I just returned from my grandpa's 90th birthday party. This is him as a Merchant Marine in WWII.
Here's another picture of him taken about a year ago. One day I hope to be half as amazing as him.
Sadly, while Grandpa Chuck was recounting war stories this evening, it was hard for me to give him my full attention. I was thinking about Victoria Strauss's article and feeling mildly sick. Don't get me wrong, I'm actually grateful Ms. Strauss took the time to write such a thorough analysis of my Story Surgeon App idea. Copyrights, censorship, and fan fiction are all very touchy subjects and it seems my kickstarter campaign has stirred up a passionate debate.
The Writer Beware blog presents a compelling argument against the legality of my app, while others on TeleRead and The Digital Reader claim it successfully skirts the copyright laws. (While author Cory Doctorow says "There is no way that it is a copyright infringement--or even a bad idea--for readers to choose, privately, in what order they read the books that they lawfully possess." Find his response to Strauss's article here.)
To me, the question of whether the app will be (or can be used for) copyright infringement is moot. If the court (or a lawyer I trust) tells me what I'm proposing isn't legal, I'll cease and desist. The real question is what authors feel they have to lose by "allowing" this app to exist.
When I explained the debate to my dad tonight he seemed confused. "What's in it for you?" he asked. I think what he meant was, "Why are you putting yourself in the line of fire and setting yourself up for possible litigation when you're not even going to charge for the app or the filters? Why would you risk that?"
I gave part of my answer in my last blog post, although perhaps I was a little harsh on Mr. Rothfuss. Despite my dissatisfaction with parts of his second novel, I still enjoyed it immensely. (I gave it a four-star review.) But what this book brought into conflict was my love of great literature and my love of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I hesitate to bring religion into this since many do not share my beliefs or values, but I think to understand why I would champion such an "app for copyright infringement" as Ms. Strauss called it, one needs to understand my dilemma.
There are many people that are passionate about books. They live and breathe the fictional worlds of their favorite authors and those author's words are sacred. Even if those words are disturbing or vulgar.
There are many people who are passionate about keeping their minds and bodies pure. They believe this life is the time to prepare to meet God and as such, try to avoid (or help their kids to avoid) amoral influences or media that could make it difficult to feel the Holy Ghost to guide them. For them, the answer is a no-brainer: Stay away from books with mature content.
The problem I'm facing is that I'm firmly entrenched in both groups and feel like I'm being ripped in two. There is so much great literature out there (especially when you read books intended for adults) that has profanity, graphic violence, and explicit sex. Things the majority of the literary world would just shrug at.
For years, the way I coped (and the way I believe many other conservative readers cope) is to buy exclusively YA lit. Generally books written for young adults have less mature content than those for an older audience. However, this is becoming less true of late. In my own reading, I've noticed a significant increase in adult content in books marketed toward teens. While some applaud this as a triumph for free speech, others (like this WSJ children's book reviewer see this is as lack of judgement on the part of adults).
This app idea (I thought) would be the tool that bridged the two sides. Why complain to the school and get The Color Purple banned, when you can simply download a filter that will tweak the content to make it more appropriate for your child. Isn't that what the TV networks do when they substitute "freak" when the movie character is obviously saying something else? Young students can still learn the great lessons and appreciate the historical (and social) significance of this powerful book without being fully exposed to the darkest sides of human nature. When they've matured, if they choose to read the original, it will be an informed decision. Not one forced on them by teachers who don't hold their values.
I was selfish in developing this app. I wanted to find the best books out there and tweak them a bit, so my friends and family (most of whom are very conservative readers) can enjoy them as much as I did. In my own mind, I was helping to enlarge the market for authors such as Patrick Rothfuss. (It makes sense to me, seeing as how owning a Clearplay DVD player allows me (and thousands of others) to watch movies I wouldn't otherwise rent.)
So the question isn't "Why is Ryan Hancock trying to mutilate these authors' visions?"
Rather it should be, "Why would Ryan Hancock choose an author's vision over the teachings of his God?"
The answer is that I wouldn't. Despite my love of great stories, if I was told I could not develop the Story Surgeon app I would have to give up many of my favorite books. Neither would I feel I could recommend them to my friends. Many will see this decision as extreme or fanatic, but if I'm forced to choose, God will always win. This may seem trite or even offensive to some who worship a more liberal God, but the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or Mormons) are not exactly ambiguous. We need to stand up for values that have long since been devalued by the world in general. I intend to do that. And I intend to do it legally.
Despite the heated opposition, I believe this app to be legal and what's more, to be of benefit to authors and families in particular. If you don't agree, I'd appreciate hearing your side. Please feel free to share your reasons in the comments section. For those who agree with me, please make your voice heard. There aren't a lot of us out there feeling torn between our books and our beliefs, but there are enough.
And I hope there are enough people out there who although they might not share my particular beliefs or values, can at least see my Story Surgeon dream not as hate mail to all those published authors, but as the most sincere and heartfelt fan letter I've ever written.
(Thanks to http://smilingldsgirl.com/tag/jesus-christ/ for the picture of Christ)