A skirmish between Apple and a French publisher

By Updated at 2014-05-09 10:37:04 +0000


I wonder how many fewer copies French author Bénédicte Martin's book La femme would have sold had her publishers opted for a subtler, more abstract cover design. The image they chose to illustrate her disquisition of "Woman 2013" is a striking chimera: the top half an improbably busty woman, the lower half a knife. It was the top half that Apple objected to when they removed it from the iTunes store, devotedly obeying Steve Jobs's dictum, "no porn on the iPhone". Martin's publishers were furious, denouncing it as "an act of censorship that went against creative freedom". Even the French culture minister got involved.

People are quick to cry "censorship" when a faceless corporation does something against their liking. I once interviewed a writer of what might kindly be described as paranormal romance, who was upset that Apple had taken her books out of the romance section and labelled them as erotica, which meant they were harder to browse and didn't show up on bestseller lists. In her eyes, Apple had "censored" her art.

Now I wouldn't go as far to nominate Apple for ethical retailer of the year. But being so ready to reach for the "c" word diminishes the very real battles people have fought over the years to publish and disseminate literature freely. Apple getting its knickers in a twist over some provocative cover art is hardly the same as the British government banning The Well of Loneliness in 1928 or still not being able to buy an unexpurgated version of Animal Farm in China.

Faced with the wrath of the Parisian bourgeoisie, Apple, not a company renowned for its willingness to admit mistakes, caved in and put La femme back on sale. Sadly, my A-level French is too rusty to tell you whether it's worth reading.

Anna Baddaley