Should Clean Reader Be Allowed to Censor eBooks?

Dann Albright 10-04-2015

“Read books. Not profanity.” The tagline of Clean Reader is short and simple—but what it represents, and the responses to it, are anything but. The swear-word-censoring app has kicked up a firestorm of ideological debate, and neither side is backing down. So, who’s right? And what’s at stake?


The Clean Reader App

So, what, exactly, is Clean Reader? It’s an e-reader app Don't Like Amazon? Alternatives To The Kindle eBook Reader App For Android Amazon has its own set of flaws that send readers looking for an alternative that’s just as good. Looking to get away from Amazon, the Kindle, and DRM? Here are some of the best ebook... Read More , available for iPhone and Android, that allows (well—allowed; we’ll get to that in a moment) readers to download books from its store and then choose whether they want to read a “clean,” “cleaner,” or “squeaky clean” version. The app replaces instances of profane words, so “fuck” is replaced by “freak,” “fucker” becomes “idiot,” “penis” is displayed as “groin,” pretty much all female genitalia becomes “bottom,” “breast” becomes “chest,” “bitch” becomes “witch,” and so on and so forth.


The books are sold in complete form; there’s no permanent changing of the words, a fact that’s important in this discussion. Readers can choose what they (or, often, their children) will see written, and that option can be changed at any time.

Unsurprisingly, the app was created by two parents whose daughter had an unpleasant experience when she first came across swearing in a book. They thought that an app like this must already be available, but they couldn’t find one—so they made it themselves. In an email to outspoken critic Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, they said they had no idea that it would cause this sort of response.

What’s the Problem?

The uproar surrounding Clean Reader has come primarily from authors, though many readers have been outspoken as well. Most authors’ main problem with the app is that it presents their book in an altered form without their permission. The Society of Authors has stated that the app violates authors’ right to integrity by presenting a form of “derogatory treatment” to their book, and constitutes a case of false attribution.


Harris has been one of the most vehement critics of the app:

Anyone who works with words understands their power. Words, if used correctly, can achieve almost anything. To tamper with what is written—however much we may dislike certain words and phrases—is to embrace censorship . . . 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 onto statues. It progresses to denouncing gay or Jewish artists as “degenerate”. It ends with burning libraries and erasing whole civilizations from history.

Authors, of course, choose their words carefully, and for a reason. Whether for establishing the correct context, correctly characterizing a figure in the book, or just creating an overall atmosphere that contributes to the feeling of the story, profanity can be put to good use in novels. And removing those words from the novel can potentially have effects on how it’s interpreted.

However, some people are offended by those words. This isn’t a discussion about whether or not they should be offended by them—it’s just a fact. There are a lot of people out there who are offended by profanity; and there are a lot of people who want to prevent their children being exposed to those words 8 Great Movie Review Sites For Parents With Kids In Mind Fancy an evening watching movies as a family? Let's explore a few of the best movie review sites for kids so that you can choose the best go-to site for your family's needs. Read More . And because of that, they’re hesitant to read or let their kids read books that contain profanity or sexual descriptions.



Just to be totally clear, I’ll say it again: this is not a discussion about whether or not people should feel this way or try to shelter their children. Harris has attacked conservative Christianity as peddling a “toxic message” via Clean Reader, and I believe that this has seriously detracted from her overall argument. Let’s not make the same mistake.

It’s clear that the interests of these two groups—authors and sensitive readers—are at odds. Authors want their books published in an unaltered form, and readers would like the opportunity to read these books without being exposed to words that offend them. Unfortunately, no middle ground has yet been found.

And in fact, the authors seem to be winning the fight; Clean Reader pulled all books from its store, making the app nearly worthless. They’re working on an update to the app that promises a better experience, though. What that means isn’t clear (and they won’t say).

Should Clean Reader Exist?

There have been some rather convincing arguments on both sides. April at The Steadfast Reader weighs in with this:


Life can be hard and ugly. There will be situations where you will have to deal with people who do not ascribe to your morals, who do not follow what you consider to be the proper way of life. By reading about these people and situations we are preparing ourselves for these encounters. Hopefully by preparing ourselves we can act with more poise, grace, and even compassion when we encounter these people.

