Will Scunthorpe be safe this time?
March 30, 2015 4:04 AM   Subscribe

Mangling an author's text is a clear violation of the author's Moral rights, an element of copyright which is very weak in the United States and very strong elsewhere (primarily in civil law jurisdictions). (The moral right is the right of an author to be identified as the creator of a work, and for the work represented as their creation to be unaltered by other hands, so that the relationship between creator and created work is clear.)
[...]
The doctrine of Moral Rights varies from territory to territory, but it's a heck of a stretch to extend it to this activity. It's one thing for a publisher or retailer to send out copies of your books in which words are changed around without your permission. It's another thing altogether for the reader themself to decide to read their legally acquired books in such a way as to change the text.
Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow argue about the legality if not morality/desirability of the Clean Reader app, that strips swearwords from ebooks.
posted by MartinWisse (135 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
____ that!
posted by fairmettle at 4:18 AM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Will Scunthorpe be safe this time?

SCUNTHORPE IS NEVER SAFE.
posted by eriko at 4:26 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


The software in question is silly but shouldn't bother anyone, Stross is overreacting, and Doctorow is right except that he doesn't know what the word "censorship" means. The more exciting story to me is this excerpt Stross quoted from "The PR Contact for Clean Reader":

As for how we deal with context, the app does look for specific sequences of letters lick cock, shit, or f--k. But it also requires white space on both sides of the word. So your example of cockapoo would not be blocked by the app. But cock a poo would have cock blocked.

Is this a massive troll or did their PR person really accidentally say "sequences of letters lick cock" and then use the phrase "cock blocked" without any irony?

Paging Dr. Freud...
posted by mmoncur at 4:27 AM on March 30, 2015 [21 favorites]


Oh Doctorow, will you ever find the right side of an argument?
posted by The River Ivel at 4:28 AM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


what if you made a reading app that inserted swear words?
posted by ennui.bz at 4:31 AM on March 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


The River Ivel: "Oh Doctorow, will you ever find the right side of an argument?"

Er...so he's saying it should be legal, but people who use it are idiots. I take it you think the right side of the argument is that it should be illegal? Or is the right side of the argument that the people who use it are really bright?
posted by Bugbread at 4:35 AM on March 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


Back in the mists of time, my library had a Head Librarian who went through every single newly purchased book and black out every expletive, titillation, or blasphemy she found. Every so often we still turn up a volume that's been here for at least 40 years that looks like an Area 51 eye witness report for the amount of extra black ink on the page.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:39 AM on March 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


Can this be adapted to un-twee-ify Spider Robinson's stuff? For instance, to force every instance of "God's Blessing" back to "Irish coffee"?

It gets to be like a cheese grater to the testicles after a while.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:44 AM on March 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


If a reader is reading the Bible with Clean Reader there will be quite a lot of words blocked; hell, damn, ass, Jesus, etc.

Ah, I see they at least acknowledge the problem of too much ass in the Bible.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:56 AM on March 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


You could use this to do what Gore Vidal did in Myron, where all the rude words are consistently replaced with the surnames of the Supreme Court judges who had ruled that obscenity consisted of using certain words.

Probably the longest and funniest Reductio ad Absurdam of a legal argument ever performed.
posted by Segundus at 4:57 AM on March 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


It's another interesting case where the rules we have figured out for physical objects fall down in the face of electronic content. If I buy a physical book, of course I could use whiteout and a pen to change any words I like. But I could not print a version with my changes and sell it. I could sell (legally acquired) copies of the book along with a list of page numbers for the changes I suggest, a bottle of whiteout, and a pen. I could (maybe) even buy a bunch of copies, modify them, and resell them, at least if both sales took place in the US. I could definitely not go into a bookstore and make my modifications on the books there.

The question is, which of these cases is selling a book with an automated algorithm that modifies it on the fly? I can imagine fairly compelling arguments for both sides.

(An aside, I am sure Doctorow knows what "censorship" means, and the word is appropriate here. It is not a violation of the first amendment, of course, but it is censorship.)
posted by Nothing at 4:57 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Using an electronic method to alter the contents of a file protected by copyright?

Appears to me that there would be DMCA issues, too.
posted by mikelieman at 5:01 AM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Eh, I bet they aren't altering the contents of the file, just what get displayed on your screen. Even if they did, they aren't distributing copies of anything - I don't see what copyright would have to do with it.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:08 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'll do what I want with the books I legally own. Fudge you, Monkey-Fudging hypocritical armchair anarchists!

How is it censorship if you only change the text for yourself, and nobody else?

Super bonus link: Cory Doctorow, from the REMIX MANIFESTO
posted by mecran01 at 5:09 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Er...so he's saying it should be legal, but people who use it are idiots. I take it you think the right side of the argument is that it should be illegal? Or is the right side of the argument that the people who use it are really bright?


Well, sure, it could be legal, and I could have a filter that changed 'people who used it are idiots' to 'people who used it are blessed by God'. Semantics, y'know? The fact that Doctorow has, yet again, managed to champion technology without considering the pesky humans that use it is quite remarkable.

Or, as Cromwell put it, information technology corrupts. Absolute information technology corrupts absolutely.
posted by The River Ivel at 5:13 AM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I hate your censorship, but I'll defend to the death your right to censor

this sort of neatly encapsulates what's wrong with libertarianism. it assumes that contract law is morally or politically neutral, doesn't assume or imply any other moral or political values, isn't built on moral and political values.

much less a willingness to die for the supremacy of the rights of business over any others...
posted by ennui.bz at 5:18 AM on March 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps
posted by iotic at 5:21 AM on March 30, 2015 [28 favorites]


Nothing: "
The question is, which of these cases is selling a book with an automated algorithm that modifies it on the fly? I can imagine fairly compelling arguments for both sides.
"

I would say the closest real-world analogy you could come up with would be a service that provided you with overlays to put over book pages. Each overlay would be almost entirely transparent, but would have a little opaque white rectangle or two per overlay, with a word printed on it (or maybe fifty or sixty little white opaque rectangles if you got the overlays for a Mamet play). So you would put the overlay over its designated page, and read the book.

I have a really hard time seeing how that could be construed as violating the author's moral rights.
posted by Bugbread at 5:27 AM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


what if you made a reading app that inserted swear words?

