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Was Apple Right To Reject 'The Binding Of Isaac' On iOS Because It Depicts Violence Towards Children?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 14/03/2016 Quora

Was Apple right to reject The Binding of Isaac on iOS because it depicts violence towards children? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.Answer by Pat Roberts, Co-founder and CTO, UltraMedia Innovation, on Quora.

No, they were not right. Their rejection of it, but acceptance of videos and books that depict child abuse, hinges on Apple's assertion that video games are not a form of expression in the same sense as songs and books:

We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical App.

I've been on the receiving end of an arbitrary Apple rejection, and am old enough to remember the Great App Store Bikini Purge, where apps with women in bikinis or lingerie were removed by Apple...unless the app was from a major company like Victoria's Secret (wasn't purged), Sports Illustrated (wasn't purged), or Playboy (wasn't purged). If The Binding of Isaac was published by EA I doubt it would have been rejected.

For the past 12 years I've worked bringing Hollywood content to smartphones and smart TVs. The tech world is being empowered with content distribution, but many tech companies don't understand how to deal with art they don't control.

Most tech companies have a "morality clause" in their content distribution agreements that say they will decide if content is appropriate after it's submitted and the decision to accept or reject is solely theirs to make. The clauses often use broad, vague terms like "offensive" and "denigrating" and read more like language from an employee handbook. In Apple's case:

We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, "I'll know it when I see it".[1]

While vague morality clauses are a minor annoyance for distributors of films and music, they are a major issue for app developers.

Films and songs have standard formats for distribution; the same files that go to one company or on one device can go to any company or any device. The largest cost to support a new channel is usually business-related, like legal and accounting costs. If there is any special formatting required, it's often a few hundred dollars. If the tech company's channel has a lot of market share, like Apple, big content companies typically just ignore the clause, because it's not worth trying to educate the tech company and they can fight that battle if and when it comes. Big content companies like WB and Sony know their content likely won't be challenged because threatening to pull their library has a lot of weight. If the channel is new or small, the content company will weigh the rejection risk and cost to support the channel against the potential for revenue. Sometimes they decide not to provide their content unless the morality clause is removed or changed, but often they just raise the up-front licensing fee to cover the risk.

Apps, however, typically require extensive customization for each platform. Supporting an app distribution channel can have upfront costs for the developer in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Large developers and publishers like EA get the same special benefit as large distributors in the film industry. Independents, on the other hand, may not find out their interpretation of "obscene" isn't the same as the channel's interpretation until after they've spent time time and money to support the channel.

There is, however, a solution to this problem that Apple and other tech companies can easily adopt.

The content industries' solution in place, which works great, is content rating. TV networks, movie theaters, video game retailers, game and DVD rental companies simply state they will not distribute content if it exceeds a specific rating. The requirements for the different ratings levels are for the most part clearly defined. There's a review board and appeals process that is fair to both creators and distributors. There's no double-standard based on which employee was reviewing submissions that day, or if a content company is a major player or two people in a garage. Even if the tech company doesn't require content to have been submitted for a rating, using the rating system's requirements as a guide lets content creators know, before they spend any money to support a platform, exactly what is expected of their content. Even better, consumers are fully aware of the ratings systems and what the different ratings mean, and what to expect.

[1] This is a reference to the 1964 US Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio regarding the definition of "hard-core pornography". The Supreme Court replaced "I know it when I see it" in 1974 with the Miller test which clearly states what constitutes obscene  material.

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