to stop reading an author and begin besmirching their reputation as rapidly as possible. This app would cause me to falsely attack undeserving author’s reputation.

          • Really? You’d specifically download a piece of software meant to filter out “bad words”, read an author’s work via said software, and then attack said author for not using said words? What sort of defecate for brains would do that?

    • I’ve asked a few folks their opinions on this and you may be glad to know we aren’t the only ones who disagree. The idea that an author’s rights to the integrity of their work trumps the consumer’s property rights may even be a minority view. At the very least, it is a view that is hard to apply consistently without a lot of special casing.

      • An ebook is not the same as a physical book. If you were to purchase a physical copy of, say, CUJO from Amazon and have it shipped to your door you own that physical copy and you are welcome to highlight passages, draw daisies on it, cross out every use of “the,” or whatever. When you pay for the same text to be delivered to your Kindle, on the other hand, you’re paying for a license to read it and you have to abide by Amazon’s Terms of Service in order for it to remain on your Kindle. Amazon has every legal right to remove it from your Kindle because you don’t own the book.

        • It is fairly easy to prevent amazon from deleting the file, or to transform it into a form which kindle can still read, while not realizing that they retain ownership of. One might claim either that this is theft or that the file, thus transformed, is still not your property. While this may be true in a legal sense, in a moral sense it is stupid. There is no good reason for locally modifying a copy of a work which I legally purchased and do not intend to redistribute to be illegal.

          That said, this app does not actually transform the document in any way. It’s like saying the V-Chip infringes on the moral rights of TV producers by failing to display certain TV programs, or that pasting clippings from magazines over your TV does this, or that greasemonkey scripts or adblock plus infringe upon the moral rights of webpage designers. Failing to display part of a work should not be considered an infringement even in the legal sense. If it were, then my eyes should be fined for doing it every time a piece of a work manages to fall into the blind spots of both of my retinas simultaneously. If you find blocking ads distasteful for moral reasons, I commend your consistency, but I will continue to prevent the display of ads on my home computer just the same.

    • We do not own ebook files. We cannot give them away or sell them, meaning we purchase the right to read them (or skip over, if you will) in their original form.

  • Ok. I’m curious.

    Are you more okay if, rather than replacing the word, it simply puts in a _____?

    And let me tell you where I’m coming from, before a book nerd, I’m more a movie nerd.

    With one notable exception[1], I abhor any TV edit that replaces swears with other words. It makes no sense. Give me a beep. Give me a split second of dead silence.

    But, there’s an even deeper reason for why I’d rather see a _____ instead of damn, rather than a darn.

    See, the issue with swearing isn’t the word, it’s the meaning and emotion behind it.

    It doesn’t matter if I say fudge, finger, gyak, or fuck, I invariably in my heart/mind mean fuck.

    So anyone says ‘Oh, I don’t swear, and when I think I will, I use some other word instead…’ I always think ‘But, you’re still swearing, you just aren’t using a word people associate with it. It’s the intent, not the word.’

    In terms of what they did, would I have a problem if they did it with something I wrote?

    Fuck yes.

    Would I have less of a problem if they wrote ____ yes instead of Heck yes?

    I have to admit I would. It isn’t much of a difference, no, but, there’s an intent there. I mean, lets say I used this app, and I see ____ yes, I know that it was changed. But, unless they bold out the ‘Heck’ (and I didn’t bold anything in way of formatting) how re they do know I didn’t write heck?

    [1] ‘I’ve had it with these monkey fighting snakes on this monday to friday plane’ is possibly one of the few sentences I truly, honestly wish I had written because that is god damned glorious.

    • As a reader, my mind went to the same place. A blank, or even a censor-bar, imposed over the words the reader has indicated a non-desire to read, does not actually change the meaning of the sentence. Altering the language with substitutions (the ‘bitch/witch’ replacement described in the original post is an astoundingly flagrant foul) does so–in part, because the alternate word was always available to the writer, and there’s a presumption that they did not use that alternate instead.

