Private Censorship

User avatar
Thad
Posts: 5917
Joined: Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:05 am
Location: 1611 Uranus Avenue
Contact:

Private Censorship

Postby Thad » Wed Mar 25, 2015 4:27 pm

I already started a State Censorship thread, but since what I'm about to talk about is censorship by a private third party, I'm not going to use that thread.

(Any Internet argument about censorship will inevitably have people show up and claim that only governments are capable of censorship. That's dumb. Of COURSE private entities can censor things.

That said, there IS an important distinction between censorship by a government and censorship by a private actor, so it might be a good idea to have two threads anyway.)

Anyway! There's an app now called Clean Reader. Basically, it slaps a swear filter on ebooks.

Now, there's an argument here -- Cory Doctorow says that if you buy a book, you should be able to do whatever the fuck you want with it, including run a program that replaces words in it.

Charlie Stross does not agree, and neither do a lot of other authors.

I'm inclined to think that the problem is that Clean Reader isn't a standalone app, it's also a bookstore. If it was just an app that took an ebook and did a find/replace on certain words in it, I'd be inclined to agree with Doctorow -- yes, that's stupid, but yes, people should be allowed to do it.

But I think actually SELLING the books and then running them through a word filter creates a problem. While I understand that technically nothing is being altered in the ebook file itself, I also see an issue of misrepresentation in selling an author's book and then presenting it as still being that author's book while altering the text in it.

Stross also brings up moral rights, which are pretty weak in US copyright law but very strong in most European countries. It's why, say, Alan Moore can have his name taken off reprints or adapatations of his work, or Don Rosa can demand that European reprints of his comics either compensate him or remove his name.

So it's questionable whether or not this is legal, and the answer is probably going to vary depending on the country. Whether it's ethical is another question, and I foresee a lot of authors and publishers boycotting the service and refusing to allow Clean Reader to sell their books.

As for whether it's effective? Of course it's not effective. Swear filters are stupid.

Stross again:

So. While it might be possible to get my books pulled from that particular distributor, I am more inclined to deal with this idiocy by getting creative with my scatalogical vocabulary.

No more "fucks" freely interjected; instead I shall steal "unclefucker" from South Park.

No more "cunt!" as a free-standing gender-neutral insult[*]; instead it'll have to be "cuntfart!" or "pissflaps!" or "clunge!" (go look it up) ...

... But that's not going far enough.

I am pretty sure there's plenty of context in which the censorbot can be induced to fuck-up a perfectly clean paragraph beyond all recognition, simply by removing words delimited by whitespace. "Chimney-breast" for example, becomes "Chimney-chest". "The cunt line of the mainbrace" becomes "the bottom line of the mainbrace".

How far do you think I can take this?

User avatar
Rico
Posts: 478
Joined: Tue Jan 21, 2014 2:29 am

Re: Private Censorship

Postby Rico » Wed Mar 25, 2015 6:07 pm

Thad wrote:I'm inclined to think that the problem is that Clean Reader isn't a standalone app, it's also a bookstore. If it was just an app that took an ebook and did a find/replace on certain words in it, I'd be inclined to agree with Doctorow -- yes, that's stupid, but yes, people should be allowed to do it.

But I think actually SELLING the books and then running them through a word filter creates a problem. While I understand that technically nothing is being altered in the ebook file itself, I also see an issue of misrepresentation in selling an author's book and then presenting it as still being that author's book while altering the text in it.


That's pretty much my take on it too. Though serious swear filters always remind me of a theology forum I used to visit which had a swear filter so restrictive it rendered several Bible verses incomprehensible, which is pretty fun in a theology forum.

User avatar
Brentai
Woah Dangsaurus
Posts: 2178
Joined: Mon Jan 20, 2014 2:40 pm

Re: Private Censorship

Postby Brentai » Wed Mar 25, 2015 6:24 pm

I can't find any information on Clean Reader as a storefront, but judging by how the app works it seems it would still need to distribute the unaltered text and then let the app filter it. If there's a storefront doing anything then it's probably just limiting its selection to what has been verified as working in the app (i.e. not full of what Stross is trying to pull).

If it IS serving prefiltered text then I'd have to assume the publisher at least is aware of it. It'd be pretty dense in the publisher's end and potentially illegal on the merchant's end otherwise, which of course means it's still totally possible.

Insert joke about fruit here.

