A Firestorm This Week- What Do You Think?

Is that what this is?

Is that what this is?

There’s been a big uproar this week over the creation of a new app to blur out and/or replace profanity in books. A couple designed it because their child read a book but was sad about the cuss words in it. (Why is a fourth grader reading a book with any cussing in it??)

I digress.

The idea is that if you buy a book from their site, then you get an app that will clean up dirty words. It’s important to note that they do NOT change the book in any way. This app is an overlay on the text and the reader can turn it off at will. The customer can choose the level of “cleanliness” they want and then it goes to town.

As you can imagine there have been some vehement opinions: (Be advised- there are many curse words in these two articles)



So there’s the argument.

I’m on the fence.

On the one hand, I understand the artist’s objection to someone manipulating their work without their consent. I get that, I really do. I don’t want people changing the meaning or the tone of what I write. What I’m having trouble swallowing is the impending disaster that is sure to happen if this is allowed. This app is such a censorship, it will ultimately end with book burning and banning. Hmmmm. This tool does nothing directly to the written work and they are not impeding it being sold in any way. It could be argued that a person who is careful about reading books with no profanity might choose a wider variety if they had something to “bleep” out those words. It’s a personal preference.

The other thing that was said almost immediately was that it was a “Christian” thing. I disagree. I have Zen Buddhist and Hindu friends who avoid all profanity to the best of their ability because it disturbs their balance. Again, personal preference.

The owner of the app wrote an article about the discourse and his stance is that they don’t believe they are infringing on any copyright laws and they are not taking anything away from the author. He also goes on to say that as a consumer, once the item is bought they have the right to consume it however they see fit.


I do have a problem with him mentioning an author he likes to read because he “writes well enough” to avoid resorting to profanity. Whoops. You could sway me on most points, but this is where I draw the line. An author has to be true to their character. A special ops alpha hero will just not say, “Gosh darn it.”.

I know this is an emotionally laden issue. I’m not sure where I stand. Are the rights of authors who haven’t given their consent for the book to be read in a different way being violated? Does Clean Reader have the right to create something that changes nothing of the original work, but makes it far more palatable for some readers to consume? Are there copyright laws being massacred? Do they have a point with- “I bought it. I can read anyway I want.”? Sheesh! I don’t know the answer!

Help me wade through this topic. What are your thoughts whether you are a reader or writer?

22 Responses to A Firestorm This Week- What Do You Think?

  1. it’s just prude censorship. Period.

    It existed before, there will always be people who pretend to save the others by imposing them what and how they can read/see/hear certain things.

    It’s paving the road to Fahrenheit 451


  2. Hi Massimo!
    I’m so glad you’re here. I’m playing devil’s advocate today so I’d like to ask some questions. You have the right to write whatever you like and believe this is being prudish. Do they not have the right to try and keep their minds and hearts from being exposed to words that jar them? They are not imposing anything on anyone, if I understand this correctly. Let’s say I’m a reader who would like to not see profanity, I would go to their site, buy a book and it would be delivered to my reader with this app installed. I choose what level of “cleaning” I want and can un-choose it at any point. The app does nothing to the text. It is exactly the way the author wrote it. It seems that it is all voluntary and the only reason you would go to the site to buy your books is because you want this option. What do you think?


  3. I get the parents’ motivation over the 4th grader, because Scholastic is DISGRACEFUL! Our elementary school just pulled a book from the book fair for 5th graders that dealt with ‘alternative’ life style in a way that made it completely inappropriate for junior high school students as well. There was no mention of this topic on the back of the book or blurb in catalog. And it made up the bulk of the story. So as a parent, I understand the frustration.

    Don’t mess with my words. If I lose a couple readers, so be it. The censorship potential is not worth it.

    I have no problem with a rating system. Movies and Music use it.

    My soon to release book is PG-13: language, violence and partial nudity.