      And yes, movies on TV that have had forced dubbing are the worst. There’s a fairly intense moment in The Breakfast Club where, after an extended confrontation, in which John Bender was sentenced to two months of Saturday detentions, the principal is storming out of the library. Just as the door starts to swing shut behind him, Bender tilts his head back and bellows, as loud as he can, “FUCK YOU!” The door shuts, and we see the principal struggle with the urge to go back in before going off, feeling defeated and helpless because he hasn’t broken the kid. It’s an astounding catharsis for a movie that’s mostly by the numbers teen dramady. That moment is undermined when it’s shown on TV and the brilliant minds behind the censoring decide to substituted in, I kid you not, a heartfelt cry of “FEEL YOU!”

  • I’m just curious on your opinion about translation work. Sometimes profanity in the source language cannot be directly or justly translated into the target language for a lot of reasons. And often the publisher(s) of the translation work will have their own standard of editing. I know this first hand since I work as a translator and sometimes struggle with my editor when it comes to translating profanity and/or sexual contents. Do you think changes in the translation process are violating the author’s original work?

    • generally authors authorize translations. no translation can ever fully capture the original, but writers know that and accept that changes will be made. much like sanitized versions of movies for tv or music for radio, the difference is permission of the artist or copyright holder.

      • Thanks for your reply, and it makes perfect sense. I also agree that translation will never be perfect and translators can only do their best to capture the original nuance. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s always fun to try translating English profanity though 🙂

        • On the subject of translations, I remember reading one of the Lord Peter Wimsey books by Dorothy L Sayers. In it, she had the character read a letter that was written in idiomatic middle class French. It gave the French, then gave the translation – in upper class idiomatic British. As I then spoke and read more French than I’ll ever recall now, i was not merely lifted out of the story, I was drop-kicked out. As I recall, it nearly ruined the book for me.

  • I think the parents should be responsible for limiting their child’s reading if they really feel it that necessary. I mean like sure, profanity won’t really hurt anyone, and in the age of technology and internet, most youths with access will probably already be exposed to huge amounts of it online. However, seeing a twelve year old reading fifty shades of grey did sorta irk me, though that has no fault with the author, only the reader for choosing to read it, and the parents of said child for letting him purchase it.

    So basically I’m blaming parents for not limiting the things that they don’t want their children to see (as the kid usually doesn’t care much. from my experience).

  • If I publish and OverMormon Mandy *buys* my book because of this app and edits out swearing and I still get paid for it… Great. That’s better than OverMormon Mandy not buying my book because Main Character #6 basically speaks in Cuss.

  • It may not mean much to anyone, but the idea of censorship in this manner offends me deeply and disturbs me on a level I can’t even begin to describe. The act of creation in writing is important to me, and the thought of having someone else–someone I do not know, do not trust, and whose moral judgment is abhorrent to me–alter my creation to suit their agenda makes my hands knot into fists.
    In my WIP I have a character who is a “bad boy.” He has made some bad choices in his life since being put out on the streets after his mother’s death. He is an ex-con and former gang-banger. He swears–a lot. It’s what he knows, and how he has had to speak to fit in. But he has a moral code, and when something happens that crosses that code he takes action, even though it causes him more trouble and grief than if he had just looked the other way. Without the use of that “bad language” in the beginning of the story, the change he goes through in his story arc would not be so dramatic. If you change “damn” to “doggone” and “fuck” to “darn it,” why did I bother to write 120,000 words? This isn’t the 1800s, and my Danny Ryder isn’t Huck Finn.
    There is a reason I put those words there, and if you take them out or change them you change my story. You emasculate it. Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather you took that knife to me.

  • I generally agree, but when does the art product stop belonging to the artist? If I buy your book and then cut it up into confetti and enjoy it that way, isn’t that my right? What if I build the ap myself? Load your book into Word and do Find and Replace All?

    • I don’t think the art ever stops belonging to the artist. The medium in which the art is recorded can be bought and sold, but not the art. For example, Van Gogh will always have painted “Starry Night.” No matter how many times the painting is bought and sold, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” will never become Paul Rosenberg’s “Starry Night” or Julien Leclercq’s “Starry Night.”

      If you buy a book and cut it up into confetti, you are cutting up your copy of the work, the physical medium in which the art is recorded. You are not cutting up the art itself. To me, that’s the difference between cutting up a book and altering the actual content of a book without the author’s consent.

