Thursday, April 2, 2015

Clean, Cleaner, Squeaky Clean, or Get Your Hands Off My Words?

This week, we're talking about the new Clean Reader app that has been dividing both readers and writers since it was announced. 

Many writers from world famous to local authors have spoken out about the readers on their blogs or in major news outlets, but I figured it would be fun to hear what the small press had to say about the matter too. 

If you need to catch up first, go check out the articles below, then come back here. 


Joanne Harris attacks Clean Reader app for replacing words in novels

The introduction of a new app that allows readers to swap explicit language with "cleaner" words has incurred the wrath of authors who believe it encourages censorship.

Clean Reader was designed to remove words deemed offensive from any book in electronic format, regardless of whether the writer has given their permission, and swap them with versions that are more appropriate for children.

Read the full article:


And Chuck Wendig also posted about the Clean Reader app:

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.

Read the full post:

Now... on with the article already in progress.

It is censorship or just readers exercising their rights (or preferences -- and are the two equal)?
 Percival Constantine: It's censorship, period. It's altering the content of the book without the author's permission. This is a small group of easily-offended readers wanting to have their cake and eat it, too. Joanne Harris made a good point about a potential conservative Christian bias in the app, and looking at some of the replacements, it's easy to see why (as well as an anti-female bias). As a liberal atheist, I find it offensive that they'd attempt to sanitize my work without my consent.

John Hartness: My words are chosen with care, with purpose, and with intent. When I choose to swear, it means something. It means something about the character, the setting, and the world they are inhabiting at that moment. Changing my words is changing my intellectual property, just like changing the underscoring of a movie alters the film.

Here's a case in point - when I sold The Black Knight Chronicles to a publisher, we went through extensive rewrites on the original self-published manuscripts. One thing my editor/publisher was looking for me to do was make the books more "gritty," and one way that was suggested was to make the characters swear more. I chose not to do so because the main charaters are a product of a time twenty years ago when casual profanity was less prevalent. In the first three books of the series, the word "fuck" appears once, in a pivotal moment for the character. I chose that word very specifically, to prove a very specific point about that moment. Changing that instance of the word "fuck" to "screw" would work against a pattern of language and dialogue I had spent well over 100,000 words building to that point.

RJ. Sullivan: What makes it legal is that the filter has settings, including an off that lets you see the original content. the wording I saw was they're not changing the file, merely altering how it is presented, and the user can see the unedited wording if they choose. I have to take their word for it but I still think the way this came in and was in place before anyone could object was a bit shady and that makes me suspicious. 

Ric Martens: I kind of feel that if someone wants to avoid the swearing in my writing, that's up to them. If they have a program that does it for them that's cool. It would probably be a different thing if the publishers were doing this without talking to the writer, but that's a whole different issue.

H. David Blalock: I see this as the same as someone buying a book then striking through all the "objectionable" words manually. Once the book is bought, it belongs to the buyer. Personal property can be disposed of, damaged, or altered as the owner sees fit. If someone bought one of my books then went through it and changed the words, how would I know? As long as the altered book is not resold or presented as original to the author, I see no problem with this. If the revised work is reissued under the author's name, then there would be grounds for concern. That, indeed, would constitute not just censorship but fraud.

Lucy Blue: We've already created so many genre categories a reader can go through an entire life of avid reading and never read anything that presents any point of view that doesn't line up precisely with their own. Do we have to now make it possible to rig the rest of the books to make them fall in line, too?

Should e-readers have the option of "cleaning up" any work as written? Should it be limited to only those authors who opt in?

Amanda Niehaus-Hard: I would not have a problem with this service at all if the AUTHOR could opt in to have their book "scrubbed." But just grabbing books from basically the wholesalers is what offends me. 

Percival Constantine: This is my biggest problem with the app—it didn't get author consent. That shows a blatant disregard and disrespect for all authors. Fortunately, Page Foundry has done the right thing and pulled their catalogue from Clean Reader (even if they did the wrong thing first by putting their entire catalogue in the app without securing permission or even so much as a simple notification email).

RJ. Sullivan: My biggest problems are this 1) authors and publishers had no options to opt out. In most cases, this is a secondary service to a major ebook distributor so the contracts a publisher set up with one did not make them aware they would also be shunted over to this. I think that stinks. I found out about it when I discovered that all the books under my publisher were part of the catalog. 2) This is a simple find / replace filter, which means the author has to download the filter and buy the file to even see how the edited version reads. That means these are essentially unauthorized edits. For all I know, my work sounds incredibly stupid, but I won't buy the file to find out. That's pretty bogus. 

Ellie Raine: When I have a child,I do intend to introduce them to more challenging books if they're unsatisfied with the children's section in any way, so in that respect, I can see the good side of this. But that doesn't mean the app shouldn't have permission from the author before becoming available... that being said, I think this article is being a bit overzealous in general. Sure, it's bordering censorship and should be addressed, but it's not going to start Armageddon.

John Hartness: If you want to read a book with no naughty words in it, buy one with no naughty words in it. If you want to buy a book that I wrote, don't fuck with the words. They matter. I write. I've spent a long time working on my craft, and I work hard choosing the words I put down on paper. Don't like words that may offend or challenge you? Don't read my shit. Gotta go now. Have a lovely day.

Lucy Blue: And as a writer, I know I have an obligation, if I intend to actually sell or otherwise publicly distribute what I write, to consider the preferences of my audience when choosing vocabulary. (I haven't called a woman's naughty place in a book by the word I call it in the bedroom for years because so many women--my target audience--find it objectionable to the point of feeling assaulted.) And if what we're all about is selling more books, then an app that makes our books saleable products to more people can only be good, right? But I'm not just about selling more books. I'm about communicating a world view, telling some truth, creating, dare I say it, some art. And in that context, this app is deeply offensive and, to my mind, a violation of copyright law and every other rule that protects the rights and work of any artist.

Who really benefits from something like this?

RJ. Sullivan: My feeling on this is complicated. I have received complaints by sensitive readers that my content has turned them off. My response has always been that most authors don't write for everyone and really by definition CAN'T write for everyone. On the other hand, apparently, the filter does not cut into my royalty (which was a major concern) and it might get sensitive readers an opportunity to give my work a chance when they would not have done so otherwise. So, you know, I'm getting paid, and that's a good thing.

Ric Martens: I think overall its a gain for everyone involved. I mean you have more people reading more books so that's a good thing right?

Percival Constantine: Authors who have been forced into Clean Reader without their permission certainly aren't benefitting. It's hard to see how readers are benefitting either, since Clean Reader replaces words without any knowledge of the context, leading to a very clunky reading experience. The only people who are really benefitting from this are the makers of Clean Reader. But with PF pulling its catalogue and a lot of authors making noise about this, soon the Clean Reader library may only consist of books that didn't need the CR app in the first place.

John Hartness: I am always grateful when people read my work, but if they buy my book, I want them to get my words, not some electronic filter's version of my words. My name is still on the cover, my reputation is still attached to the craft of the writing, and my time and effort went into the selection of every word in there. Anyone who wants to write a different book can feel free to sit down at their keyboard and do so.