  4. I’m sorry you had a bad time with Scholastic.That’s disconcerting!
    “If I lose a couple of readers”…how do you know it would only be a couple? What if this turns out to be a way that authors can find more fans? What if you’re losing 100 sales? 1000 sales? Is it really censorship or simply making some readers more comfortable with reading mainstream books? Do they not have the right to consume the book any way they want? If someone decided they didn’t want to read the first sentence out of every chapter for whatever silly reason, do they have the right to take a marker and draw a line through each of those sentences? They bought and paid for that book. In this case they aren’t actually changing your book like the marker would and it can be taken back to the original with the click of a button.
    Here’s where I show my ignorance- I didn’t know books were rated!


  5. Raven Raye says:

    I, too, understand the motivations on both sides. I am going to have to go with ‘don’t change my words.’ I believe it changes the ‘feel’ of the read. If the reader doesn’t want to read profanity, that is their right. Don’t buy my work so you can change it. That would be like me buying a Picasso and painting over a couple of the geometric lines because I didn’t like the flow of the piece. Just MHO.



  6. They would argue that they aren’t changing your words because the actual body of work isn’t touched. They only provide a service for those not wishing to read profanity and that is accomplished with the overlay that the reader can click out of at any time. If I bought your Picasso, don’t I have the right to do anything I want to with it? I bought and paid for it. (Playing devil’s advocate here.) I personally think it would be a super BAD idea to deface a masterpiece but does the owner not have that right? In this case they aren’t even doing that. Sigh. It’s a big big question-


  7. Will Graham says:

    You nailed it, Stacey, and perfectly. I’m on the fence about it, also, but I can see both sides of the argument. It will be interesting to see how this works in the long run.


  8. It will be interesting when lawyers start weighing in on this. Are copyright rules being blasted away? Should the rules be revamped to include this kind of technology? What if the authors were given the option of not allowing their books to be sold on this site because they object to having their books blurred? Would that quiet staunch objectors?
    Thanks for stopping in, Will.


  9. aliceakemp says:

    I tend to fall on the side of leave my work alone. None of my e-books are for kids under 16. And another question, how will the do this with an e-book? I think I’ll let my publisher handle this.


  10. If I understand this whole enchilada correctly, they will sell your book on their site and it will come to the customer with the app installed. (This is only for e-books.) I was told today that Smashwords has pulled their books from this distribution site.(I have not verified that so it still falls under the heading of total gossip!) This app is not only to clean books for kids but it is also there for adults who find profanity to be jarring. Could it be that with the ability to take out those words, you might increase sales? I know people have said only a minority of readers find cussing offensive, but what constitutes the minority? What if it were 40% of all readers? 20%? 49.9999%? I just don’t think there is any data out there on this. Would you change your stance if it increased your sales by 1000 books?
    Thanks for weighing in on this! I appreciate your opinion.


  11. lorettawheeler says:

    I guess I’m “waggling” too. I will say, before I go any further, I had a roaring good laugh reading the links provided 🙂 I for one, have no problem reading books with colorful language. I can’t imagine reading some of the great pieces out there without the character speaking the way you know they normally would. For one thing, it loses impact. But, as to the app…I think, overall, I’m okay with it. To each his own. And, everyone who chooses to apply it knows this is not the way the author wrote it. So, if there’s any complaint as to delivery of the piece, they did it to themselves. Of course, one wonders if they’ll be savvy enough to figure that out or shrug and say it just didn’t do it for them. Welp, if you’re going to put your fingers in your ears, and wear blinders, you won’t hear the music (lyrical flow etc) or see the depth of what’s going on around the character. That’s my take on it.
    On the other hand, if it’s something for YA etc. it might be beneficial.


  12. The links are hysterical! Chuck always has such a unique way of putting things. 🙂
    I understand what you’re saying about not hearing the music but the question is does the reader have the right to consume it however they see fit? I understand the author clamoring for their rights, but does the reader have any? And where do we draw the line for YA? It’s a difficult topic for sure.