      However, I think that if the CleanReader app explicitly states that all altered texts are for personal use only and not for redistribution, there isn’t anything legally wrong with what they’re doing. Intellectually lobotomized, maybe, but not legally wrong…

  • As one of the Christians who said “I am a Christian but” let me answer… I should probably have said… Why do the app creators think being Christian gives them the right to change someone’s work, be it one word or a few… and besides that, who chooses which words are more profane or less profane? Please *Pshhh*.

    Lastly, let me quote another commentor:

    “Gina Scott Roberts

    March 25, 2015 at 8:13 PM

    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.”

    So I’m agreeing with you, just to be clear.

  • +1, Chuck, totally agree; and well written, as ever.

    I’m also an architect. Buildings are organic, they adapt to the differing desires and aspirations of their owners. You can extend, update and improve you own property. You can’t a story, because you’ll change it’s premise. If you want to change a story, write some fanfic – then you’ll learn about writing and whether or not someone should be allowed to change your story.

    Books are written art and you wouldn’t expect, or allow, someone to put a pair of underpants on Michelangelo’s statue of David just because he had his cock out!

  • Let’s be clear – this app is a piece of shit.

    From everything I’ve seen/read about it, you would need to buy the ebooks directly from this company and with no remuneration to us as, you know, only the fucking/frigging/___ing (delete as applicable) *authors* of the fucking ebooks.

    (Don’t delete that second ‘fucking’, it makes the text flow better…)

    And even if this was an app that could be used with an already-legally-bought-copy of an ebook, it’s still terrible for pretty much all the reasons already mentioned by Chuck. Also, as I mentioned in a reply to an earlier post, if a book has adult themes in it then removing the swearwords isn’t going to help make it more ‘child-friendly’.

    So, yeah, this app is dogshit – stealing a book is still stealing a book even if you pretend you’re trying to help the readers.

    On a side note, I have to say that it’s not fair to lump all Christians in with the two people that created this app. Sometimes people are assholes/do dumb shit/try to make money from other peoples’ hard work, it shouldn’t then be open season on anybody who happens to share their religion.

  • First. You don’t own an ebook. You purchase the license to use it as outlined by the licensor. But I don’t think that has any affect on this subject. If a person wants to use that app, it is up to them as long as it doesn’t change the file, which they could not do. It would only change its appearance on their reading device. And I thought they would just delete, not substitute. Some of my characters swear like Italians from South Philly and I imagined a sweet girl having a conversation with a guy who says,”The” and “and” a lot, and nothing else.

  • Wow, that is a bit extreme. I read books the way I choose to. Sometimes a writer has a great story line but the loves scenes are horrible. Not everyone thinks throbbing, love stick or any of the other over the top descriptions of genitalia enhances a story or finds the need for one descriptive sex scene after another. I skip those parts. Not because I am a prude (love sex), it’s just completely unrealistic to me. If I want to use an app to help me skip the parts that don’t resonate with me that’s my choice as a reader. Get over yourself. Removing my choice to not see what I don’t want to is no difference than censorship. Both are trying to control MY choice.

    • Um, no. Editing writer’s work is much like retouching a painting you already bought. You might argue that you bought it and it’s yours, and when dealing with a physical object such as a painting, you’d be correct. You can vandalize it all you want and change the original artist’s intent, flow of consciousness, sensibility, and originality. E-books are not a physical object and you do not own them. You *license* them. Big difference. You license them as they are. They remain a property of the artist (or the publisher, depending on their contract,) so kindly do not edit them. I realize that writers like me would benefit out of readers having an option to baudlerize our works, because it would mean marginally higher royalties. Except I find the idea objectionable. I’d rather the reader didn’t choose my books and wrote their own instead.

      • Dead wrong, Kate. Once you concede that I have the right to delete (hence, destroy) an e-book on my e-reader, you must also concede that I can digitally re-arrange it, selectively delete parts of it, etc.

        Copyright law does not prevent that, nor would there be any way to enforce such a prohibition if it did. And even if you “click-roped” me into your book’s onboad licensing agreement ban, how would you know if I violated it?

        At most you may rely on moral suasion here.

        • You can read it or delete it, you can fast-page through a hundred pages of it. “Clean Reader App” does not get to alter it. It did not offer me a contract that allowed it to alter the text without my consent and prior approval. (Protip: there’s usually a clause in a contract from a publisher with language to similar effect. AC Crispin has a decent article here: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2012/05/editing-clauses-in-publishing-contracts.html ). Note that these clauses are between author and publisher, not author and random app developer.