Rhoda Baxter also points out that censoring the words from a particular scene doesn’t make that scene any less offensive or disturbing; there’s a date rape scene in one of her books, and even if the profanity is taken out, the date rape remains (even if it’s not quite as clear what happens). And she points out that the app wouldn’t replace very many words in the scene anyway.

And, of course, authors do have rights. They work hard to create their art, and they’d like for it to remain unchanged. That’s understandable. But do they have the right to determine how people read? That’s much less clear. Cory Doctorow says it’s a matter of free speech:

It’s precisely because I disagree with Clean Reader’s users that I have no business prohibiting them from choosing how they read the copies of my books that they lawfully acquire with equipment they choose. It’s easy to be a free speech advocate when you agree with the speaker. Unless you support speech you find objectionable, you don’t support free speech at all. Make no mistake, this is a free speech issue. The right to free expression includes the right to decide whom you listen to, and how. Free speech is not compelled listening. The writer has no right to dictate how the reader must read.

He compares Clean Reader to selling a book and a marker and telling the customer to take the marker and cross out a line on a specific page; that’s not a crime against the author, even if it’s not a great thing for literature. He even compares Clean Reader to ad blockers; while these pieces of software may be bad for the Internet It's About Ethics in Stealing Games Journalism: Why AdBlock Needs to Die A simple, free browser plugin killed Joystiq – and is ruining the Internet. Read More , it’s certainly within people’s rights Publishers Need to Stop Whining About Adblock Ad-blocking seems like a natural option for any consumer because of a simple reason: it's an easy way to get rid of an annoyance. Read More to determine how they interact with the Web.

This is why Harris’s conflating the issue of authors’ rights with her disdain for conservative Christianity is damaging to her argument. In trying to set books above the freedom to read how we want, she aligns herself against censorship over a religious issue, instead of a moral one; and few people will stand up for the abolition of religious freedom.


Clean Reader may appeal to a specific audience, but that audience does have a right to exist. Just because Harris wouldn’t raise her children that way doesn’t mean the app should be taken off the market so that others can’t do it.


And there certainly is a group of readers that appreciate the app. There are a number of good reviews for the app from readers who enjoy reading more when they don’t have to read words that offend them. And if you can find your way past the authorial diatribes on the Internet, you’ll see that there are more people out there than you might expect that are interested in clean reading. This clean reading group on Goodreads has almost 1,500 members. There are blogs, Facebook groups, and Twitter accounts dedicated to clean reading. Say what you want about the app, but it does meet a demand.

Interestingly, there’s an issue that’s only gotten a minor amount of discussion in this whole debate that I think is very important, and that’s the issue of who the censoring is meant for. Censoring books for yourself is different from censoring them for others. Institutionalized censorship is very different from personal censorship, especially if there’s no “off” switch, as there currently is in Clean Reader.

It’s hard to imagine institutionalized anti-Semitism and library burning arising from a few hundred or a few thousand people censoring books for their own reading or for their kids. The incorporation of censorship into societal structures is bound to cause problems, but that’s not what Clean Reader aims to do.


As far as I can tell, Clean Reader is meant to be a lens through which an individual reader can read a book in a manner that’s more suitable to their tastes. And whether you subscribe to the idea that a book exists completely apart from the author, it’s hard to argue against someone’s right to do that. Yes, artistic integrity is at stake. But so is the freedom to be a reader.

The technological age has given rise to our desire to customize everything; our computers, our smartwatches, our cars, even our experience of the Internet itself… why not the books that we read?

What do you think? Should Clean Reader be allowed to censor books? Or is that a violation of authors’ rights? Would you consider using this app with your children? Share your thoughts below!

Image Credits: Hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil via Shutterstock, Censored concept via Shutterstock, Reading glasses on an open book via Shutterstock

Related topics: Ebooks, eReader, Internet Censorship, Opinion & Polls, Reading.

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  1. Anonymous
    October 1, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Not a problem. We didn't know this app existed and would have used it because we stopped bringing things that take God's name in vain into our home years ago. God will not speak through blasphemy. That leaves out a lot of books, dvd's, music, etc but we absolutely refuse to allow these things in. As a result, we have found much better ways to spend our time together and we have found that God will indeed speak very clearly when you do not have things in your home which insult him. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people in America, including most "Christians" will never find that out. You can choose Christ or you can choose the world which insults him, but you cannot choose both.