  13. I write erotica and erotic romance. None of my books should be on anyone’s TBR list if they want something without profanity or explicit words used in the sex scenes. This app would alter whole scenes. If I didn’t want them in there, they would have been cut out before publication.

    This app helps to create a product completely different than the one I intended for my readers and fans of the genre. There are other books out there already squeaky clean and ready to read. Why buy a book knowing it’s full of words you know will offend you? It makes no sense to me.

    When a reader tells me they would read my books if they weren’t so explicit, I smile and point them in the direction of authors I know are more to their liking. I write the tales that are in my head and they appeal to a specific audience. They’re NOT for everyone and they never will be.


  14. I agree, Tammy- there’s a point where this app doesn’t make sense to use because so many things would be blurred over. Then again, I don’t think folks concerned with profanity would typically choose a strong erotica book for that very reason.
    There are also some books with little cussing and few graphic words that still are extremely sexy and rather explicit- this app won’t do anything for that……is that next? IDK just here to ask questions…


  15. jbrayweber says:

    Nope. I’m against it. Stacey and I battled it out in a mud wrestling contest to see who was right. Sadly, it was a draw, and the living room is a mess.

    Yes, I suppose once a person buys a book they can read it as they see fit. Wouldn’t be much different that taking a sharpie to the text and marking out the offensive words.

    Though I can understand the concern—I am a parent, too—I think this is wrong. I believe altering the text, alters the tone, the character, the message, etc. My work, my blood, sweat, and tears, should not be tampered with for the sake of someone else’s sensitivities. Frankly, we have enough skipping upon political correctness in our society. *kicks soapbox from view before standing on it* It is not lazy or sloppy language. Every word is deliberate. Every damn one! (whoops)

    I also believe there is much more to this than simply”overlaying” text. Somehow, this certainly flirts with copyright laws by changing an author’s text without permission. And what of the publishers? Surely some would call foul for tampering with typesets.

    At any rate, they way I understand it, a reader can turn on and off this apps functions. But what of the author? Can they opt out? Things are moving and shaking over this particular issue. Smashwords has already removed Clean Reader from their distribution. And I think, not entirely sure, but I think Clean Reader has decided not to sell eBooks any longer. Still…where is my opt-out button? If someone will be offended by profanity in my books, then I can live without that sale.

    What’s next? An app that will change questionable subject matter?

    Nope…not a fan.


  16. I think if they had provided a way to let authors opt out of being sold on their site, they would have had less of a brouhaha on their hands. I’m so happy I’ve been able to read these opinions and they’ve helped me clarify a bit more of my thinking.
    I would love to see some lawyers duke this out because I don’t think existing copyright rules are going to be sufficient in the coming years. More technology will be invented and the old words won’t protect artists like they used to.
    I do believe we have rights but I also think the consumer has rights and can read the product any way they want to do it. If they want to draw daisies over every page and put rhyming words next to the middle word of the third line of every paragraph…God bless their little hearts….they have the right to it because they bought the product and I’ve been compensated. I also think they should see the men in white jackets. Jus sayin’!
    By the way, I’m still cleaning the mud off the living room floor!!!


  17. diane holmes says:

    Hi, Stacey! Fun stuff. Had no idea. Okay, here’s my take based on your blog post and not on other articles I haven’t read. 😉

    1) If you publish your book through a publisher, they censor the heck out of things that REALLY MATTER, like story arc, subject matter, character growth, etc. etc. That whole editing process is about selling your book (the rights) to a publisher who then exerts a huge level of control of your book. (I’m assuming the old publishing model obviously.)

    You could argue that the author chooses to do this in exchange for money. But really they chose to do this because that used to be the only way to ever be published. 😉

    But it’s basically a choice you make to sell your book, which is then sold to readers, who may completely skip entire sections that are boring or shocking or whatever.

    Say what? We can’t make them read every paragraph, every sentence, every word? I’m shocked!