          • Wrong again, Kate. If I’m free to get my neighbor to help me digitally mutilate, alter, or destroy the e-book that I’ve purchased from your publisher, then I’m free to use any commercial service to do so.

            As I wrote in my earlier post, I welcome this app as a free-market aid for the mentally self-hampered who otherwise wish to dip their toe in the sinful pond my books create.

            Chuck’s otherwise fun-to-read rant here is just plain flawed, legally speaking, and so is your reasoning here.

          • Athena Grayson, thanks so much for posting the link to A C Crispin’s blog! New resource to open the eyes of a still-newbie writer!

        • Hmmm, so if one has no ethical or moral issues with stealing or lying, profanity should not be an issue either. Cool!

          • That’s a false comparative at best.

            It’s like saying, Gee, if you think erotica’s cool then you must also advocate child porn. Rethink your argument here.

          • Actually, that was intended to be sarcastic….if I had added some fucking profanity, would that have read better?

      • I believe the app alters your view of it on your ereader. You download the book. You process it through the app. You read the result. It cannot alter the author’s manuscript electronic file. It is like redacting, but the reader volunteers to have his reading experience thus altered. You cannot mean this app sells the work to consumers in an altered form. That couldn’t be legal or possible (I think). I will gracefuully concede and apologize if I am wrong.

          • How it is done is the only point. If the app maker changes the file it is illegal and I don’t think he can. If someone buys an app to, for example, make all the o’s on his ereader look like hearts, no one else will even know that. It is the same difference. If you think it is wrong to make o’s look like hearts, then don’t buy the app to do it. If you want to have all the words “fuck” to be changed to “fudge” there’s an app for that. What is this argument about?

          • Changing o’s to hearts doesn’t change the word or potentially the meaning of the phrase or sentence it is in. By a third party substituting one word for another, they are editing and altering someone else’s work.

            I’m having a really hard time buying that as censorship.

            Censorship seems to be defined as suppressing parts that have been deemed unacceptable…by who? The man behind the curtain? I don’t know? That shit suppose to get blocked out, not let’s make it pretty. Censoring and editing…two different things.

            So would it be better suited…argued? That if this app’s goal is to censor profanity out of books, it should only be able to suppress/delete/blackout the profane words. If their goal is to sanitize profanity out of books, and substitute/edit/alter the profanity in books, is that censorship or something else?

        • If my neighbor brings me a romance book she just bought and asks me, for a fee, to redact the “naughty parts” for her and I do, have I violated any law or private contractual agreement?

          No.

          It’s her personal freedom to do that, and it’s mine to accommodate her, even for a fee.

          Private censorship is just that: Private.

          As I said in my earlier post, I’m an author, an atheist and an attorney. I welcome any religious nutball who wants to “purify” my books. Hell, I’ll even thank her for upping my sales.

          Plus I get a shot at seducing “Pollyanna” into dipping into my sinful pond. In fact, I’m confident my books — even when puritanically redacted — will seduce even the most self-repressed.

          Hence, it’s a win-win.

          • But how is it private censorship anymore? You, a third party individual has been paid a fee to edit, censor, and alter another’s work. Just curious?

          • In American law the only form of censorship that legally matters (what you can sue about in court) is government censorship.

            If my neighbor wants to censor what she reads and pays me to implement her own censorship guidelines, that’s private censorship.

            No law prevents that, nor should it.

            No law prevents me from commercializing my service and doing it on a mass scale.

            Boiled down, that’s what these app folks have done.

            As I said previously, I’d gladly represent these app makers because, though somewhat paradoxically, they are ENABLING free choice (to self censor, or not, and thus enabling more sales of my very sinful books).

            Advocating Chuck’s control-freakgasm here is simply the wrong way to go, and I say that as an ACLU contributing, First Amendment lawyer who’s sued cops for, among other things, arresting a client for saying “Fuck You” in public (Georgia’s “Indecent Language” statute, a 19th Century hold-over).

            Commenters who urge that these app makers be sued are by definition urging that the Power of The State (what is invoked when one sues) be used against them. That’s simply the wrong way to go. At MOST they should pillory or at least mock Christian Fundies for fomenting sphincter-tightening prudery.

            “Freedom’s roots are too easily poisoned by well-intentioned high brows.”