    • Dann Albright
      October 5, 2015 at 1:08 pm

      Do you think that the actual words in the book taking God's name in vain is the problem? Or is it the content of the book? Whoever reads the Clean Reader version will likely know what the author intended, and thus will probably think (or even think about) the blasphemous content in the book.

      Basically, what I'm asking is if you think Clean Reader is effective in keeping things clean, or if people will still have the same sorts of thoughts because it's pretty clear what the author was trying to write. Would a censorship app like this be enough? Or would you have to stick with the not-allowing-it-in-your-house strategy?

      • Anonymous
        October 18, 2015 at 7:53 pm

        Yes, I think the app would be great but many authors are probably against it because they basically hate God and want people to read their blasphemous comments about him. Would it come to people's minds anyway? Probably not unless that's the way the person usually thinks.

    • Dann Albright
      October 5, 2015 at 1:09 pm

      (See Josiah's comment below for a clearer reading of my idea.)

  2. Josiah
    April 17, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Quick thought, Lois CK'a actually, not my own: if you replace a word with another word, and know you did that, how is it different than saying the original word. If you know they replaced 'vagina' with 'bottom' wouldn't you think 'oh they mean vagina' every time you see 'bottom'? And if you are censoring these books for your kids, there may be other material in the book the software missed that is also 'inappropriate' so maybe your kid should wait to read the book.

    • Dann Albright
      April 18, 2015 at 4:05 pm

      You know, I actually had the same thought—that Louis CK skit is hilarious, and very applicable to this discussion. I don't know what a user of the app would say to that. That's actually something I might have to look into, as I have no idea how you'd avoid that exact process.

      And yes, an algorithm (especially one as simple as this) is only going to censor so much. There's almost certainly a lot of stuff that will slip by . . . so maybe people are more concerned about getting rid of as much profanity as possible, but not as worried about getting rid of all of it.

      Very interesting ideas. Going to have to think about this. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Rhoda Baxter
    April 16, 2015 at 9:41 am

    I'm still not sure what I think about Clean Reader the app because I haven't tried it. If it just blocks out the word, that's not very different to taking a marker pen to a paperback (although defacing books - oooh. Wrong, wrong, wrong!). If the app replaces a word with another 'less offensive' one, then I'd object to that. Rude words are usually included after careful consideration. Well, they are in my books anyway.

    I do have a problem with attempting to use a technological solution to protect children from things that offend their parents. If you're worried about what your children are reading, then talk to them about it. Don't assume an app's going to take care of it.
    I grew up in a very conservative environment, but was lucky enough to have a mother who would answer questions.

    I'm flattered that you quoted my little rant about it. Thank you.

    • Dann Albright
      April 18, 2015 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Rhoda! Your post about Clean Reader was very interesting, and I'm happy to continue the discussion. I definitely understand why you'd feel that a simple blocking out of a word would be a lot less dodgy than replacing it with another word. I think the idea of replacing it with another word is that completely blocking out the word could make it really difficult to interpret the sentence (granted, changing it to another word can be confusing too, but is probably a little less likely to be so).

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. Frustrated.
    April 15, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    Actually, why is this all about the reader? It should be all about the author - they screwed this piece of art out of their guts for a reason, and I find it my task (my pleasure) as a reader to work out what *they* are trying to say, not what I want them to say. Of course, my interpretation of what they have to say will always be coloured by my own point of view, but to the parents who created Clean Reader because their daughter didn't like naughty words I ask this: why not sit down with your daughter, discuss the language, its use, its impact, so that she better understands what it is she is reading, rather than rejecting it based on her own sensibilities? Because I cannot see what on earth a reader will get out of "vagina" being replaced by "bottom", other than a whole world of confusion (yes, Clean Reader didn't just hide the words, it replaced them. Which puts it on dodgy grounds with regards to derivative work restrictions in copyright law).