There's got to be a web app that does this, somewhere.
"You have the fucking right, to insert serial commas in my god damn sentences. To change "Ios" to "dildo" (or vice versa). To line out the felching profanity and replace it with stupid shitty euphemisms. I might call you a fool, a knob, a turd, and a cunt for doing it, but I would never say you should be fucking prohibited from bloody doing it." - Cory Doctorow
posted by sfenders at 5:27 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cstross, you're a Mefite: what's your opinion of the CloudToButt browser extension/add-on?
posted by Bugbread at 5:30 AM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


It seems to me the question is one of process versus result. If you come at this from the process angle (which is where copyright has traditionally focused), then the modification actually happens on the user's device, and it should be fine. But if you look at it from the result, what is the difference, to the reader, between buying a book through this app or buying an unlicensed derivative work? Perhaps more deeply, who is the actor when you have programmed an action and provided an input with the intent to create a specific output, but allow someone else to execute that code?
posted by Nothing at 5:35 AM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't disagree that this will mostly be used by idiots ("Yay, now I can read Trainspotting without all the profanity!" "Hooray, now my kids can read Huckleberry Finn without any awkward conversations about historical context!"), but man- Doctorow sure did find himself in the Alps with that argument.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:42 AM on March 30, 2015


I'll sheepishly admit I haven't yet FTFA (because, ugh, Doctorow). But I need to ask, do either of them mention companies like VidAngel? It seems related to the this round-about editing of text.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:43 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


If a reader is reading the Bible with Clean Reader there will be quite a lot of words blocked; hell, damn, ass, Jesus, etc.

"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the [male genitalia] crows, you will disown me three times."
posted by dephlogisticated at 5:46 AM on March 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


Ursula Vernon also wrote about it, coming on the side of "read however you want, but here are a lot of awkward effects you are going to find."

I also think this is a lot of agony over a small app that is not likely to reach many people.
posted by jeather at 5:47 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


The reader has the moral right to engage with the work in their own manner of choosing. They can slice it up into strips and paste it into a notebook out of order if they want... Bill Burroughs certainly did. Swapping out all the swear words is a valid way of engaging with the work, and a vastly less transformative one that folks generally have no problem with... Parody or reinterpretation or annotation.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:47 AM on March 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm pretty much on Doctorow's side on this one, inasmuch as it boils down to, "This is an incredibly stupid thing to do but it is (or should be) legal." I mean, I'm a big fan of musical mashups and remix culture in general (not to mention Paul's Boutique) and while Clean Reader may not have as much of a transformative effect on a given text as, say, "Shadrach" does on "Loose Booty," there are certainly some people who find that transformation valuable and I'm not sure where a court is expected to draw the line.
posted by Mothlight at 5:52 AM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Important point of note before y'all get into a "let's you and him fight" mind-set: Cory and I are in complete agreement that robo-bowdlerizing texts is stupid and that the people who would use this ebook reader are stupid poopy-heads.

Where we disagree with each other is over two rather different issues: (1) is it legal, and (2) is it ethical?

These are orthogonal issues. (An action may be unethical but legal; or it may be ethically sound but illegal. (Or it can be ethical and legal, or unethical and illegal, but let's ignore the clear-cut cases for now.))

In law, in the USA and elsewhere, if you buy a physical book, you have bought a product and it is yours to do with as you wish. (Copyright protection is something that happens between the author and the printshop, or at worst, the author and the first seller. It's not anything that impinges on the reader's rights, unless they're feeding the book to a photocopier, and until about 1970 that was basically a non-issue.)

The situation with ebooks is legally much fuzzier. Trade publishers do not in general "sell you an ebook". Instead, they sell you a limited license to access a piece of data via the user interface of a piece of software which they supply. This may (or may not) be enforced by DRM. But the point is, they aren't selling you the subsidiary rights you would need to legally manufacture copies of the work. (For this piece of bizarro-universe legalese you need to thank the software biz, both for inventing the idea of software piracy and for panicking the hell out of the music, film, TV, and book publishing business-heads who don't necessarily[*] understand any technology that's less than 50 years old.)

The situation is also much weirder when we look beyond a strictly US-centric legal regime and consider the question of Moral Rights. This is an alternate formulation of author's rights to the US/UK tradition of copyright, prevalent in civil law jurisdictions, and generalized to the rest of the world—along with the copyright you're all familiar with—via an international treaty called the Berne Convention.

In general, I have the moral right as an author to be identified as the author of stuff I created; and the mirror-image of that right is the right for stuff I did not create or approve of not to be identified as my work. In other words, if you take a book of mine and present it as your own work, you're violating my moral right to be identified as the author: and if you take the book and censor the hell out of it, I have the moral right to refuse to have my name associated with the derivative work.

(contd. below)

[*] There are honourable exceptions to this rule of thumb: * tries not to over-generalize too wildly *.
posted by cstross at 5:56 AM on March 30, 2015 [27 favorites]


... the Clean Reader app, that strips swearwords from ebooks.

Up next ... The "Mad Libs" app, which lets you put in your own words before you read it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:00 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


(continues)

The creators of Clean Reader thought they could make an end-run around the DMCA's ability to provide for DRM to protect the moral rights of a copyrighted work by (a) buying a DRM-locked copy, and (b) modifying the way the work was displayed to the reader, not the work itself as stored on the device for which it was licensed.

They asked a lawyer who said it was okay. An American lawyer. (Ahem: American lawyers tend to underestimate moral rights because the USA only signed onto the Berne Convention about a century late ...) What they're doing might be legal in the USA—albeit unethical—but it is not legal in other jurisdictions, and may actually be criminal (not civil) copyright violation in some places (such as France) where it would be viewed in much the same light as any other automated platform for copyright violation, such as the Pirate Bay.

But the question is moot. As of a couple of days ago, the wholesale ebook distributor they back-ended onto stopped selling ebooks via Clean Reader. So the project is dead in the water for now.

And now for a personal opinion:

I have no trouble with fanfic based on my work. I have no trouble with blue-nosed bookstores slapping an "18" certificate or "contains mature themes" label on my work, to warn off the sort of people who would presumably like to use Clean Reader.

But I have two very big problems with Clean Reader.

1. If all Clean Reader did was black out objectionable words, I could just about hold my nose and nod along with it. But it doesn't; it substitutes words for my own. That's creating a derivative work and mangling the meaning of what I wrote, without permission. Not only is it a violation of my moral rights as a creator; it's giving the reader a very warped idea of what I write. (And no good can come of this.)

2. Word substitution for scatology opens the door to word substitutions of other kinds—such as advertising inserts. (Long and bitter wars were fought to keep adverts and product placements out of fiction, from the 1920s through the 1960s.) Imagine that every occurrence of the word "soup" in a novel is automatically rewritten to be "Heinz Vegetable Soup: Delicious and Warming!" ... Or that every occurrence of the word "Democrat" is replaced by "bribe-taking corrupt Democrat". (You get the idea.) This wrecks the reading experience, gives readers a very warped idea of the author's outlook, and worse of all, someone is profiting from my work by selling ads on its back, and I bet you that none of those profits are coming my way.

Oh, and one final thing: I've tried to keep this out of my take-down so far, but the blue-nosed fundamentalists who want to mess with my prose can fuck right off. No, seriously: I refuse to be a bullet in your culture war.

