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April 16 2010

18:31

Satire police update: Apple to reconsider keeping Mark Fiore’s cartoon app off the iPhone

Yesterday we told you about Mark Fiore, the animated cartoonist who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning on Monday. Fiore wants to take his work mobile, but unfortunately for him, Apple rejected his iPhone app back in December, saying it “ridicules public figures.” The rejection email cited a clause in the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which bars any app whose content in “Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

After our story ran, Fiore got a call from Apple — four months after receiving a rejection email — inviting him to resubmit his NewsToons app. Fiore says he resubmitted it this morning. We’ll keep you posted on what happens. If history is a guide, though, this is likely to be good news for Fiore. Tom Richmond’s Bobble Rep app was initially rejected, then approved after a firestorm of online criticism. Daryl Cagle went through something similar last year.

But whatever happens with Fiore’s app, there is a broader issue at stake here. As Apple’s role in the mobile sector grows, should it get to dictate what content we can access? Dan Gillmor has been on a quest to find out what arrangement major news organizations have with Apple:

In addition, I asked the Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today — following up on a February posting when I asked why news organizations were running into the arms of a control-freakish company — to respond to a simple question: Can Apple unilaterally disable their iPad apps if Apple decides, for any reason, that it doesn’t like the content they’re distributing?

Guess how many responded? Zero. Today Rob Pegoraro at the Washington Post took up the same issue, asking a spokeswoman for his company the same questions, she directed him to Apple. Apple has not responded to Pegoraro. (I also have not heard back from Apple on requests for comment about its satire policy generally or in Fiore’s case in particular.)

So what should media do? I’m not certain what the answer is, but I do like the spirit of push-back in what Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote yesterday:

Look, let’s face it. The iPad is the most exciting opportunity for the media in many years. But if the press is ceding gatekeeper status, even if it’s only nominally, over its speech, then it is making a dangerous mistake. Unless Apple explicitly gives the press complete control over its ability to publish what it sees fit, the news media needs to yank its apps in protest.

April 15 2010

11:00

Mark Fiore can win a Pulitzer Prize, but he can’t get his iPhone cartoon app past Apple’s satire police

This week cartoonist Mark Fiore made Internet and journalism history as the first online-only journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize. Fiore took home the editorial cartooning prize for animations he created for SFGate, the website for the San Francisco Chronicle.

I spoke with Fiore about his big win and plans for his business. Fiore is not on staff at the Chronicle, or anywhere else; since 1999, he’s run a syndication business, selling his Flash animations à la carte to TV, newspaper, and magazine websites for about $300 a piece. (The price varies by size of the outlet.) In a typical month, he might have about eight clients. Before 1999, he ran a similar syndication business for his print cartoons, using a lower-price-per-image, higher-volume model.

When I asked about the next phase of his business, curious if it will include a mobile element, Fiore said he’s definitely hopeful about mobile devices. “I think the iPads and anything iPod to iPhone — to maybe a product not made by Apple — will be good or could be good for distributing this kind of thing,” he said.

But there’s just one problem. In December, Apple rejected his iPhone app, NewsToons, because, as Apple put it, his satire “ridicules public figures,” a violation of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which bars any apps whose content in “Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

Here’s the email Fiore received from Apple on December 21, 2009:

Dear Mr. Fiore,

Thank you for submitting NewsToons to the App Store. We’ve reviewed NewsToons and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains content that ridicules public figures and is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement which states:

“Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.” Examples of such content have been attached for your reference.

If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that NewsToons does not violate the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.

Regards,

iPhone Developer Program

Apple attached screenshots of the offending material, including an image depicting the White House gate crashers interrupting an Obama speech. Two other grabs include images referencing torture, Balloon Boy, and various political issues.

Fiore isn’t the first editorial cartoonist to clash with Apple. Last year, an app called Bobble Rep app, which used political caricatures by Tom Richmond, was initially rejected by Apple. After an online uproar, a few days later Apple changed its position, allowing the app into the store. (Fiore’s rejection landed in his inbox just a month later.) Daryl Cagle, who runs a cartoon syndication site with 900 newspaper subscribers, had a similar battle with Apple last year, waiting around for months before eventually being allowed in. And while Apple eventually ruled in those cartoonists favor, the company went on an app-banning spree in February targeting apps with bikini-level sexual content. (Although a few established news brands like Sports Illustrated were allowed to remain.)

It’s also an example of the alarm bells some critics of the app store system were sounding in the lead-up to the release of the iPad. Brian Chen at Wired warned publishers to consider questions of independence, in light of a controversy over Apple’s vague policy on sexual content. And several German news orgs like Bild and Stern have already seen Apple get into the business of banning certain editorial content from the App Store.

Fiore has not resubmitted his app, saying he’d heard about the experiences of others cartoonists and wasn’t in a position to get into a fight with Apple. Still, he has a hunch Apple will eventually change its mind on him, as it has with other cartoon apps. “They seem so much more innovative and smarter than that,” he told me.

Apple did not respond to my request for comment on its satire policy, or Fiore’s case in particular.

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