    • Dann Albright
      April 18, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      People's views on whether this is about the reader or the author tend to be pretty consistent with how they feel about the app. What you say about interpreting the book, though, is interesting: many people feel that way, but there are a lot of people who think differently, too, and I think that's one of the places where people aren't likely to do any convincing. For example, I believe that what I get out of a book is valuable, even if it's totally unrelated to what the author was trying to say. I don't consider it my task to get into the author's head or even their message . . . I just want to get out of reading the book whatever is most useful and enjoyable to me. I certainly understand your point of view, but it's very unlikely that I'll be convinced to look at books that way instead. Do you see what I mean?

      As for what parents should do with their kids, that's an entirely different argument. This app has a target audience, and trying to get rid of that audience isn't going to help us get to the bottom of the issues behind the existence of the app.

  5. Doc
    April 13, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    I'm pretty sure the market will decide whether or not (read: likely not) Clean Reader survives.
    If you want to install this as your kid's e-book reader, more power to you, but I'm pretty sure a violent, nasty e-book will still be objectionable with all the Seven Words You Can't Say On TV replaced with the examples given; it'd take some mighty powerful AI to clean up absolutely everything that would be objectionable (for example, does "sucks" mean "this is lousy," or something else?).

    • Dann Albright
      April 14, 2015 at 3:47 pm

      Ultimately, the market will probably decide; or at least have a big say. And, of course, what you say about the effectiveness of the censorship is true . . . but that's a different discussion. Whether or not it serves its purpose is one issue, but whether or not you have the right to use it on your copy of a book is another one.

  6. Jennifer
    April 13, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    As an author I see it as copyright infringement. I hold the rights to my books, anyone who alters my books (even if it is one word) without my permission is violating copyright.

    The problem with this App is it goes against everything about the purpose of literature in a society. We as a society learn from the darker aspects of life. If we shield ourselves profanity, we are living in a bubble and will not progress as a society. And seriously, if a reader cannot handle profanity, choose a different book. Do not change an author's work to suit a reader's delicate senses. Get over it.

    • Dann Albright
      April 14, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      I'm glad to have another author's opinion here—I think everyone needs to be a part of this discussion.

      And I certainly understand your view of the purpose of literature; I tend to agree . . . but the purpose and interpretation of literature is also a highly personal thing (I guess I'm a part of the "Death of the Author" school). I may not get the same thing out of your book as you wanted me to get, and that's fine. In fact, that's great—that's what makes talking about literature so interesting and insightful. And trying to force someone into a certain way of viewing literature goes against the spirit of that. For example, I could read a book that the author meant to represent some very grand ideas, and only think about it on a surface level; I could enjoy the action, or the comedy, or the words themselves. Does that mean that I've misused that work? I would say that it doesn't.

      What do you think? If you write a book that you want someone to learn from, and they just want to read it because they like it? Is that a misappropriation?

    • Adrian
      May 16, 2015 at 4:45 am

      I find your replies balanced, you have a good grasp of the issues. Our author friend Jennifer expresses a sentiment that others of her group have done, namely: not reading profanity will somehow make one ill equipped for life. Really ?
      She suggests readers of delicate senses, who would appreciate profanity-avoidance should "get over it". May I suggest in return, that authors of delicate senses, who are offended by profanity-avoidance should likewise "get over it".

    • Jennifer
      May 16, 2015 at 5:56 am

      Literature is often based on reality. When an author develops characters, they write true to character. If a character swears, then there should be swearing in the book. Some authors do not write to suit the reader sensitivities, but to be true to their story and the characters they develop. It is writing 101. When reading literature, we learn of different characters from different times and places. We don't create words and stories that are comfortable for us and the reader. That's missing the point of literature completely. Some of the best books (American Classics) were once banned - Mark Twain's Huck Finn for example. Are we into banning and shaming simply because we do not like words chosen?

      Point still stands -
      1. Is this copyright infringement to change an author's work, which I have not seen addressed?
      2. If a reader does not like profanity - chose a different book. It's really quite that simple. Why feel entitled to change an author's work to suit you?

    • Dann Albright
      May 16, 2015 at 7:11 am

      Adrian, that's how many people feel. On this particular point—whether one group or the other should just "get over it" and accept that the other group exists and has a right to exist—I doubt there will ever be much agreement. No one seems to be willing to give any ground here (which is terribly unfortunate).