Thank you for reading.
posted by cstross at 6:09 AM on March 30, 2015 [95 favorites]


Well, sure, it could be legal, and I could have a filter that changed 'people who used it are idiots' to 'people who used it are blessed by God'. Semantics, y'know? The fact that Doctorow has, yet again, managed to champion technology without considering the pesky humans that use it is quite remarkable.

I don't understand what this means; it reads like a subtle but convoluted dig. Could you please clarify?
posted by Going To Maine at 6:11 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Subtle?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:27 AM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


My 7yo son recently watched a Smosh video that suggests saying 'fire truck' instead of 'fuck'.
So now he ways 'fire truck' (or 'fire trucking') approximately every 30 seconds.
Not sure if it's an improvement.
posted by signal at 6:28 AM on March 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Not (fully) on topic:
Name three football teams with swear words in their names.
  1. Arsenal
  2. Suncthorpe
  3. Manchester Fucking United
posted by plinth at 6:35 AM on March 30, 2015 [20 favorites]


"Firetruck" reminds me of my college DJ days. Our station's policy was that songs with cuss words were OK after a certain hour, but under no account could we ever cuss on-air. So I would back-announce songs like "Nazi Punks Firetruck Off," "Pay To Comeuppance," and "Shipwreck For Brains" without further comment.

Sorry for the derail. Charlie, you da man!
posted by whuppy at 6:36 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


In other words, if you take a book of mine and present it as your own work, you're violating my moral right to be identified as the author: and if you take the book and censor the hell out of it, I have the moral right to refuse to have my name associated with the derivative work.

There is a case in the US where if a work is changed too much, a name can be removed. If, after filming is complete, a director feels that in the course editing and post production the final print released has become something that they didn't create, they can appeal to the Directors Guild of America. If they agree that this has happened, the director then pulls their name for the work. Historically, the name Alan Smithee was then applied to the film, but after the train wreck film An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn the name Alan Smithee was retired.*

But, in this one case, the Moral Right that a film director had the right to assert that the film presented was the film they directed was at least somewhat protected. At times, certain directors could get final cut approval, which made them de facto editor of the film as well. Often, this went poorly, there's a reason that directors, cinematographers, and editors are usually different people. Sometimes that worked -- Stanley Kubrick, for example, was notable for being extremely good at all three roles and truly exceptional as a cinematographer.



* The "plot" of the film is that the film -- "Burn Hollywood Burn" -- is badly mauled by the editor, and the director appeals to the DGA to get his named removed. They agree, and he's allowed to substitute his name with the name. The problem is the director's name is Alan Smithee, and he can only substituted it with Alan Smithee, and this joke worked for exactly 15 seconds. Unfortunately, this movie is much longer than 15 seconds, and it racks up a mighty 8% at Rotten Tomatoes. Naturally, the actual director of the film, Arthur Hiller, declared to the DGA that the producer, Joe Eszterhas, had completely wrecked the film after shooting, and the DGA agreed, so yes, this train wreck was directed by Alan Smithee. Oh, its theatrical gross? $52,850. No, I did not lose a digit there. Budget? $10,000,000. No, I did not add a digit there.

The ability to remove your name still applies, they just come up with new names every time.
posted by eriko at 6:38 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


cstross: "the mirror-image of that right is the right for stuff I did not create or approve of not to be identified as my work."

Since the reader explicitly knows and chooses to use the app, doesn't that make it patently clear that they're choosing to read something that's not your work? Like, if I bought one of your books, ripped every other page out, and read it, then even though the cover still said "by Charlie Stross", I would not be under the impression that the story I read was entirely your own.

Also, would it be acceptable (I don't mean would you like it, but would you accept it as not violating the "right for stuff I did not create or approve of not to be identified as my work") if the app changed the cover, title page, etc. to say "by Charlie Stross, edited by CleanReader", or even "by Charlie Stross, edited without permission by CleanReader?"
posted by Bugbread at 6:39 AM on March 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


To build some straw, it sounds crediting the work as "X (substituted version)" by Oscar Les Scunthorpe Regex, based on "Y" by Author would be better?
posted by gregglind at 6:39 AM on March 30, 2015


Big Black: Songs About Trucking
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:40 AM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I called that one "Songs About Love and Intimacy"
posted by whuppy at 6:43 AM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I used to swap genders in old children's books sometimes, when my child was younger. In Jip and Janneke I would say "Janneke" when the book said "Jip" and vice versa. Was I violating the Moral Rights of Annie MG Schmidt when I did that?
posted by blub at 6:49 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


So let's say that instead of using this store-based app, I wrote my very own ereader software, and bought only no-DRM work, and did the exact same substitutions of words on these ebooks. Is that ethically better than buying from a store that offers to do the software for you? What if I sold my ereader software (or gave it away), so anyone could mangle books in their own favourite ways? Maybe the lists of words can be edited.

Now I am a (very odd) bookstore owner, and I make a robot to automatically cover bad words with little stickers of good words and sell my sticker-covered books to people. (The stickers can be removable or not, as needed; we can assume I put a sticker on the cover saying I've done this and my bookstore is well known for its sticker habits.)

All of this seems deeply weird to me, but not unethical. (I am not a lawyer and don't want to wade into questions of law.)
posted by jeather at 6:53 AM on March 30, 2015


Didn't Howard Roark blow up a building because his original design was altered? So who are the Randroids in this argument?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:57 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


If I go to an art museum or movie theater wearing tinted glasses, have I violated the moral rights of the artists in question?
posted by bardophile at 7:01 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm a bit curious about what words the app was replacing swears with, as creative bowdlerization can really add to the reading/viewing experience. I still fondly remember the time I caught an edited-for-TV version of one of the Die Hards, in which Samuel L. Jackson calls someone a "racist melon farmer."
posted by nonasuch at 7:08 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can't find the information on what words they clean up. Some examples seem to be: penis -> groin, fuck -> freak, sex -> love, shitty -> crappy, breast -> chest, badass -> tough, pussy -> bottom.

Here's a list of info from romance novels too. (I don't agree that this is censorship -- or at most it's SELF-censorship -- but the word choices are interesting.)
posted by jeather at 7:22 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


pussy -> bottom


"Come on man, you're being a real bottom about this."

Is that an improvement?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:26 AM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


sex -> love

*deep sigh*
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:27 AM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Come on, baby, let's have some love. Let me put my groin in your bottom.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:28 AM on March 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


Since the reader explicitly knows and chooses to use the app, doesn't that make it patently clear that they're choosing to read something that's not your work?

I think you overestimate the mental capacity of people who might be interested in this for themselves.

And of course any number of people who basically don't read themselves might (try to) enforce this on their kids if they seem to read too much and not wholesomely enough.

I like Charlie's suggestion to just make up swears that it won't pick up (right away). Take that, you unbefuckinglievable cuntsplices! Yes, I know cuntsplice is not actually a swear.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:36 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


This looks like identity politics to me. If the self-editing app was taking out hurtful, triggering words that we don't like here on the Left, I suspect people wouldn't be as cross.

