Banned Books Awareness: Apple’s Moral and Corporate Hypocrisy

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The world of gadget gurus is divided into two equally-dedicated camps- the die-hard fans of Apple and its gadgets, and those who find Apple products to be overrated and their users’ tendency to be elitist and arrogant.

Love them or hate them, Apple Inc. has received some heavy criticism in recent years for some pretty controversial issues including the alleged use of sweatshop labor, environmental destruction, and unethical business practices.

It has been criticized by legal and business analysts for its hot-tempered legal policy of suing its competition before first gathering all the facts necessary to pursue a legitimate lawsuit.

From time to time the company also gets embroiled in debates that land it on the pages of Banned Books Awareness. In a column from last September this series brought forth a story of how The Conference of European Rabbis demanded that Apple remove the book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion from its iBookstore.

But that wasn’t the first time Apple has danced the line of censorship, often finding itself on both sides of the thin red line.

Way back in 1995, long before iTunes was developed, Apple distributed an educational history CD-ROM with its computers called “Who Built America?” When Apple received backlash from schools about the content of the videos (including birth control, homosexuality and abortion), they asked Voyager, the producer of the, to edit the material. When Voyager refused, Apple suspended distribution. Later, Apple revised the decision and continued distribution.

Since then, the company has gone down a dark slide of questionable censoring decisions.

The more media content Apple manages to control, the more dictatorial and overbearing they have become when it comes to censorship and the freedom of expression. Several books and apps have found themselves the victim of arbitrary rejections and editing as Apple decides which make the elite shelves of its bookselling arm and which do not.

The reasons for such censorship have varied from gay themes to objectionable language. The only thing the titles have in common is that Apple often reversed the censorship, but only after being publicly chastised for doing so.

In 2005, Steve Jobs banned all books published by John Wiley & Sons from Apple stores, regardless of subject or content, in response to their publishing of an unauthorized biography, iCon: Steve Jobs.

In 2009, a digital edition of Hitler’s “Mein Kamph” made a brief appearance as an iTunes app before Apple quickly took it down without explanation.

In Tom Bouden’s comic book adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play “The Importance of Being Earnest,” he replaced Wilde’s original band of characters with an all-male cast. Apple placed black bars over images of men kissing in the book’s iPad app, a decision that ignited debate of Apple’s discrimination of gay-themed material. Apple reversed its decision and made the comic available uncensored, admitting that their censorship was a “mistake.”

Apple’s censors even considered Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick, inappropriate because he wrote his classic novel about a sperm whale. The word “sperm” was censored and replaced thusly in the iBookstore description of Melville’s iconic book with “s***m.” Interestingly, the title word “Dick” was deemed okay for publication.

Knife Music,” a self-published thriller by David Carnoy, was not appropriate for the iBookstore as it was written. The word “fuck” appeared several times in the novel, so Apple asked Carnoy to edit his work and remove the offending word. He complied; changing it to just “f”, but in a world where there is no such thing as bad publicity, the attention garnered from the censorship drew interest from a number of publishing companies, and Carnoy landed a major book deal as a result.

James Joyce’s “Ulysses” has been banned in the United States since the 1920s, and covered here last February; Apple continues the trend by censoring the comic book adaptation because the comic contains nudity. They demanded that the nudity and “pornographic” content be removed before it could be made available as an iBook. The authors complied with the request and edited the images; however, they did say that “it was a take it or leave it kind of thing. [They] got the sense there wasn’t a lot of room for bargaining.” Apple has issued an apology and now allows for the original comic to be distributed on Apple products, free of censorship.

Author Moriah Jovan isn’t upset that Apple chose to reject her books because of the use of the word “fuck,” but she does take issue with the double standards used by the company. Music and games sold on iTunes contain explicit material, she says, and are not banned from distribution, but books often are. Jovan feels that while “[Apple] can reject any book they want,” they are inconsistent and unfairly censor books as opposed to other forms of media.

Apple deemed the 2nd-century Hindu text, the “Kama Sutra” obscene and an app that contained the famous text was therefore branded as unacceptable. After the developer posted about the rejection on his blog and the news began to ripple through the Internet, Apple backtracked and allowed the app.

In the summer of 2009 Apple showed just how strict they can be when they blocked the Ninjawords Dictionary app for the “objectionable” words that users could look up. The app was only approved when it was completely scrubbed of all such content, but in the end it was still given an NC-17 rating.

And finally, just last week, the author of a book series pulled from Apple’s virtual bookstore is urging government officials to do more to ensure that Danish culture does not get filtered out by the corporate policies of foreign companies such as Apple.

Non-fiction author Peter Øvig Knudsen’s two books have been censored by Apple, presumably because they contained nude historical content.

After a total of eight reworked versions of the book, including one in which apples had been placed over images of women’s breasts and men’s buttocks, all of the revisions, according to Knudsen’s creative director, were rejected without any specific explanation of what the company disapproved of.

Christian Kirk Muff said that he assumed the books were banned for sale because they contained the nude photographs.

“It’s crazy,” Muff said. “The censored content is not just some provocative material we’ve thrown in for a laugh; it’s historical and cultural documentation that’s vital to this project. I don’t understand it. Censoring porn on the computer so my kids don’t see it, I get that; but historical photographs of the hippie movement? There’s no sense in it.”

The books are available in hard cover in their original, uncensored, version, but the creators are eager to get their work online because they feel that people don’t read books for information anymore, they Google it.

“We had created an app of the full product, which included music, photography, audio, text, and video. That’s been prohibited too by Apple. How else are we supposed to educate the growing digital generation?”

In 2010 Apple forced the tabloid Ekstra Bladet to remove its ‘Side 9 Pige’, a naked or scantily clad woman shown on page 9 each day, if the newspaper wanted to be carried in Apple’s App Store.

In open letter to the culture minister, Knudsen called on the government to move against the notion that digital content gatekeepers can dictate what content is acceptable.

“It’s like there’s a machine that determines what is morally publishable, and what is not. It’s Big Brother in action,” he said. “The bigger the company, the more powerful their mechanic moral denominator becomes. It’s not just our problem, it’s a global problem.”

If Apple is going to have a stake in the publishing world then they have to be willing to take the good with the bad. Art is a many-faceted kaleidoscope of colors, moods, topics, and emotions. It is not for them to decide what is and is not acceptable to consumers. They, of course, are required to conform to laws regarding unlawful material as it applies to the countries in which they wish to do business, but that does not give them authority to take it upon themselves to make moral decisions that are the exclusive right of the end user.

For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html

Sources: Wikipedia, Banned Books Awareness, Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Copenhagen Post
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

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