      As for the implication that not being exposed to profanity will make one ill-equipped for life, well, yes, that does seem to be how some people think. I think there is a valid point underlying this one; that learning to deal with people who have different beliefs than yours (even ones that upset you) is good. However, I don't think that reading profanity is a necessary prerequisite for that. It IS good to be exposed to different viewpoints, though there are plenty of ways to do that other than reading books that offend you.

      I'm glad you find my responses balanced; I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about this issue! :-)

    • Dann Albright
      May 16, 2015 at 7:21 am

      Jennifer, when you say that something is "missing the point of literature completely," you're making a big assumption that you (as an individual, as a group of authors, as a reader, or maybe even just as a human being) can determine what the purpose of something as complicated and multi-faceted as literature is. You talk about readers feeling inappropriately entitled—I'd say that presuming that you know what the purpose of Literature (capital L literature) is also requires quite a bit of inappropriate entitlement. I'd make the argument that the true point of literature can only be truly determined on an individual level.

      As for your point about banned books, I think there's an important distinction between systematic censorship—as in Huck Finn—and individual censorship, as can be done with Clean Reader. Making changes to a book because you don't like profanity is one thing, and applying those changes in a way that can't be undone for a larger group of people is entirely another. I don't think the banned books argument holds water here (though I'm happy to convinced otherwise!).

      We've addressed copyright infringement quite a bit—and it's a complicated issue, because the work isn't being changed, per se, but just being displayed slightly differently. As Rhoda points out below, taking a marker and crossing things out in a paperback—even writing replacement words—wouldn't start an argument over copyright infringement, and exactly how this is different from that is unclear.

      Thanks for responding again; I'm very curious as to what you think about the issues. The comments section of this article is turning into a pretty great place for discussion of this issue, and I'd love to keep it going!

    • Adrian
      May 16, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      please allow me to show my respect and acknowledgement for your thoughts on this subject. I yield to your greater investment in the topic as you are an author and this is your medium of choice to express yourself artistically. I perceive this is a subject that is closer to your heart than to mine, as I have no such talent. Although I hold to my views, there is much to what you say that I agree with. My personal taste means I do not favour profanity; I would not say it "offends" me - I accept it exists and do not force others to curtail it. You make a valid point that if a person does not like profanity, than they can simply choose another book. I feel that would be a shame, because there may be so much good that would be missed. An analogy that I have read expresses my thoughts well: If a person does not like olives and is eating at a pizza restaurant, should he simply not order any pizza containing olives ? Or remove them from an otherwise delicious pizza ? Or perhaps eat the olives out of respect for the chef ?
      We really need a pizza chef to answer that one ! ;-)

  7. R A Myers
    April 11, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    If the readers, who pay for downloading the books, can't have the edtited version they want, then the writers will have to live without the compensation they would have recieved for the edited download.

    No problem, except for the writer's ego.

    I don't watch anything with certain actors in it. Is that censorship or my choice?

    MUO has the final say whether this will be published on MUO's comment section. It's MUO's web page, not mine.

    • Dann Albright
      April 14, 2015 at 10:54 am

      You know, I haven't really seen any profit- or market-based discussions of this, which is interesting. People are arguing at different levels, at least for the moment. I have no idea if there's a large enough group of people who would be interested in Clean Reader to make a dent in an author's earnings, but I'd definitely love to find out.

      Also, I have to point out that not watching movies with certain actors in them is a bit different . . . watching those movies after having software replace that actor with another one would be a bit more similar. Do you feel any differently about that situation?

    • R A Myers
      April 15, 2015 at 1:42 am

      Dear Mr. Albright,

      Learning whether an actor I didn't want to watch made a profit from a movie they'd been substituted in, I would not watch the movie.

      If the movie were remade with a different actor, and the story seemed good, I'd probably watch the movie.

      In this example it's the actor, not the movie I didn't want to watch.

  8. withheld
    April 11, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Whether clean reader "...should be allowed..." might not be the core issue here. I do understand and agree with the views of authors that their creation should not be debased by unthinking censorship.
    An automated censor can be worse in some respects than a human one. It can erase or change words inappropriately and someone somewhere has to set the rules. There are ambiguities like medical terminology for body parts - should those words be censored? The persons creating the algorithms may choose to include their own "agenda" - perhaps using the censorship to effectively demote evolution and favour creationism.