Oooh, you could have an app that analyses text well enough to replace references to "Bradley Manning" with "Chelsea Manning" and he to she, respecting her identity as a woman. Then, when she browses the web, she can see herself correctly identified as a woman! This could be really cool for trans people (they could put the * or space in the right place, too.) Tramples on the "moral rights" of the journalists. Fine with me.
posted by alasdair at 7:38 AM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hmm, I am left wondering if I could make a Jimmy Kimmel style unnecessary censorship app.

"To XXXXX or not to XXXXX, that is the question..."
posted by smcameron at 8:01 AM on March 30, 2015


Maybe we should define the letters "Cory Doctorow" as obscene, and his name would be removed from the work (and replaced by "Thomas Bowdler").
posted by librosegretti at 8:04 AM on March 30, 2015


Ah, I see they at least acknowledge the problem of too much ass in the Bible.
If they do that none of the jokes will work;
Ex; "What stretches further skin or rubber? Skin! Remember when Moses tied his Ass (changed to donkey) and walked five miles to the red sea?
Yes I know that's not really in the bible.
posted by boilermonster at 8:11 AM on March 30, 2015


I think that if what Clean Reader does isn't okay, than it's not a far stretch at all to say that a lot of what people do with (MeFi's favorite) Greasemonkey scripts are not okay. And little scriptlet tweaks like "Re-enable Right Click" or "Enable Text Selection" are definitely not okay.

I mean, it's basically the same thing: somebody designed a website to work in a particular way, and then you—who are supposed to be a mere passive consumer of their inspired, artistic muse, as embodied in their holy HTML—are fudging with it on the receiving end, algorithmically, in a way that might be contrary to their wishes. In the case of re-enabling right click, it's definitely contrary to their wishes, since they very clearly disabled that and you're explicitly re-enabling it.

So, I am not very receptive to the argument, as my failure to even make it with anything approaching a straight face might suggest. I don't think that there's any way that you can grant authors a right to prohibit (morally, legally, or otherwise) user-side modification of their text, without also extending that same right to people who write in HTML; it's just in the latter case that the annoying things that authors do is more obvious. But it's a difference only in degree, and a small one at that, not a difference in kind.

If you write something and publish it, you are putting it out into the world, and with the exception of those rights which are granted to you — for better or for ill — by copyright, you are relinquishing a lot of other ones which you would have if you kept it in your file box. And that includes stuff like not having people buy a copy and cut it up into little pieces and make shitty collages out of it, or tear it up and paper their cat box with it, or obliterate all the swear words in the service of their shitty morality. Part of publishing something is the necessity of seeing people take your intellectual baby and do horrifying things with it, and if you can't stomach that, you are probably in the wrong line of work.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:11 AM on March 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


Can I take someone's comment, rearrange the words, and post it as being by that person?
As in, "If you write something and publish it, you have kept those rights, and stuff like people cutting it up and making collages out of it is horrifying."
posted by Kadin2048
posted by librosegretti at 8:16 AM on March 30, 2015


Can I take someone's comment, rearrange the words, and post it as being by that person?

Clean Reader is (was) a strictly client side app, so your step three never happens.

"Can I take someone's comment, rearrange the words, and privately pretend that it was written by that person?" is the appropriate analogy. And yes.
posted by xigxag at 8:20 AM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


librosegretti: "Can I take someone's comment, rearrange the words, and post it as being by that person?"

Kadin2048 never talked about "and post it as being by that person".
posted by Bugbread at 8:21 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I thought the root of Cstross's objection was that his name would be attached to works he did not in fact write. That is what I was getting at--people will read a work supposedly written by the name associated with it, containing words he/she did not write.
posted by librosegretti at 8:25 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whoops, beaten to it by xigxag.

jeather: "Some examples seem to be: penis -> groin, fuck -> freak, sex -> love, shitty -> crappy, breast -> chest, badass -> tough, pussy -> bottom."

I would very much enjoy a DirtyReader app that used the CleanReader app to do these word substitutions in reverse.

"John raised his glass to make a toast. 'To my dearest friends, Alice and Bob. May your marriage be long and happy. Pussies up!"
"He took a bite out of the steak. It was unpalatable, dry and badass."
"Fred deeply sexed every member of his family."
"Fuckonomics"
posted by Bugbread at 8:26 AM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


alasdair: I would be exactly as cross if this app was obfuscating trigger-words in my prose. (And yes, some of the stuff I write is triggery—deliberately so.)

I don't mind trigger warnings, mind you. (Or swear word or blasphemy warnings, for that matter.) But if you want your delicate sensibilities to be spared, you should find a well-curated source of literature that won't cause you to reach for the smelling salts; you shouldn't try to force other stuff into an ill-fitting mold.
posted by cstross at 8:29 AM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


librosegretti: "people will read a work supposedly written by the name associated with it, containing words he/she did not write."

I think the key word there is "supposedly". Anyone using this application would be doing so volitionally, so they would know that while it may say "by Charlie Stross", the reader would know that it wasn't quite, in the same way that anyone who installs the CloudToButt extension will know that even though they go to IBM.com, and the bottom of the screen may indicate the page was created by IBM, the references to "Butt Computing" were not actually by IBM.
posted by Bugbread at 8:30 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Based on the screenshots I've seen, the edits are pretty obvious. They're represented by little bubbles with the alternate text in word balloons, so it's not incorrectly attributing the edits to the author. That would be the line I'd draw--if they were actually making the author look ridiculous.

Since analogies are mandatory, it's the difference between bleeping out a word in a movie on TV and dubbing over it with something silly. The former clearly attributes the elision to the censor, where the latter, if done competently, makes the creator look bad.

Sure, it's stupid, but there are lots of stupid things.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:31 AM on March 30, 2015


And yes, I realize I'm preaching a bit too loudly here; this thing strikes a bit too close to home for comfort.

So I'm going to duck out for a little while. (If you really want me to respond to a question, message me.)
posted by cstross at 8:31 AM on March 30, 2015


"with the exception of those rights which are granted to you — for better or for ill — by copyright"

One of the points in the original link is that internationally, an author does have legal rights against their work being modified that extend beyond US copyright.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:37 AM on March 30, 2015


I can't see any argument against this that doesn't apply to the Cloud to Butt extension, and you can take my Cloud to Butt extension when you pry it out of the cloud.
posted by straight at 8:46 AM on March 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


it's giving the reader a very warped idea of what I write. (And no good can come of this.)

