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Posted at 1:50 PM ET, 09/10/2010

Once-spurned cartoonists skeptical of Apple's 'clarified' App Store rules

By Michael Cavna


In June, Comic Riffs called upon Steve Jobs "to tackle the larger issue head-on and more clearly offer a broad policy on satire" regarding proposed apps. Until this week, Apple preferred to take its PR lumps each time a controversial case arose, including the previously rejected satirical apps of cartoonists Tom Richmond, Daryl Cagle and 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Fiore.

On Thursday, Apple issued a new set of rules about what content is -- and isn't -- permitted in its iOS App Store. And included were two guidelines that expressly addressed the sort of previously foggy policy that Comic Riffs had raised. They are:

14.1 -- "Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harm's way will be rejected."

14.2 -- "Professional political satirists and humorists are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary.

To our way of thinking, that second provision is of no small consequence. Apple has now created a clear gateway so satirists' work no longer faces seemingly "automatic" rejection because of any overly comprehensive, knee-jerk rule.

Still, these guidelines do allow plenty of wiggle room for case-for-case interpretation. So we were curious: What do the very cartoonists whose apps were previously spurned by Apple think of these new rules?

"The way I see it, they've made a set of guidelines imagining [what they hope is] any possible app scenario and a way to determine the acceptance of said app in a binary way," says Mark Fiore, whose "Newstoons" app was rejected last year but approved eight days after he won the Pulitzer Prize in April. "In other words, they're trying to create an editor with a list of rules."

Fiore remains an advocate for Apple guardians smartly assessing the merits of each app individually.

"While I love the fact that professional political satirists are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary -- and methinks I may have had something to do with that clause -- these new rules are no substitute for good human judgment by Apple gatekeepers. ... " Fiore tells Comic Riffs. "At any rate, I'm happy that Apple is more specific when it comes to issues of free speech."

Fiore also notes that Rule 2.12 "could discount thousands of apps." That rule reportedly reads: "Apps that are not very useful or do not provide any lasting entertainment value may be rejected."

Cartoonist and syndicator Daryl Cagle tells Comic Riffs he still sees troublesome holes in the new guidelines.

"It would be nice if the policy has changed, but the wording doesn't seem to address our concern about Apple's policy against editorial cartoon apps that focus on a particular person," Cagle tells 'Riffs. He cites his rejected "Tiger Woods Cartoons" app, which Cagle says "would not have put Woods 'in harm's way' and was not offensive or mean-spirited, so would not be addressed by the new wording."


"We haven't submitted any more celebrity apps, like our rejected 'Tiger Woods Cartoons,' to test Apple's editorial limits," Cagle continues, "and we don't expect [our most recently submitted] three topical apps to pose an editorial problem for Apple." (Those three apps feature editorial cartoons about the environment, immigration and Wall Street.)

MAD magazine artist Tom Richmond illustrated a Congressional-themed "Bobble Rep" app that was rejected last year before being accepted by the App Store. Of Apple's new rules, Richmond says:

"Actually, two things about Rule 14.2 are going to be really interesting. The first is how Apple decides to define 'professional' political satirists and humorists. Since the traditional measuring stick of being syndicated/published is being eroded in this era of the Internet and blogging, how they decide who is professional and who is not will be enlightening."

"The second," Richmond continues, "is how far they'll let those they do consider professionals go in being 'offensive and mean-spirited.' ... Does that mean those professional satirists/humorists have carte blanche? That could be quite a show, because cartoonists like nothing better than to push the envelope. I don't think Apple is really prepared for how 'offensive and mean-spirited' things can get."

Predicts Richmond: "I foresee revised wording on section 14.2 in the very near future."

"The bottom line here," Richmond believes, "is that despite the wording and new rules, it's still Apple's sandbox and they'll only let those play in it they want to let in."


POLITICAL SATIRE: So has Apple finally seen the light?

THE RANT: Why does Apple hate political satire? Pulitzer winner's app case stokes larger failure

THE PLUMP IRONY: Come Bloomsday, Apple admits mistake over 'Ulysses' app

TOM RICHMOND: A new Congressional app for your iPhone? Artist says Apple finally bites

By Michael Cavna  | September 10, 2010; 1:50 PM ET
Categories:  Geek Buzz, The Political Cartoon  | Tags:  Apple apps, Daryl Cagle, Mark Fiore, Tom Richmond  
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