    My problem is not that the software exists (not vastly different from going through a book with black felt-tip) but with the idiots who would choose to use it - or worse still foist their preferences on others. If you feel the need to censor some words in a particular book then there's an alternative: don't read that book, choose another - there are over a million books a year published in English so there are plenty to choose from.

    • Dann Albright
      April 14, 2015 at 10:52 am

      I also agree that Clean Reader's existence or allowability (is that word?) isn't the main issue here, but it's one that a lot of authors (especially Joanne Harris) bring up. They say that this sort of app shouldn't be legally allowed to make changes to their books. I think that just about any app that doesn't cause harm should be allowed to exist, so really the discussion is about whether or not the law (and morality) is on one side or the other.

      As to the second part of your comment, I won't engage with a comment from someone who resorts to calling people of other beliefs and preferences "idiots," but the "foisting [of] preferences" is a big issue here. So far, there's been no enforced usage of Clean Reader, and I think that makes a big difference. If kids become unable to change the settings of the app, or if schools start using it, this will be a completely different issue.

    • Adrian
      May 16, 2015 at 4:21 am

      Thank you Dann, I appreciate your response to withheld's comments.
      Let me get this right: book authors decry censoring by calling for an app to be 'censored'.
      They would like to censor me from using an app I would like to use.
      Does anyone else here find it at best: Amusing; at worse: Hypocritical?
      I myself object to "foisting of preferences". But by choosing to use an app, I am not having anything foisted on me. Having the app forcibly curtailed for any who may want to use it, is "foisting of preferences".
      Or am I being an "idiot" ?

    • Dann Albright
      May 16, 2015 at 7:31 am

      Adrian, that's a valid point. This conversation has brought to light the fact that "freedom" and "interpretation" are highly nuanced ideas, and that just about everyone has an opinion on them. I argue that people have a right to use Clean Reader—it's not harming anyone and people don't use it maliciously. I'd rather that people didn't use it, but that's just my opinion, and I have the right to say that. Neither of these things is more right than the other.

      As much of this argument does, this line of reasoning has a lot to do with authors' and readers' rights. Do authors have a right to determine the way in which readers consume their books (and, therefore, which apps they use to read them)? Do readers have a right to consume those books in the way that they want (and, therefore, have a right to use an app like this)? Does one right cancel the other out? I think this is one of the most complicated questions that has come up, and I think someone could probably write a book about it. (Hm . . . maybe I should. That'd be interesting.)

      I don't think you're being an idiot. But I'm sure some people would say that's just because I'm an idiot, too. :-)

  9. James Howde
    April 11, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    To argue against myself somewhat (note to self: think *then* post is a better way of doing things) an author would have cause for complaint if people say they didn't like their book when in fact they haven't read their book but a mangled version of it.

    • Dann Albright
      April 14, 2015 at 10:48 am

      Thinking before posting is something most people should do way more often. Including myself. :-)

      I think both of your points are really great, though. In the first one, you point out that an author doesn't (and shouldn't) have any say about HOW you read the book. Your reading process is your own. And whether that includes skipping some boring parts or censoring some words you don't like, that's something you do to affect your enjoyment of the book.

      In the second one, however, the situation is very different: if someone says, in a public forum, that they don't like the book, they could be conflating their reading process with the book itself. Which means that they're not discussing their like or dislike of the same thing that someone else is. And I think that's definitely something authors can fight against. If I just read half of a book and engage in a public discussion about it (without saying that I only read half of it), an author has reason to say that my opinion is invalid.

      So maybe the whole Clean Reader thing depends on how and where it's being used (which I think it does). From what I understand, it's generally used for private, personal purposes, and that's fine. If it starts to affect public discourse on literature, though, we could have problems.

      Thanks for your posts! (Both of them!)

  10. James Howde
    April 11, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Agree totally with dragonmouth on this one.

    I can see that authors might get angry, having put effort in to choosing the right words; but they might as well moan that I sometimes get bored and skip forward to a bit I find more interesting. Again I'm not reading the book in the way they intended.

  11. michel
    April 11, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    aside from the fact that trying to protect your children from the real world is Quixotic at best, this discussion is a symptom of our changing social contract. Most of you here no longer consider the author of a work, the owner of a work. You consider the reader as the owner of a work. Authors who object to this app do so on the grounds that they are artists, and their work has meaning specifically because of the deliberate choices determined by the artist. In novels, this of course means which words in which order - and changing that changes meaning. Just as in painting, altering the colours alters the meaning (remember the objections to colourizing black and white movies?).

