In March, 2010, my friend and YA author Marley Gibson received an email from a school librarian in Riceville, Tennessee. The librarian, Cheryl, explained to Marley that while her students loved her Ghost Huntress series, she was distressed because she had to go through each with a Sharpie (she was specific about this) before shelving them to “mark out bad words.”
In other words, she censored them.
Marley was furious. She responded to Cheryl and contacted her publisher. As a reader, I was horrified, and I contacted a number of reporters. Marley’s publisher didn’t want to pursue it. The only response I got was from a Washington Post education columnist, who contacted the county school board, but didn’t write anything when she got no response.
In other words, nobody gave much of a shit.
When I was growing up, my dad took the attitude that anything I read wouldn’t harm me, and as a result, he didn’t censor nor regulate what I chose to read. Thankfully, the good folks at the Greenlake library in Seattle didn’t censor books. I read a lot of books that were age-inappropriate, and boy, I’m glad that I did. (So if we ever meet in person and you’re offended by my language, feel free to blame Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, Thomas Hardy, Judy Blume, Colleen McCullough, and Stephen King, among others.)
Which brings me to Clean Reader.
Clean Reader is a reading app that “prevents swear words in books from being displayed on your screen.” The app is free for Apple and Android devices. The app has four settings—Off, Clean, Cleaner, or Squeaky Clean—that affect which words (if any) are hidden.
Until yesterday, the app had an integrated bookstore. As of right now, it does not. In response to (strong) objections from authors, Inktera removed their store from the Clean Reader app. This means that as of this morning, the store page in the app is empty. Inktera still shows up on the app’s “More” tab, but I expect this will change, too.
Clean Reader is an ebook reader, and as such it can still be used to read ePub and PDF books, such as those purchased from “open” stores like Google and Smashwords.
So…how can authors prevent readers from using this app to read their books? The short answer is that unless an author holds their ebook rights and chooses only to publish on Kindle and iBooks with DRM, she or he can’t. Think of it this way: With paper books, you can’t stop anyone with access to a pen from redacting or replacing words in their paper copy of your book…this is the same principle. Authors can raise the issue with their publishers, but I’d bet money doing so won’t get you anywhere.
The above leaves aside the discussion around DRM as a whole and closed vs. open ebook systems. I do, however, think that’s a discussion worth having.
When it comes to reading, I have always been an advocate of choice and opponent of censorship. As Terri pointed out yesterday, if a reader prefers books without certain words, there are more than enough to choose from. If a parent wants to control which words their kids read, again, they have more options than a dog has fleas.
Which brings me back to Clean Reader. I was curious to know how it came to be, so I did some digging. Here’s what I learned:
Kirsten and Jared Maughan of Twin Falls, Idaho are the face of the company. They say they had the app created because their daughter was distressed by reading swear words (they’ve told different versions of this story). They are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), which takes a strong stance against profanity, which says in part:
Foul language is both degrading and harmful to the spirit. We should not let others influence us to use foul language. Instead, we should use clean language that uplifts and edifies others, and we should choose friends who use good language. Setting an example will encourage those around us to use clean language.
Here’s what I find interesting about this: The church’s language talks about words you use. Not censoring the words other people use. The Maughans appear to have missed this.
The Maughans commissioned Page Foundry to create the app. According to the Clean Reader website, the copyright is held by Upstream Media, which is an Assumed Business Name registered to Mr. and Mrs. Maughan. Following the Upstream Media trail leads to Kitchens Connect, Inc., which is owned by Darin G. Maughan.
Page Foundry’s CEO, Dan McFarland, has been extremely responsive, thoughtful, and transparent in helping me understand Clean Reader from a technological perspective. If you’re inclined to criticize them for taking on this project, I would argue that’s akin to blasting McDonald’s for selling food to people at risk of heart disease.
Jared Maughan, on the other hand, responded to only one of my emails with: “We’ll have more updates later. Thanks!”
Huh. One might almost think the Maughans have something to hide. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks maybe they have some weird motive in all of this, other than wanting to encourage censorship.
Because, really, wouldn’t their energy and money have been better spent on, say, compiling a list of books they consider acceptable, and putting those into an app?