            — Rod Sparr (“KC,” by P.A. Trate, on Amazon).

          • Thank you for clarifying the legal aspect. I do appreciate it.

            But I still do not understand how one can say that they want others to read what they have written, hopefully understanding the perspective in which the author is presenting and the author being okay with a third party changing words, phrases, and, to me, ultimately the content. My opinion.

            Legally, if you don’t mind another question, would there be an issue if someone, having taken a privately censored ebook, used edited and censored passages in a blog, sermon, paper, or other work? Is there a proper, and legal way, to use that altered work? I know I can quote and reference a book or article, but what if I wish to use a privately censored passage?

          • Your first concern: Hey, I already run the risk of a direct reader misunderstanding my books, especially since I use “smut” as a Trojan Horse to penetrate minds with my political philosophy.

            I’d go nuts if I worried if your friend read my stuff and mis-recapitulated it to you. That happens all the time, and there’s nothing I can do about it, so let it go.

            Ditto for it some Christian fundie says “KC” (my book series) is about XYZ when it’s not. That’s the field of play we’re in, so if someone does that conversationally or technologically (thru an app), I guess I’ll just relax and let it flow. . . .

            Your second concern: It doesn’t matter whether someone republishes my stuff outright or camouflages it with some superficial changes made by them or others. I can still sue for infringement SUBJECT to their “fair use” defense, which is sufficiently spongy that in many cases it’s not worth suing about.

            Plus, my books are furthering my political philosophy, so I’m not sure I’d care about lost royalties if others disseminate my “wisdom seeds” for me.

  • Chuck, I agree with you wholeheartedly. A note to those who don’t (not that I have any issue with you expressing your opinion. I don’t).

    But swear words are one thing. Where does it lead? One thing that comes to my mind is music. Anybody know the band Rammstein? I assume most of you don’t speak German, but I do, and let me tell you, those dudes are FUCKING DISTURBING. Their songs are gross, and creepy, and just utterly disgusting sometimes, in terms of lyrics (still like them, though). And yet, they can’t be censored. Because swear words are never used. These guys are goddamn poets with how they make “normal” language do triple duty in terms of the vignettes and scenarios they describe. Incest, rape, mutilation, murder, and any combination thereof are common themes in that music, but no single word is profane.

    How would something like Clean Reader have to evolve to deal with that? Remove entire sentences that imply something “dirty” or “unwholesome”? Entire scenes?

    My point is, with literature, simply crossing out swear words is woefully inadequate to completely remove obscenity from a work of art. People who subscribe to Clean Reader will discover this soon and be very unhappy (assuming the app survives).
    And thus will push to increase the scope of the editing and censoring.

    Or what about the reverse? What if a book uses the word bitch to actually describe a female dog? Or the word cock to speak of roosters? Or what if the original text takes place in Britain, and a character smokes a fag?

    For this reason alone I could NEVER get behind something like Clean Reader (illegal or not, I don’t know enough about the Bern Convention).

  • March 26, 2015 at 12:38 PM // Reply

    Ah yes, once again the Age of Technology intersects with the mindset of the Middle Ages. We see this shit more and more often these days. It always ends up having results that are bizarre and moronic, to say the least. A great example would be the program used by Yahoo to censor their comments sections after their articles about sports events. One glaringly stupid example…somehow, the word “puck” has been banned, obviously it was a bit too close to a baaaaaad word. Thus, you now have the wonderful experience of attempting to make a valid point having to do with hockey, yet lo and behold, every time you post it will have the usual #@^% every time you used that terrible word for a round hard rubber disc..

  • But I want to know who told the child there were curse words in the book and that they were wrong and shouldn’t be there in the first place? Had to have been an adult in the library. IF the child doesn’t know they are bad or shouldn’t be in there, they will just read it as another word and keep on going, unless they ask what the word means, then again it’s an adult who told them it was wrong. But you are definitely right, if you don’t like the book, don’t read it. Just like if you don’t like the food, don’t order it. It’s that simple.

  • Sounds like it’s time to cut some motherfucking bitches. Seriously, what. the. fuck is wrong with the world? Why don’t we focus on making sure kids know how to read and speak and write instead of worrying about limiting what they should and should not be exposed to especially when half of them can’t even read or write anyways?

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