User avatar
Thad
Posts: 5917
Joined: Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:05 am
Location: 1611 Uranus Avenue
Contact:

Re: Private Censorship

Postby Thad » Wed Mar 25, 2015 7:24 pm

There's some clarification in an E-Mail a Clean Reader rep sent to Joanne Harris:

Dear Joanne,

I wanted to reach out to you given your recent comments regarding Clean Reader. I want to reassure you we are not selling edited copies of your books. The books we offer are word-for-word the exact same as how you wrote them. And if it wasn’t clear, our unique “Clean Reader” function can be turned OFF with the click of a button if the reader decides they don’t want/need any of the words hidden.

Our initial release of this app has stirred up WAY more emotion than we ever anticipated. We are certainly not interested in engaging in a battle with authors. We respect your talents and rights to write whatever you feel compelled to write. You should use whichever words you feel are best suited for the character, situation, naration, etc. Our hope is to simply provide a tool for some people to use who love great books but are equally opposed to reading profanity. Many of the people who we’ve heard from that are using Clean Reader say they’re willing to miss out on a little bit of context in order to avoid reading some profanity. Ideally our app will open the door to more readers/customers to consume a more diverse selection of books.

If you have any constructive ideas of changes you’d reccomend to our app that would make it less offensive to you as an author please feel free to send them to me and we’ll certainly consider working them into a future release of the app.


Harris also links to a blog post by Jennifer Porter (potentially NSFW link due to examples of the words Clean Reader censors), who says that yes in fact the Clean Reader store DOES sell romance novels that its software renders completely fucking incoherent. She notes that Clean Reader seems to be using a selection of Inktera's library (which is probably how they got the rights to sell these books in the first place, because I'm pretty fucking confident the publishers didn't sign up for this). She seems to indicate that you actually have to buy the book through Clean Reader to read it in the app, which seems pretty odd since you should be able to parse any old text file and pull a find/replace on it, but maybe that's their monetization scheme.

User avatar
MarsDragon
Posts: 455
Joined: Mon Jan 20, 2014 6:30 pm

Re: Private Censorship

Postby MarsDragon » Thu Mar 26, 2015 10:21 am

Rico wrote:
Thad wrote:I'm inclined to think that the problem is that Clean Reader isn't a standalone app, it's also a bookstore. If it was just an app that took an ebook and did a find/replace on certain words in it, I'd be inclined to agree with Doctorow -- yes, that's stupid, but yes, people should be allowed to do it.

But I think actually SELLING the books and then running them through a word filter creates a problem. While I understand that technically nothing is being altered in the ebook file itself, I also see an issue of misrepresentation in selling an author's book and then presenting it as still being that author's book while altering the text in it.


That's pretty much my take on it too. Though serious swear filters always remind me of a theology forum I used to visit which had a swear filter so restrictive it rendered several Bible verses incomprehensible, which is pretty fun in a theology forum.


They remind me of Phantasy Star Online, where if I recall you couldn't say "Saturday". And there was the adventure of NIS boards on GameFAQs and trying to talk about the Yoshitsuna.

Turns out swear filters are really hard to implement properly. (as should be obvious within a few minutes of analyzing the problem)

User avatar
Thad
Posts: 5917
Joined: Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:05 am
Location: 1611 Uranus Avenue
Contact:

Re: Private Censorship

Postby Thad » Thu Mar 26, 2015 11:51 am

Sure, examples abound. I remember a few years ago on the CBS comments you couldn't refer to Senator Coons by name. DC had to fix the swear filter on its forums because it turns out "Dick" is actually the first name of one of their popular superhero characters. I seem to recall some issues with Moby Dick's title when the iBooks store first went up, too.

When Terra first implemented the swear filter back on Pyoko, it was set so sensitive that it would bowdlerize a word if it appeared inside another word (your "Saturday" example is good; "class" would be another one). When he "fixed" it, of course that made it utterly fail to work on compound curse words (like Stross's "unclefucker" example). Of course, given that Terra was intentionally doing it just to fuck with us, I suppose the swear filter worked just fine for its intended purpose in that particular case.

The only people who think swear filters are actually a coherent and reliable way of removing offensive words are, well, the sort of people who refuse to read books that might have the word "breast" in them in the first place. They're people who don't understand computers, people who don't understand language, and people who don't understand either one of those things.

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot], Joxam and 3 guests