Aside from gaining a reader who wouldn't otherwise read your stuff? It's not like people who purchased this app don't know they're getting the expurgated version, so I'm sure they'll allow for some awkward passages. Or are naughty words the point of your work? (If so, you need to step up your game.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:46 AM on March 30, 2015


(btw, I've yet to see a British writer assure me that, "No, really, c*nt isn't at all gendered over here," who wasn't a dude.)
posted by straight at 8:51 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


pussy -> bottom

As ever, all roads to Mrs Slocombe, here is a full list of her pussy based quotes, you decide whether this is an improvement.
posted by biffa at 8:55 AM on March 30, 2015


Let me just add: Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cock-sucker, Mother-fucker, and Tits.
posted by mikelieman at 8:57 AM on March 30, 2015


I can't see any argument against this that doesn't apply to the Cloud to Butt extension

More generally, I don't see any argument here that isn't an argument against the very core principles of HTML. You tell my browser about your content, but I determine how that content is delivered.
posted by straight at 8:58 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


So I'm going to duck out for a little while.

No need to get all vulgar about it.
posted by stevis23 at 8:59 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Ahead of the curve, as always. (Well ahead, in this case. Posted to rec.music.makers.guitar circa 1995.) (On preview, just for you, mike :-)
     THE REC.MUSIC.MAKERS.GUITAR NEWSREADER 

This is the formal announcement of the RMMG NEWSREADER, a development long needed.
Produced in close consultation with dear Judith Martin and a committee of Canadians, its 
powerful within-text search-and-destroy capabilities can render the vilest, most 
psychopathic Usenet flamefest as genteel as a vanilla ice cream suit and a glass of pink 
lemonade.

Here's a very small sample of the RMMG NEWSREADER's remarkable abilities: 

Original:                               What you see: 
---------------                         -------------------------------------- 
low grade idiot                         Thanks for your views! 
imbecile                                My opinion differs, but I might well be mistaken. 
freaking moron                          Let's agree to disagree, shall we? 
utter fool                              Perhaps we should both check our facts and
                                        continue our discussion later. 
shove a rabid mongoose up your *ss      I do apologize if I inadvertantly gave any offense. 
*ssh*le, sh*th*ed, c*cks*cker,          :-) 
f*ck you, etc. etc. 

Pretty amazing, isn't it? And long overdue! The RMMG NEWSREADER, presently in beta, is 
fully capable of doing for the most abominable hellhole of a newsgroup almost precisely 
what Wyatt Earp did for Dodge City. (Marshall Earp, one recalls, participated in nearly two 
hundred firefights in his career, and died in his bed of old age.) 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
Now, the acid test: real posts from real users whose reputations as RMMG flamers are lofty 
and secure. Marvel at the power of this  revolutionary software! 

EXAMPLE ONE: 
   Subject:      Re: Carl 
   From:         **...@primary.net (e*** t***®) 
   Newsgroups:   rec.music.makers.guitar 
   Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit 
   Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii 
   MIME-Version: 1.0 
   Organization: MOFO Inc. 
   Thanks for your views, C***g****r. My opinion differs, but I 
   might well be mistaken. Perhaps we should both check our facts 
   and continue our discussion later. I do apologize if I inadvert- 
   antly gave any offense. Let's agree to disagree, shall we? 

EXAMPLE TWO: 
   Subject:      CrackQueen 
   From:         c***g****r...@aol.com (C***g****r) 
   Message-ID:   1998071301001700.VAA18...@ladder03.news.aol.com 
   Newsgroups:   rec.music.makers.guitar 
   Organization: AOL http://www.aol.com 
   X-Admin:      n...@aol.com 
   :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-) 
   :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-) :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)   
   :-) :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-) :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-)  :-) 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
 That's it, folks. The programmer rises to accept the applause of the crowd. (So *that's*
 the sound of one hand clapping....) 
posted by jfuller at 9:01 AM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


More generally, I don't see any argument here that isn't an argument against the very core principles of HTML.

CSS violates my moral rights!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:01 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


1. Is it really ethical to sell someone a complex limited license that takes legal counsel to interpret instead of a book?

2. If digitally bowdlerizing a book is unethical, what about simply paying someone to whiteout the profanity in a hard-copy book? How is that different?

I sell a tiny amount of music, and I make most of my living from software. If someone is nice enough to give me money for either of these, my general attitude is that as long as they aren't re-selling my work or expecting me to take responsibility for altered versions of my work, they can do as they please. Life is short, fun is important, and if someone can get more enjoyment by folding, spindling or mutilating my work, and I'm properly compensated and not misrepresented, then I have no issues. I wouldn't consider reading books through this app to be misrepresenting them - it's clear what you're getting into before you open the tin.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:02 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, it looks like the clean reader store is seriously curated to eliminate erotica and other potentially "shocking" literature, which shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose.

Since my work won't show up there, my objections are academic, but here's the thing, as a writer, I choose words carefully. I weigh them, I think about them, I use the ones I think are most appropriate for what I want to convey. Changing my text changes the story I'm telling.
posted by dejah420 at 9:04 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


You take some freak then some stuff
Then some freak then some stuff
You got a freak-stuff stack
A freak-stuff stack
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:07 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Mangling an author's text is a clear violation of the author's Moral rights"

-- said God to Thomas Jefferson.
posted by straight at 9:12 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


What the world really needs is the Taylor Swiftier, an app that changes music references in novels to Taylor Swift songs. This would be great for both Ian Rankin and Haruki Murakami.
posted by betweenthebars at 9:13 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


straight, cstross is not british but scottish.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:21 AM on March 30, 2015


I used this to read Irvine Welsh's short story Trainspotting, and the video equivalent to watch a couple of three minute long Mamet films.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:25 AM on March 30, 2015


I have an app that capitalizes poetry which I love for reading the collected works of E. E. Cummings.
posted by GuyZero at 9:27 AM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


And little scriptlet tweaks like "Re-enable Right Click" or "Enable Text Selection" are definitely not okay.

Really? I copy text from web sites to detect plagiarism. I also use it to check definitions of words (instead of typing out words with an inevitable typo).
posted by el io at 9:29 AM on March 30, 2015


straight, cstross is not british but scottish.

I'm sorry, I meant UK, not British. Doh. My deepest apologies to all the Scots.
posted by straight at 9:33 AM on March 30, 2015


> straight, cstross is not british but scottish.

He is both "British" and "Scottish". What he is not is "English".
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:36 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I still fondly remember the time I caught an edited-for-TV version of one of the Die Hards, in which Samuel L. Jackson calls someone a "racist melon farmer."

Somehow tangentially related, if you need motherfucking placeholder text, there's Samuel L. Ipsum (nsfw)
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:37 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


He is both "British" and "Scottish". What he is not is "English".

Nope, he's English too. From Leeds.

You can of course be English and Scottish the same way you can be anything else and Scottish.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:41 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


He is both "British" and "Scottish". What he is not is "English".

What he is is another dude assuring me 'c*nt' magically becomes a non-gendered insult if you say it with the right accent.
posted by straight at 9:46 AM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hmm, surprised to see Mefites so into defending Clean Reader... I think, even if the mechanics are similar, there's a pretty clear social and ethical difference between filtering comments on a website and filtering a novel. Writers take a lot of time and care (usually) in selecting exactly which words to use and which order to put them in--it's what our art is made of!

