Chuck Wendig (of whom I'm a big fan and more than a little jealous) posted about an app called Clean Reader. Long story short, Clean Reader sanitizes a book to take out all of those naughty, corrupting, no good words (like 'poop,' or 'Mike Huckabee,' I imagine). A lot of authors are very upset about this.
Chuck talks about a concept called Authorial Consent. Basically, his issue is that he hasn't consented for his work to be sanitized in this manner, and therefore it's both legally and ethically unacceptable.
The main problem I have with this is that authorial consent is a nonexistent concept, and our society already recognizes this. To clear up a few misunderstandings first:
No one is infringing on your copyright
There seems to be some misunderstanding about what Clean Reader actually does. Really, the description is mostly in the name. It's a reader. It is not a marketplace*. It does not sell the clean versions of any books. It does not even share detailed modifications between users. It requires the user to purchase an author-approved copy of the work. All Clean Reader does is read the file -- the same as any number of ebook reading apps. The only difference is that Clean Reader omits any profanity. That is literally all it does. And it does this ONLY for the user of Clean Reader. No one else who purchases your book will see any of those changes.
Sure, there might be a slippery slope argument to be made. Chuck points out his worry that today, it's censoring out "fuck," and tomorrow, it's slapping Chuck's name on a book full of Bible stories. But that's not what's happening here, and I'm not a fan of slippery slope arguments in general. Criticize what's happening now, not what might happen later.
*(UPDATE: The CleanReader app does have a store of sorts. However, this is just a mirror of the Inktera eBook marketplace.)
We modify art -- and ignore 'authorial intent' -- constantly
Have you ever fastforwarded through a traumatic scene in a film? Or perhaps a scene you simply didn't like? Have you ever skipped a song on an album? Have you ever skimmed a few pages of description because you found them intensely boring, or read some chapters of A Game of Thrones out of order to get to the characters you liked?
Well, bad news, bub. You just ignored 'authorial consent.' George Fucking Martin put the chapters in that order for a reason, you know. Tolkien put in that Elven (Elvish?) poetry for a reason, and you damn well better read every single word of it.
We can get even more absurd. Mystery Science Theatre 3000? A total subversion of authorial consent. Like, WAY more than Clean Reader. Watching a film with 5.1/7.1 audio through two (or one!) speakers? NOT AN INTENDED USE.
Once it's in the world, your art is not yours. And that's okay.Lots of artists have trouble with this concept, and I can understand why. As much as successful authors like to say "Your story is not your baby!", well, it's pretty clear that your story is your baby, in some sense. Or, perhaps not your baby -- perhaps it's you, a part of you, and it's understandable that you don't want people changing pieces of you without your consent.
But that's simply not how it works. By far, the most important thing about a work of art is the meaning a reader or viewer gets out of it -- and of course, that is the one thing that authors absolutely can't control (oh god, how some have tried, though). You can write a gripping, emotional tale of a young black man navigating an oppressive society dedicated to protecting its prison industrial complex, and sadly some readers are simply going to see "lol yup, black people are all criminals." It's a shame, but there's nothing you can do about it.
Similarly, you shouldn't think you can control reactions to a certain word in your book, no matter how long you spent slaving over its choosing. And I think that Chuck would agree that, of course one can't control the reaction to our words. But once we agree on that point, I don't see why we have to be oh-so-protective about how our work is read. The reaction is the single most important part of the whole thing, and if we can't control that, then why bother to try to control the rest of it?