    Essentially, if you feel you own the author's work, and change it according to how you like to be entertained, you're denying the value of artistic integrity and treating the artist as a mere employee whose job is simply to cater to your wishes. Of course you can do as you please, but if this pleases you, it indicates the low value you place on the artist's work and position.

    FIlm and television have always been collaborative fields where many people have a hand in the final product, but novels have mostly been individual efforts. Some writers have and continue to see themselves as entertainers and strive to please an audience; but some have and continue to see themselves as artists, whose duty is to protect their work.

    Rather than succumbing to outrage on either side, I wish people could simply elect to read something else - there's no lack of choice - and artists could retain their right to where, how, and in what form, to publish.

    Yes, I'm an author. I've worked in media, where I recognized the collaborative nature of the project, and dealt not only with the issue of individual words, but more sweeping considerations (plot, character, etc). It's the nature of the beast. However, in my individual works, (novels), I spend a lot of time and consideration on getting things exactly as they should be and often fight editors and copy editors on paragraphs, sentences, words and even punctuation. My novels have my name on them, not someone else's. I can't stop people from scribbling on the pages or doing whatever they like to their own copies, and I wouldn't bother to try. But I would prefer people either read my work or not. Yes, we need to care for our children. It's our duty. And some things are not appropriate for certain age groups. But I feel we should simply steer them away from those things, and not try to change those things to suit a purpose they were not intended for.

    I've just written a novel that's not appropriate for my ten year old. I won't change it so he can read it, I'll just let him grow up.

    • dragonmouth
      April 11, 2015 at 5:58 pm

      "Most of you here no longer consider the author of a work, the owner of a work."
      As the author, you own only the manuscript that you wrote. Once your book is published, the sold copies belong to the people who bought them and the unsold copies belong to the publisher. You have no legal claim on any published copy. You cannot go into anybody's house and repossess their lawfully acquired copy.

      "You consider the reader as the owner of a work. "
      When you buy a Bravia TV, do you own it or does Sony? When you buy a Chevrolet Impala, do you own it or does GM? Can either Sony or GM take back their product just because they do not like the manner in which you are using their product? Would you even allow them to?

    • michel
      April 11, 2015 at 6:22 pm

      You're looking for an argument where there is none. If you had read my comment, you'd see I specifically say, you can do as you please with your own copy, and later that I would never try to stop anyone. However, I would like to point out that I still have legal claim on the copyright.

    • Dann Albright
      April 14, 2015 at 10:42 am

      Michel, thanks for a well-considered comment. I was hoping we'd get some authors to show up and discuss the issue from their point of view. I really understand where you're coming from when you say you'd prefer that readers just read something else if they don't want to read what's in your book, and that's completely legitimate. But where the real argument comes in is when we're no longer talking about what you prefer, but what you have a legal right to. If it's fine for people to scribble in your books, there's nothing to stop them censoring words with a marker and then giving that book to their children . . . which is fairly close to what Clean Reader is being used for, at least in some circles.

      The issue of ownership is a really interesting one, and one that I think is central to this entire debate. Personally, I think a consumer owns the product that they buy. In this case, the own the physical copy of the book that they purchased, and they can do whatever they want with it. But they can't do anything to THE BOOK, which exists outside of any single copy. (I think I just got into really philosophical territory without realizing it. Hm.) Authors will always have that; Clean Reader will never try to pass off their version of a book as THE BOOK—just as a modified version of it. The ownership of the essence of the book, the ultimate copy (which may not actually physically exist) isn't in question, but the ownership of the single physical copy of the book is. I guess what I'm saying is that an author will always own the story, but a reader owns the book.

      Does that make sense? This comment totally got away from where I was intending it to go, but I think I'm starting to get into some interesting ideas here. I'd love to continue the discussion to try to flesh them out, so if you have anything to contribute, respond to, or vehemently disagree with, please let me know!