Also, sure, identity politics are part of this. I mean, a large piece of what some writers dislike (see Lilith Saintcrow's complaint) is the framing of certain words as unclean. There's something very different in intent with "cleaning up" a novelist's dirty words versus blocking commenters you have a history of getting into scrapes with.
posted by overglow at 9:47 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


And I'm realizing that--at least here on Metafilter--lots of people put a lot of time and care into their words and write beautifully and thoughtfully in Internet comments. To me, though, it still seems different. When I read a novel, I'm willingly entering into the writer's crafted world. When I'm on a website, it's more like a conversation or people watching. The expectations and norms are just not the same.
posted by overglow at 9:52 AM on March 30, 2015


I just don't think it's unethical to choose to filter out words you don't want to read in a book even if it is something I wouldn't do. I guess it's defending the app, which I think is at best a blunt tool. I guess I just find the hugely furious response to this baffling -- it doesn't feel like a slippery slope to adding advertising into books, it feels like a way a person can interact with a book that makes them happier.
posted by jeather at 9:54 AM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have an app that capitalizes poetry which I love for reading the collected works of E. E. Cummings.
posted by GuyZero at 9:27 AM on March 30 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


Shurely you mean E.E. Ejaculations
posted by chavenet at 9:55 AM on March 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


ernielundquist: "Based on the screenshots I've seen, the edits are pretty obvious."

To me I think this is an important part. Every time it changes something, it makes it clear that a change has been made.

So in terms of moral rights to not have an derivative work attributed to you, the program is always acknowledging when you didn't really write, "oh, fudge."
posted by RobotHero at 9:56 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every time it changes something, it makes it clear that a change has been made.

It also makes it really hard to read. What a terrible design!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:58 AM on March 30, 2015


"Some examples seem to be: penis -> groin, fuck -> freak, sex -> love, shitty -> crappy, breast -> chest, badass -> tough, pussy -> bottom."

I like that it could actually simultaneously give the reader palpably false information about other languages and descriptions of surrealistic medical procedures when reading a source a controversial as Wikipedia.
Mastectomy (from Greek μαστός "chest" and ἐκτομή ektomia "cutting out") is the medical term for the surgical removal of one or both chests, partially or completely.
Also I would enjoy reading commentary/reviews of The Sopranos talking about Tony's kindhearted but conflicted friend and associate, Big Bottom.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:01 AM on March 30, 2015




I think you mean "males or groins".
posted by jeather at 10:39 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I read the Doctorow article but I replaced all instances of "Clean Reader", "annotate", and "rearrange" with "disemvowel".

It was glorious.
posted by Ratio at 11:22 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Been there, done that.

I've told the story before about a million years ago when I was in college radio and another radio station got a heavy FCC fine for playing George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television" at 1AM. I had a then-limited-edition record of Hanna Barbera cartoon sound effects and I (in a non-digital studio, using tape and a razor blade) replaced all the Seven Words with what I considered matching sounds (BOINK for fuck, SPLAT for shit, etc.). It was a big hit and one other guy did the same thing (with inferior funny sound effects, IMO) and gave it to Dr. Demento to play, where IT was a big hit. (I don't know if he was copying me or if 'great minds think alike'). All kinds of issues come to play here. Could George Carlin have gone after me to destroy the re-edited tape? Could I have gone after the other guy? I never SAID it was authorized by ol' George, but I never actually said it wasn't. And the effect of listening to it, where you could easily discern which sound represented which word, I would've considered "ironic bowdlerization". So BOINK you if you can't take a joke.

Also, how does this apply to the previously MeFi'd Sans Bullshit Sans font, which substitutes "profanity" for business buzzwords?
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:27 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Given that that screen shot of the program I saw has an option NOT to filter, this seems like a tempest in a teapot. It's no different that copying the text into an editor and doing a search and replace. If the app forced to you read books a certain way, then I'd be more concerned.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:02 PM on March 30, 2015


I still fondly remember the time I caught an edited-for-TV version of one of the Die Hards, in which Samuel L. Jackson calls someone a "racist melon farmer."

Yippie-ki-yay, MetaFilter.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:07 PM on March 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


I had to really wonder, when I first heard of Matt's MetaFilter, whether he consciously or unconsciously picked the name because it was "four syllables, split in two starting with M and F".
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:16 PM on March 30, 2015


(btw, I've yet to see a British writer assure me that, "No, really, c*nt isn't at all gendered over here," who wasn't a dude.)

Here's some research on British attitudes towards swearing (particularly swearing on TV): Delete Expletives? The research shows that participants regarded the word 'cunt' as very slightly worse than the word 'motherfucker' (table 1). Compare the relatively small difference between male vs female respondents' perception of the word 'cunt' to the differences in gendered perceptions of serverity for words referring specifically to women (table 11), particularly 'whore' and 'slag'. The third of these, 'twat' - which is almost synonymous with 'cunt', though much less offensive - is less divisive than the first two.

This is just one piece of research, but it appears to support the idea that the word 'cunt' is comparatively less gendered in terms of perceived offensiveness than many other swear words.

What he is is another dude assuring me 'c*nt' magically becomes a non-gendered insult if you say it with the right accent.

It may be surprising, but the use of language varies wildly between language communities, even when the same language is being spoken. This isn't particularly magical and if I had the time I'd look up some better references. People study this stuff, both academically and in order to inform public policy.
posted by xchmp at 1:33 PM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think it's a bit too abstract to frame this as an argument about changing content. It's specifically an argument about censorship.

Censorship is evil 99.9% of the time but I guess if you feel you have to do it then be super open and direct about it. Oh, also don't do it.
posted by Mooseli at 1:58 PM on March 30, 2015


This is just one piece of research, but it appears to support the idea that the word 'cunt' is comparatively less gendered in terms of perceived offensiveness than many other swear words.

For hundreds of years, a majority of English speakers considered use of 'he' as a "generic" singular pronoun and words like 'mankind' and 'chairman' to be non-gendered. That doesn't mean they weren't gendered.
posted by straight at 2:27 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing Charles Stross would also have problems with me reading stories aloud to my daughters and switching the gender of the protagonist (or making any other edits I feel like making), or with the guy who re-programed The Ocarina of Time so the text refers to Link as a "she."

To which I say, "%&$# @%%! I'll read stories to my kids however I please." You can control what you write, but you can't control how I read it.
posted by straight at 2:31 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mooseli: "It's specifically an argument about censorship."

Except the original version of the book is still easily available to anyone who wants it, so in a very important way, it is not.

Has the existence of the Phantom Edit stopped people who would rather watch the official version from doing so?
posted by RobotHero at 2:43 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


For hundreds of years, a majority of English speakers considered use of 'he' as a "generic" singular pronoun and words like 'mankind' and 'chairman' to be non-gendered. That doesn't mean they weren't gendered.

