Apple bans a comic book, firestorm ensues

August 27, 2008, 11:26 AM UTC

Murderdrome is not Ulysses, Lolita or Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It’s a dark, bloody comic strip marked by the type of over-the-top violence that has made its genre so popular among young readers with a lot of pent-up rage.

But Murderdrome has now joined the pantheon of suppressed fiction as the first digital book banished from Apple’s App Store by censors in Cupertino.

News that the work had been rejected by Apple was spread Tuesday evening by its publisher, Infurious Comics, which posted the entire first episode for free, along with a plea for support.

“PLEASE leave a comment,” wrote the strip’s creator, Paul Jason Holden. “We’ll forward ALL of these to Apple, so that we can ensure that not only Murderdrome, but that ANY comic submitted to Apple doesn’t fall foul of the same censorship.” (link)

By Wednesday morning, the post had drawn dozens of responses — all sharply critical of Apple — and PJ Holden’s cause had been picked up by half-dozen sympathetic bloggers (see Techmeme).

Murderdrome‘s most energetic defense was posted by blogger Mike Cane, who rattled off (with live links) several equally violent works of fiction published without fuss or warning on the iTunes store, including South Park, Reservoir Dogs and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Strictly speaking, what Apple banned was not a book but an application — called Comic Reader — designed to make it easy for comic book authors to publish their work on iPhones and iPod touches. But Murderdrome was the premier title, included with the app when it was submitted for Apple’s approval. It was rejected on the basis of a paragraph in the iPhone 2.0 Software Development Kit that reads:

Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.

The language gives the company a lot of latitude — more than it probably wants. Rather than take on the role of Internet censor, and risk alienating some of its most enthusiastic and vocal fans, Apple (AAPL) might be wise to do what Infurious suggests: institute an e-book rating system like the one already in place on the iTunes Store for movies, video games and rock lyrics.

Meanwhile, Infurious has moved on. “Right now,” PJ Holden told TechRadar, “the plan is to hold Murderdrome and concentrate on our other titles, which will be more Apple friendly.”

And what about Murderdrome? “We’re more than happy to resubmit under any ratings system that Apple suggests.” (link)