28 March 2015

Authors, readers slam 'Clean Reader' app

by Lucy Dalton, News Editor

A new app that replaces "profane" words with "clean" ones in eBooks has been heavily criticised across social media all this week.

Here's a small sample of the backlash on Twitter. We don't claim it to be statistically "representative" of anything. But we think it's spot on because we too are unanimously against this form of censorship - of crime fiction or any other  writing.

As the above selection from Twitter might suggest, author Joanne Harris is one of the app's most vocal critics. In a blog post titled Why I’m Saying “Fuck you” to Clean Reader, she writes:

"Apps like Clean Reader change the text without the author’s permission. They take the author’s words and replace them – sometimes very clumsily – on the basis of some perceived idea of 'bad words' versus 'good words'. No permission is sought, or granted. 
"There is no opt-out clause for authors or publishers. This is censorship, not by the State, but by a religious minority, and if you think it sounds trivial, take a moment to think about this: 
"The Reformation brought about the destruction of over 90% of our country’s art heritage, including music, books and paintings.
The Nazis burnt countless works of art judged to be 'degenerate'; including an estimated 45% of all existing Polish artwork. 
"ISIS are currently destroying antiquities and historical sites in the Middle East, including the ancient city of Nimrud, the walls of Nineveh and statues up to 8000 years old. 
"The Victorians bowdlerized and rewrote Classical myths and literature out of all recognition (they also converted hundreds of thousands of Egyptian mummies into fertilizer, having judged them of  'no historical value'). 
"And all in the name of purity, morality and good taste."
Writing in Romance Novel News, Jennifer Porter says that:
"Apparently, all sex (which of course is a bad word itself) is actually anal sex (or bottom love) as vaginas are entirely erased by the Clean Reader app. I am willing to be that this wasn’t intentional but it makes a very profound and dismissive statement about female sexuality... 
"The app is not nuanced. It can’t distinguish between chicken breasts or women’s breasts. It seems to works simply with a find and replace which make the word redactions and replacements inappropriate at times."
The Society of Authors says: "The app contradicts two aspects of the author’s moral rights, namely the right of integrity and the right of false attribution."

UPDATE (28 March 2015): The Clean Reader app has announced that after significant feedback from authors it has “taken immediate action to remove all books from our catalogue”.