Ah, my mistake. Clearly it's neither interesting nor relevant that the word has become less gendered than other swear words for increasing numbers of British English speakers; the meaning and connotations of words is fixed and doesn't change over time: We're wrong on a philosophical level.
posted by xchmp at 3:37 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm guessing Charles Stross would also have problems with me reading stories aloud to my daughters and switching the gender of the protagonist (or making any other edits I feel like making), or with the guy who re-programed The Ocarina of Time so the text refers to Link as a "she."
posted by straight at 10:31 PM on March 30 [+] [!]


I'm guessing he wouldn't, at all.
posted by dng at 3:43 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


British woman backing up the assertion that cunt and twat aren't particularly gendered. They're closer to calling somebody a fucker or an arse.

Bitch, slut, cow, bint - these are very gendered, and I would be equally if not more offended by being called a stupid bint than a stupid cunt. There's an extra layer of misogyny on top of the insult with bint that just isn't there with cunt. Cock, dick, tosser, wanker and prick are also gendered - it just sounds ridiculous to accuse a woman of being a complete tosser.

I know it's hard to imagine, but other nationalities do know what insults mean when they are speaking their own language. Even the men.
posted by tinkletown at 3:54 PM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


straight: "(btw, I've yet to see a British writer assure me that, "No, really, c*nt isn't at all gendered over here," who wasn't a dude."

tinkletown: "British woman backing up the assertion that cunt and twat aren't particularly gendered."

Straight is one of today's lucky 10,000!
posted by Bugbread at 5:31 PM on March 30, 2015


I think it's a bit too abstract to frame this as an argument about changing content. It's specifically an argument about censorship.

Nope. Censorship is when content is changed by an authority (such as a government) without asking you first.

This is changing something you chose, as the reader, to be changed. This is not censorship, it is literally "changing content."

As much as I hate the idea of this and don't want to use it at all, it's a choice.

If this was a government's idea, it would be horrible. If it was a book publisher's idea or Amazon's or Google's it would be pretty bad. But it's just a tiny little app that you don't even have to use.
posted by mmoncur at 5:57 PM on March 30, 2015


Such an app would have very little effect on Fanny Hill and probably little on Joyce's "Ulysses" which says something about its general utility.
posted by Death and Gravity at 6:16 PM on March 30, 2015


mmoncur: "Censorship is when content is changed by an authority (such as a government) without asking you first."

There are a few different definitions for censorship, and not all of them require an authority. However, one aspect common to all the definitions is "suppression". The app doesn't meet the requirements for "suppression", as you can choose whether or not to use the app, plus even if you choose to install and use the app, you can also choose to disengage it for any particular book. In fact, despite the fact that the idea came from wanting to clean books for children, it doesn't even have any form of parental lock, from what I can tell. So not only is it not capital-C "Censorship" it's not even lower-case-C "No, Timmy, you're only six years old, I won't let you watch Human Centipede" censorship.
posted by Bugbread at 6:36 PM on March 30, 2015


I didn't realize that these guys sold the ebooks, not just the reader. If you make an ebook reader than automatically bowdlerizes books, that seems totally fine. But selling bowdlerized books under the author's name is not fine, same as selling fan fiction or anything else under their name that they don't approve of. You shouldn't be able to sell anything as "By X" if X doesn't agree (with perhaps a hazy middle ground if X actually wrote it and just wants to disavow it). A Bowdlerizer -- fine. A bowdlerized book still under copyright against the wishes of the author -- not fine. I guess their way around this is to claim to sell a reader with a ebook portal to a store run by some other guys. But if they are making profits from the sale of the ebooks to people who are paying in order to read the bowdlerized version, then they are effectively selling bowdlerized versions of the book. I don't think Stross or anyone else has the moral right to prevent people from using a bowdlerizer or from selling one, but he does have the right to prevent people from selling a bowdlerizer+ebook package that essentially is equivalent to selling bowdlerized ebooks under the author's name.

(On the other hand, since I barely believe in copyright, the "moral right to assert (or not) authorship" that UK books all declare is IMHO one of the weakest moral rights out there, and not a very huge sin to violate -- but as Stross might say on his own website, such a point may be a yellow-card-worthy derail.)
posted by chortly at 6:46 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


chortly: "But selling bowdlerized books under the author's name is not fine"

True, but that's not quite what's happening. Look at the image at the top of the article. When you buy the book, you're not buying a bowdlerized book. You're buying the book as-is, with the ability to read it exactly as-is if you want. You choose, for each book, whether or not to turn cleaning on, and how clean to make the book.
posted by Bugbread at 7:03 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


For hundreds of years, a majority of English speakers considered use of 'he' as a "generic" singular pronoun and words like 'mankind' and 'chairman' to be non-gendered. That doesn't mean they weren't gendered.

Of course it did. At least for the people who agreed on that convention. See, for example, contemporary Spanish.

Or at least High School Spanish some twenty odd years ago. The point still stands.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:56 PM on March 30, 2015


True, but that's not quite what's happening.

I think it does depend a bit on the actual intentions of the buyer and the business plan of the seller. If most buyers are buying the app and then the ebooks within the app for the express purpose of reading the bowdlerized version, that's basically morally equivalent to selling bowdlerized copies. If buyers have the option to not read them bowdlerized but everyone knows that, if the buyer wanted that, they wouldn't be buying the app and using the in-app bookstore, then the fact that the app technically isn't selling a pre- or permanently-bowdlerized copy is just a technicality. I'm definitely not the sort of person who mixes up what is legal from what is moral, but one thing our legal system does often do well is distinguish technicalities from intent: if the intent of the user is to read the bowdlerized version and the business plan of the seller is to cater to that intent by giving people a one-two combination that delivers them their bowdlerized experience, then effectively that's pretty darn similar, morally speaking, to directly selling the bowdlerized copies directly. The fact that you sell the two components of a gun in separate packages to people you know intend to put those two pieces together to make a gun doesn't change the fact that, effectively, you are selling a gun.

But again, that's far too strong a metaphor, inasmuch as I myself think this is about a 0.1 on the 1-100 scale of moral injustices. C'est la vie in the digital world.
posted by chortly at 8:31 PM on March 30, 2015


I'm a (tiny, extremely low-end) content producer myself, and I really can't bring myself to feel upset about people blocking cusses. So long as it's not claimed that the book is being presented as-is by the app and that these are the unedited words of the author (and that doesn't at all seem to be the case), it seems irrelevant to me if people want to auto-filter it. I see where it could be a very sticky LEGAL problem, but morally, whatever. (Similarly, I also wouldn't be overly upset if this was prevented by law, because it's not remotely censorship.)
posted by Scattercat at 8:37 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


chortly: " If buyers have the option to not read them bowdlerized but everyone knows that, if the buyer wanted that, they wouldn't be buying the app and using the in-app bookstore, then the fact that the app technically isn't selling a pre- or permanently-bowdlerized copy is just a technicality."

