Calls to combat corporate censorship as Apple bans book

Unexplained rejection of book by respected non-fiction author raises concerns about power of digital content gatekeepers

... but maybe of his? (Photos from the book)

The author of two books pulled from Apple’s virtual bookshelf last week is urging the culture minister to do more to ensure that Danish culture does not get filtered out by the corporate policies of foreign companies.

The controversy emerged last week when respected non-fiction author Peter Øvig Knudsen’s two books about the hippie movement, ‘Hippierne 1’ and ‘Hippierne 2’, were removed from Apple’s iBookstore, presumably because they contained nude content.

The two volume set was originally rejected by Apple. A total of eight reworked versions of the book, including one in which apples had been placed over images of women’s breasts, men’s buttocks and the genitals of both genders. 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 he assumed the books were banned for sale because they contained pictures of naked people and of people having sex.

“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.”

Muff and Knudsen covered over a total of 47 images with apples. But while those images may not have been suitable for Apple, Muff pointed out that they were created by celebrated Danish photographers and artists, including Bjørn Nørgaard, who is currently constructing Queen Magrethe’s tomb.

The books are available in hard cover in their original, uncensored, version. Knudsen and Muff, however, are particularly eager to get their work online.

“Kids don’t read books for information anymore, they google it.” Muff said. “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 tabloid Ekstra Bladet to remove the picture of 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. And while Muff and Knudsen fear Apple’s most recent decision may curtail access to their material, they worry such decisions in general have broader implications.

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

“You [Elbæk] and the government need to ensure that cultural content in digital form is made available to online readership and parties interested in Danish history and culture,” Knudsen wrote.

Muff was convinced that one of the main reasons for Apple’s unexplained rejection was due to the system that has been put in place to automatically filter out material that could be deemed too explicit for general viewing.

“It’s like there’s a machine that determines what morally publishable, and what’s 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.”

Apple’s Danish representatives did not return multiple requests to provide a comment for this story.

No butts about it ...

 ... Apple doesn't like nudity (Photos from the book)

See all the pictures in their censored and uncensored versions.