Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Quest to Destroy Clean Reader

Lately my twitter feed has been filled with hate rather than the usual rainbows, bunnies, and the occasional Ewok cannibalism dance party. The cause being the release of an app called Clean Reader. The popular sentiment towards the app is "Fuck Clean Reader".

Why so much hate? Clean Reader is an app that edits the naughty words out of books. It makes it so the easily offended can enjoy reading without having to see the fuck shit bitch of it all. It embodies all the fundamentalist Christian values like no cursing, no killing, and denying proven scientific truths. It's all the things any respectable Republican could want except it doesn't give all the profits to the Koch brothers. Sounds like something even Glenn Beck could approve of.

The problem seems to be that they didn't get permission from the authors to edit their works. This has caused the biggest hissy fit I've seen since the insurance industry decided they didn't like the Affordable Healthcare Act. This is true. They didn't get the author's permission to make those edits, but do they really need that permission if it's for personal use? Do the works in question come pre-edited with clean versions, or does the app clean the e-book once the user applies that option? I'm not a lawyer, so I won't pretend that I know all of the legal implications involved.

I've seen authors in an uproar over censorship. The Clean Reader website compares it to making a custom order of food at a restaurant like ordering a cheeseburger without ketchup. If that's the case and these authors are the chefs making that burger, they would say "Fuck you I intended to have ketchup on that burger!" Some of the author responses to that comparison don't make sense. One author comparison was like ordering ketchup but without tomato in it. It's obviously not possible or would be very difficult to remove the tomato from the ketchup, but it is easy to remove the curse words from books. Otherwise this app probably wouldn't exist. Anyone can copy/paste a Kindle e-book into Microsoft Word and use the search/replace tool to make similar edits. I look at it like you order a cheeseburger then you scrape off the ketchup with a knife. Is the chef going to storm out of the kitchen and order you to eat the burger with the ketchup as he intended?

I've seen assertions that this is the first step in something much more sinister. We should all be very afraid. The first step is censorship, then banning books, then burning them, then wiping civilizations off the planet, and finally the One Direction apocalypse. Hold your horses Captain Kangaroo! There is a major difference here. This app gives people the choice of having the book censored for them. It's not a government mandated requirement. No one is forcing people to read the censored version of these books. It is merely a user option in the Clean Reader app. The Schutzstaffel is not going to bust in your door to confiscate and burn all your Garfield comics. You can continue to love lasagna and hate Mondays in peace.

This app adds a user option to censor books that they purchased or licensed to read. Once users have access to the content in a book, they are capable of doing whatever they want with it as long as it is for personal use. If they want to purchase a book and then use the pages to make paper airplanes, rather than read the words scribbled on them, they can. I doubt that is what the author intends for the reader to do with the work of art they had poured their blood sweat and tears into, but what can they do about it?  Why be so angry about something you have no control over? You might as well try to focus your efforts on making your poop not stink. Guys..  your poop is going to stink, get over it.

I'm not trying to say that author consent is not important, but users on the internet are going to do what they are going to do. It has been that way for as long as file sharing has been mainstream. You can't stop the flow of information. If the demand is there for something like this then people are going to find a way to get a clean version of the book out there one way or another. This is one of the lessons that has played out over and over again throughout the history of the internet. I think when Al Gore descended from the mountain this rule had been written on the stone tablet he was carrying along with the other Commandments Of The Interwebs.

There are a couple of things that the Clean Reader app does that I don't agree with. First of all it claims to work with all e-books, but apparently not any books you have already purchased elsewhere. You can only import books that have been purchased through the Clean Reader app. Secondly books purchased through the app have been priced higher than the versions elsewhere. So it appears that the cute story of how this app came to be is not the only reason they made this app. They are also doing this for profit. If they made it so that people could import books from outside sources then that would fit their stated goals and there would be nothing that any author could do about it depending on any legal implications that may be involved. It also looks as if these issues might be resolved in the future. The third issue is that this app only addresses words, not content, so the content of a scene in a dinosaur erotica novel may be just as disturbing even after all the naughty words have been cleansed. It's going to be very difficult if not impossible to fix something like that without doing so individually book by book. That would require individual editing which almost certainly be a copyright violation.

It looks as if the angry mob of authors have burned this witch. All of the books that were available on Clean Reader at launch have been pulled. As of  the writing of this blog post there are no books available in the Clean Reader store, and they have confirmed via twitter that they will not be selling any more books. I wonder if this is the end of Clean Reader or if they are going to try to fight back. Perhaps they are waiting for this to blow over, or maybe they are genuine in their quest to provide a way to clean their children's eyeballs with Oxiclean. This shows what we are all capable of if we band together to fight for what we believe in. Right or wrong, good or bad, we are capable of great and terrible things. Once the mob gets going it is tough to stop them. For now I'm going to go get a cheeseburger with ketchup.

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