I understand what you're saying, but the problem with selling a bowdlerization of a novel under the author's name is that it's a misrepresentation of what the author wrote. If everyone knows that this app, and the purchases made under it, are specifically for the express purpose of altering the original source document, then no-one is under the misapprehension that the book you are reading is what the author wrote. So technically it's not bowdlerization (though I don't find the legal, technical part of this issue all that interesting), and practically, it's not bowdlerization "under the author's name".

I mean, it's an app for idiots, and if you buy your ebooks via the people who make the app, you're giving money to idiots. I don't mean to imply that this is some great service or anything. I just mean that it's not immoral, because you're not misrepresenting the author's text, you're making it pretty darn explicit, on multiple levels (you have to seek out and install the app. you have to purchase your books through the app. you have to set the bowdlerization level on the app. the bowdlerizations are shown in highly visible word balloons, not blended with the original text), that the book you are reading is not the way the book was written.

(er, well, change all those "is" to "was" and "do" to "did", etc., given that the product is no longer functional)
posted by Bugbread at 8:54 PM on March 30, 2015


Imagine that every occurrence of the word "soup" in a novel is automatically rewritten to be "Heinz Vegetable Soup: Delicious and Warming!" ...

■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ And while our much appreciated author is expressing the fire in his belly about this censorship, why not put something warm into your own stomach? ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ Try the new Maggi 5 Minute Instant Noodles! ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
posted by pseudocode at 2:40 AM on March 31, 2015


US Copyright on Derivative Works: http://copyright.gov/circs/circ14.pdf
posted by mikelieman at 2:51 AM on March 31, 2015


It's not at all clear than running what amounts to an automated find/change (or really, find-and-put-a-bubble-over) against a very limited set of profanities qualifies as a derivative work, but beyond that it wouldn't be legally problematic unless you redistributed it in the modified/derivative form.

As long as you distribute the novel and the redaction script separately and run it on the client side, it's the same as selling a shrinkwrapped Harry Potter DVD with a separate alternate soundtrack and letting the viewer play the latter while watching the former.

There's no way you can assert a right to stop people from eliding profanities in a single copy of a work which they are actually reading, and not also give Warner Bros. more ammunition for stopping projects like Wizard People or RiffTrax. The elephant in the room, namely the fact that we might not agree with the goals of the former, because people who get het up about profanities are likely to be socially-conservative siege-mentality douchebags, while the RiffTrax folks seem like they'd be fun to have a beer with, doesn't really count for much. Sauce goose; sauce gander.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:00 AM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thomas Bowdler smiles as he reads this thread from beyond the grave.
posted by jfuller at 8:26 AM on March 31, 2015


So does Thomas Jefferson.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:06 PM on March 31, 2015


So does Steve Jobs, but that's mainly because he's thinking, "Holy shit, I can read the Internet from the grave!!"
posted by Bugbread at 5:15 PM on March 31, 2015


Just in time for April 1st (London time): MeFi's Own cstross introduces... the Dirty Reader App.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:34 PM on March 31, 2015


Oh, shit, there's legit Laundry stuff available on zazzle. Shit.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:27 PM on March 31, 2015


What's really sad and futile to me is this desire some creative artists have to control the experiences they're trying to create for other people. Whether it's "TURN YOUR STEREO UP VERY LOUD WHEN YOU LISTEN TO MY ALBUM" or Flash-heavy photo websites that try to take over your browser so you see the photos exactly this way or "Either read my novel with all the swears or don't read it at all," or "I'm not making a PC port of this game because you should play it with a controller, not with a keyboard," or Sting, Ozzie, and Britney teaming up to lobby against legalizing song mashups, or "No, really, Greedo shot first," or even "No, you can't cut out my Calvin drawings and paste them in your rear window peeing on a Chevy logo," there's this delusion that it's possible to create something, mass produce it, but still control how people experience it and what they do with it.

It's sad because they're treating their audience like objects instead of subjects. And it's futile -- technologically and sociologically -- to try to prevent people from appropriating and remixing culture.
posted by straight at 1:56 AM on April 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


> And it's futile -- technologically and sociologically -- to try to prevent people from appropriating
> and remixing culture.

Only now there's such vastly reduced chances to avoid seeing/hearing all of everybody's mashups. Used to be you could only try the patience of your 1.7 friends in the eighth grade. Ghods, I fear smellovision more than I fear Skynet.
posted by jfuller at 6:27 AM on April 1, 2015


Yeah, but the Clean Reader ethos would allow you to set up your Smellovision 3000 to substitute a fart noise for any unpleasant smells. Charlie Stross would whine about how you're ruining his artistic integrity if he can't make you smell the rotting corpses in his latest Smellovision Laundry story.
posted by straight at 1:48 PM on April 1, 2015


"The Clean Reader App and Me," by Dianna Anderson:
So what other choice did I have but to download the app and put my own book through the ringer? So I bit the bullet, paid the $12 for my book through the app (new releases are spendy, you guys), and set it on “squeaky clean,” the strictest of the available settings.

Perhaps a non-fiction book about sexual ethics is the wrong thing to put through an app called “clean reader.” But that, precisely, is why it needed to be done. After all, the app makers main contention is that what they are doing is not a substantive change to the text – it is merely covering up those things that are considered profane and “suggesting” replacements. It is through this argument that they both skirt copyright law and find a way to defend their app ideologically. ...

What happens with the Clean Reader app is a reinforcement of an ideology that says such censorial approaches to reading are good and positive elements of an engagement with the text.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:10 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


The River Ivel: "Or, as Cromwell put it, information technology corrupts. Absolute information technology corrupts absolutely."

The line about power corrupts was Lord Acton, not Cromwell.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:28 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


So I guess what the words for which they're looking, is: "Mangling an author's text is a clear violation of the Publishing Company's Moral rights," since they have no issue with the company changing words [without permission, might I add], and the fact that most of the time, if not basically always, it's the publishing company making the copyright claim, not the author, much like the relationship between the movie and music industry versus the people they claim they represent. The authors are happy as long as they're making money, and the companies with their lawyers are happy as long as they keep getting a big cut of said profit.

Since when is copyright "very weak," in the U.S.? If anything, it's one of the strongest copyright-abiding countries in the world, especially compared to Eastern/Eurasian countries and such.
posted by Grease at 5:14 PM on April 13, 2015


Grease: "Since when is copyright "very weak," in the U.S."

Nobody has said that copyright is "very weak". The statement was that moral rights are a weak element of copyright.

Like, the Death Star is incredibly strong, but the thermal exhaust port shielding of the Death Star is weak. There's no contradiction there.
posted by Bugbread at 5:51 PM on April 13, 2015


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