Apple Censors 'Ulysses' Webcomic, Fails to See Irony of Situation

Rob Berry and Josh Levitas'
Rob Berry and Josh Levitas'

When it comes to nudity, Apple (AAPL) has an unwavering stance: There will be none of it in any of the applications it approves for its iPad and iPhone devices.

The company has already run into controversy for their "freedom from porn" philosophy, forcing European magazines to cover up scantily clad models. But now Apple's edict has reached new levels of irony, thanks to its demands on a webcomic version of James Joyce's classic novel Ulysses.

Ambitious Undertaking

Rob Berry and Josh Levitas's "Ulysses Seen" webcomic is, by all accounts, an ambitious undertaking, as any adaptation of the Irish author's nearly 1,000-page tome would be. And with a readers' guide, translation into foreign languages and other complementary materials, it would seem like a natural for the iPad and its multitouch user interface.

But Apple had a surprise up its sleeve, thanks to its strict guidelines about adult content, and the nudity present in "Ulysses Seen" was verboten.

"While the first chapter of the book, the one now at iTunes, doesn't contain 'offensive language,' our comic does have frank nudity. Something we figured we might have to pixelate or cover with 'fig leaves,'" Berry told the comics blog Robot 6. "But Apple's policy prohibits even that. So we were forced to either scrap the idea of moving to the tablet with Apple or re-design our pages."

Berry and Levitas opted to stay on the iPad and follow Apple's rules, so the iPad version of the webcomic is nudity-free (the unexpurgated version, however, remains online).

Test Court Case on Obscenity Laws

The irony is rich: Ulysses was banned in the U.S. upon publication in 1920 when The Little Review published an excerpt featuring masturbation. The book only saw the light of day when its American publisher, Random House, arranged for a copy to be smuggled out of Europe and seized by a customs official in 1932, acting as the basis for a test case to challenge the country's obscenity laws.

The following year, U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled Ulysses was not pornographic, and therefore could not be obscene. The ruling was upheld in 1934 by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

A spokesperson for Apple didn't respond to DailyFinance's request for comment. But in spite of having to capitulate to Apple, Berry and Levitas designed the app in such a way that you can download the app and then visit the website for further discussion, so "readers can still see the pages in their original form."