    • michel
      April 14, 2015 at 2:17 pm

      you've really just restated the point another time: the buyer owns (or licenses) their personal copy. Even if it were illegal for the buyer to alter his/her own copy, there's really nothing to stop them. And that's right and proper. So I don't know how much more there is to say if you're only interested in this single legal point. As for anything else, I don't have anything new to add; smarter people than me have already expressed all there is to say. Here is one article:

  12. dragonmouth
    April 11, 2015 at 12:34 am

    As long as Clean Reader remains voluntary, I have no objections. As long as the authors get their royalties on each book sold, I don't believe they have a b***h. What the purchasers do with the books after paying their money is none of the authors' concern.

    If the Clean Reading movement starts to force its ideology on others, I will oppose it in any way I can.

    I find the emotional "let's protect our children" reasoning to achieve certain results desired by adults to be disingenuous. Whenever some pressure group(s) want to impose their moral values, they justify their efforts by "do you want YOUR children exposed to (name the "evil")". The originators of Clean Reader want to insulate children from profanity, sexual references and anatomical terms. I have newsflash for them - the kids already know all that and are using the terms freely once they go out the door. Even the kids that have been raised in very strict religious homes know the terms although they may not use them.

    • Dann Albright
      April 11, 2015 at 6:15 am

      I think that using Clean Reader for yourself, and maybe even for your kids (who could just turn if off), is one thing, and forcing people to use it is another. If we were to see a locked version of Clean Reader that could be used in schools, for example, I would be highly opposed to that (as, I'm sure, would a lot of people). That's one of the reasons that I don't buy Harris's argument; people have the freedom to believe and prefer what they want, whether it's religiously motivated or not, and that's a good thing. Not something we want to rail against.

  13. Hildy J
    April 10, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    I see a difference between censoring and editing. Replacing a word with a asterisks or a black bar is censoring and, as long as it's a personal decision, I see no problem in an app that does this. Replacing a word with another word, regardless of the choice of word, is editing and an author has the right to object.

    • dragonmouth
      April 11, 2015 at 12:56 am

      "Replacing a word with another word, regardless of the choice of word, is editing and an author has the right to object. "
      On what is the author's "right to object" based? I can conceive of only one case where the author's objections would be valid and that is if whoever did the editing sold the book as their own creation because that is plagiarism and theft of intellectual property. Clear Reader lays no claims to the authorship of the books. They give credit to the book's author. They clearly acknowledge that the books are edited for "cleanliness".

      The way I see it is that once the book is sold to me, I have the right to do anything with it that I please, short of trying to pass it of as my own. If I wish to destroy it in any of a hundred ways, the author cannot stop me. If I cut the book up and rearrange the pages or the words for my own pleasure, the author cannot stop me. The book is mine and the author does not own it. That is why Amazon deleting some e-books from people's e-readers a couple of years ago was so abhorrent. Once the books were sold by Amazon, the ownership passed from Amazon to the e-reader owners.

    • Dann Albright
      April 11, 2015 at 6:11 am

      Hildy, I think that might be an option in the app—because you can't get any books for it right now, I couldn't test it, but I think that words can be blocked out and only be revealed by tapping the bar. Not totally sure about that, though.

    • Dann Albright
      April 11, 2015 at 6:13 am

      dragonmouth, I think a lot of people feel that way, which is why they get pissed off when they find out that buying an e-book is really only "leasing" it, and not transferring ownership (which is probably why software to remove the DRM from those books is popular). Anyway, I agree with you here; once you buy it, it should be yours to do with what you wish. And Cory Doctorow made a similar argument: we should be able to consume books however we want, and not be boxed in by the authors' preferences. I wonder how moviemakers would feel about something like this—either a voluntary censoring of certain parts or some other minor change.

  14. Paul Landis
    April 10, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    Not a big fan of this, but I am surprised about the uproar. Haven't we been editing movies on tv and songs on the radio for years? How is this different? The only difference is that it comes late to the party and is very noticeable for it while we have gotten used to other kinds of censorship.

    • Dann Albright
      April 11, 2015 at 6:10 am

      I had the same thought . . . screenwriters don't put up a huge fuss when their movies are edited for TV. Though I'm not sure if they did when the practice started. Either way, I agree with you; we do it all the time, and this is just a big deal because it's new. And because extremely outspoken people now have a better platform to shout it to the world.