    The author has a choice to sell the book. The reader has a choice to skip things we just love but they hate.

    2) Books are routinely excerpted, abridged, etc., with a huge “censorship” of the plot or content. Yes, the author (we hope) was compensated for the sale of those rights. And then the listener of the abridged audio version can (gasp) fast forward if she/he chooses.

    So, author’s choice to sell those rights. Reader’s choice to listen in whole or part.

    3) Since the invention of showing films on TV, TV versions were created to shield the delicate TV audience from (gasp) harsh emotion, language, and long length.

    The movie studios got paid for that. Maybe the writers. Probably not a lot.

    And the viewers got to watch this altered version of the movie… or take a break for the bathroom… or turn the sound off to listen for the baby… or….. fall asleep. (You know who you are. I hear you snoring.)

    Movies made, TV audience gets watered down version they then sleep through.

    4) For hundreds and hundreds of years, readers have been assigning meaning in books that the authors never intended.

    In semi-modern times, writers sold to publishers who sold to distributers who sold to bookstores (old paradigm, but kinda handy). Bookstores sold to readers. Readers did whatever the hell they wanted with the book, including never read it but instead us it for decoration.

    Writers write. Readers read-ish.


    My bottom line is that (1) readers own the book, they truly own it. You don’t get to make sure they understood your thematic unity correctly. You don’t get to make sure they don’t skip pages. And you don’t get to prevent them from reading the end first. Silly readers.

    The writer has sold the book.

    The writer has sold the book. (Just need to repeat this, cause it’s such a cool thing to say.)

    After that, it’s about our gentle readers, who we’ve never been able to control in the first place.

    But seriously, we sold books, people! We wrote, we published, and we sold books. Our cycle is complete. How the reader wants to read the book has nothing to do with copyright and everything to do with readers being people who just bought a book.

    Reading and stealing are two different things.

    We’re not talking about readers who then republish under their own name. They just are reading the book that was sold, in the way they’d like to.



  18. This is exactly where I’ve ended up in my thinking. Writers write and have rights, readers read and have rights as well to consume (or not) the material however they like. Boom! I’ve landed on the side of the fence and can get that fence post out of my bum from straddling it.
    Great insight, Diane and funny too!


  19. Hi Stacey!

    HAHAHA! No, there is no rating system for books, but when I was speaking to Scholastic, I asked why not? They’re selling books for children, THROUGH THE SCHOOLS, shouldn’t parents be able to see what’s in the book?
    Obviously they’re making decisions for AR levels and actively marketing and selling to appropriate age groups. They’re also choosing what they deem fit to publish and advertise under their name.

    So, why not let parents know ahead of time–mature language and sexual situations? Easy peasy, that’d be a no for my kids. Why hide it?

    Scholastic told me that they consider ratings to be a form of censorship and advised me to read all my kids’ books beforehand. Seriously. I kid you not.

    Music and movies all carry these. They don’t seem to have affected sales. I personally wouldn’t have a problem with a ‘rating’ on my book.

    But that said, you can purchase many clean versions of songs. So maybe the cleaner app would do better to let authors (like artists) agree to their service and list with them.


  20. I love your ideas! These are interesting times we line in, right?!?


  21. It’s all about permission to do it. The clean versions of songs…done with permission of the artist and their label. Clean versions of movies on television…done with permission. If given the option for our books to be included, I’m sure many would agree to it.

    I guess I don’t understand why readers, movie goers, or music lovers would WANT to “consume” sanitized versions of anything when they have other options already available to them. I make it a point to put warnings on my books, blogs and websites to help people make the right choices for their tastes. They have to make a conscious decision to read what I write in those areas. If they know they’ll be offended, they stay away.


  22. I can see your point! That’s why I thought this was such an interesting topic to chat about here. Thanks for sharing your opinions with us.
    I also think this should be a nudge that our existing structure of protection may not be keeping up with emerging technologies.


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