March 31, 2015
Clean Reader app makes changes in face of backlash from authors
by Nick Davies
You might have already heard of the app Clean Reader, a tool that scrubs books of any profanity, with three settings: Clean, Cleaner, and Squeaky Clean. As reported here on Moby Lives, the app developers say they’re well within their rights to alter texts, “because they’re not changing the text so much as they’re changing the way the text is displayed.” Facing backlash from authors and readers, though, they’ve scaled back their business model, as Colin Dwyer reports for NPR.
Dwyer cites several authors who have protested the app. The Society of Authors, an organization that represents a wide range of writers, and which states, “Our concern is that the app contradicts two aspects of the author’s moral rights, namely the right of integrity and the right of false attribution.” Margaret Atwood, meanwhile, took to Twitter to register her disapproval:
Could you take the kettledrums out of Beethoven because you don’t like loud noises and still call it Beethoven? #CleanReader
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) March 26, 2015
Probably the most vocal critic has been Joanne Harris, author of the novel Chocolat, who slams Clean Reader as censorship by “a religious minority” and says:
Well, we’ve been down this road before. We should know where it leads by now. It starts with blanking out a few words. It goes on to drape table legs and stick fig leaves on to statues. It progresses to denouncing gay or Jewish artists as “degenerate.” It ends with burning libraries and erasing whole civilisations from history.
While the outcry hasn’t stopped Clean Reader entirely, Dwyer reports that they have altered their business model by removing the bookstore element, so that they’ll no longer be directly selling cleaned up ebooks by authors who object to having their work altered. In a statement on the app’s Facebook page, developers Jared and Kirsten Maughan say, “Many authors do not want their books being sold in connection with Clean Reader. We have therefore taken immediate action to remove all books from our catalogue.”
Speaking to the Guardian’s Alison Flood, Harris describes the decision as “a small victory for the world of dirt” and “a wise move on their behalf. I think somebody would have proved how fundamentally illegal it is, and would have taken them to court.”
Dwyer writes that there are also further changes planned at Clean Reader, though they are, as yet, unspecified.
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.