A Publishing Tradition: Apple Censors Joyce's Ulysses -- a Century After the U.S. Did the Same

Apple (APPL) unveiled the slick iPhone 4, impressive iBookstore stats, and other gems on Monday, but the company is still up its censorship antics under the guise of "protecting its users".

In the ultimate irony, it threatened to ban and is now censoring a graphic novella of Ulysses -- the same classic James Joyce book banned in America nearly a century ago. From Sarah Weinman at Daily Finance:

Rob Berry and Josh Levitas's "Ulysses Seen" webcomic is, by all accounts, an ambitious undertaking, as any adaptation of the Irish author's nearly 1,000-page tome would be. And with a readers' guide, translation into foreign languages and other complementary materials, it would seem like a natural for the iPad and its multitouch user interface.

But Apple had a surprise up its sleeve, thanks to its strict guidelines about adult content, and the nudity present in "Ulysses Seen" was verboten... Berry and Levitas opted to stay on the iPad and follow Apple's rules, so the iPad version of the webcomic is nudity-free (the unexpurgated version, however, remains online)...

The irony is rich: Ulysses was banned in the U.S. upon publication in 1920 when The Little Review published an excerpt featuring masturbation. The book only saw the light of day when its American publisher, Random House, arranged for a copy to be smuggled out of Europe and seized by a customs official in 1932, acting as the basis for a test case to challenge the country's obscenity laws.


It is both funny and disturbing. As Weinman points out, the irony of threatening to ban and eventually censor a book a century later is pretty hilarious. What is troublesome, however, is that the Ulysses Seen webcomic can't be smuggled onto the iPad, a la the transcontinental move Random House made to bring the original classic to American shores. Instead, the now several million Apple iPad users must be content with the censored version of the project. Worse, adult verification is already built into the Apple Store system, so it's not a matter of there not being safeguards in place.

Apple's latest censorship gaffe could actually do some good, as it reaffirms the problems of the current iBookstore (and Amazon (AMZ) Kindle) e-publishing system with its lack of checks and balances:

Apple now claims it has 22 percent of the e-book market, a swift gain for only two months -- and proof that consumers are still supporting e-books despite a censorship not based on law or ethics, but on Steve Jobs' whim. As Google (GOOG) books and others enter the picture, it is unclear how long this trend will last.

Photo courtesy of maxf.

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