Apple’s New Rules for Satire Apps

September 9th, 2010 | Posted in News

Remember that debacle back in November when Apple rejected the U.S. Congress app featuring caricatures I had drawn based on it being “defamatory to public figures”? Surprising public backlash got Apple to reconsider, and Apple kept making the same mistake with apps from Daryl Cagle, Mark Fiore and others.

Well, it looks like Apple finally decided to get more specific about the rules and how they apply to satire and humor.

From the Daily Cartoonist:

Apple has relaxed some of their requirements for its App Store apps. The clause regarding defamatory or offensive material is still in the guidelines, but they’ve explicitly made it clear that “professional political satirists and humorists” were exempt.

Here’s how the two clauses are written:

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

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

Obviously the first question is what do they interpret as professional?

My reaction exactly.

Actually there are 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 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. I foresee revised wording on section 14.2 in the very near future.

The bottom line here 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.


  1. greg says:

    I know you realize this, Tom, but Apple’s iTunes/App Store/Whatever comes next is a store, not a public forum.

    As for the mean spirited thing, I agree with you that the language will likely change eventually. However, what will precipitate that? The threshold for being crazy, defamatory and downright licentious is much lower for the Web, for the Internet than it is for the Apple App Store. That’s a good thing. People have to pay $100 up front and develop a program and then submit said program to be reviewed. That’s a disincentive to someone who otherwise can write or upload something via point and click.

    So, until a professional who does satire/parody, goes off the deep end and does the expression equivalent of going postal via a mobil phone application I doubt many professionals are going to go the route of acting unprofessional and defaming anyone. Of course, I could be completely wrong. But, I tend to expect those people to just act out online, on the Web rather than to jump through the hoops Apple has set up.

    • Tom says:

      I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly professional cartoonists, especially political ones, force Apple to decide where to draw the line between tasteful satire and commentary and inflammatory savagery.

      • Greg says:

        I am certainly going to try and find some time to read more about the guideline changes.
        But, until then I will agree that some or someone may try to push the envelope. You’re right.

        However, I think the entry fee for envelope pushing is lower on the Web/Internet and those who want to push buttons for less than grand reasons will choose that.

        For those who want to push buttons to push Apple’s buttons, well, to me that seems like a bad first step. At the very least it seems pointless.

        Why? Because I don’t exactly subscribe to belief that they are entirely wrong here with not approving applications (not cartoons, not letters to the editor, not garage sale notices, not fliers on a kiosk, not a sign in a front yard) but applications which may or may not generate revenue for the person who wants to submit them. It isn’t a free speech thing.

        I know. It could be said that Apple is now The Man and we should stick it to The Man!
        But, for the company to have some reservations about work it will sell and/or distribute…how is that so different from what types of project you or I would have reservations to work on? You, I and a lot of folks do have standards about what professional projects they will do and won’t do. (Not all of us will turn blind eyes to certain types of work, unless we have little choice and need the money.)

        Another thing:
        I can’t just up and sell my art at Wal-Mart, my originals or a limited run of prints, or DVDs of animated cartoons, some form of magazine featuring comics or anything unless I meet the criteria for Wal-Mart wanting to sell my stuff. That’s another factor that seems important which is somehow brushed aside. Noone questions a store’s policy but we will question Apple’s policy with its store.

        And, I won’t go into cynical details as to why it seems like that is.

        I will need to read more about all of this to try and be better informed. Thankfully, this doesn’t seem as complex as the Orphan Copyright issues.
        Take it easy.

  2. julio cesar naranjo says:

    Hi Tom i think that is a little bit confusing and im agree with you, they way of their interpretation about this subject could vary, and if other professional cartoonist are going to make a chance with the APPS, they will follow your experience in case something goes wrong, but i dont think Apple fall on the same ¬°misunderstanding!.
    Take care.

  3. Jeff Zugale says:

    While I do hope this will help cartoonists sell their work via Apps, it should be noted that in contrast to their App Store policy, Apple does not apply these approval standards to ebooks and music.

    So, why not sell your scathing political cartoons collected in an ebook thru iBooks instead?

  4. Mark Engblom says:

    Perhaps this is Apple’s way of avoiding legal hassles with people suing for defamation, etc…despite the (once?) traditional difficulty of public figures suing over satirical works. Perhaps when people actually start making money off of satirical apps, that exception may become a little more gray. Not a lawyer, so who knows? But that’s my guess: Apple’s just trying to avoid lawsuits as much as possible.

    • Greg says:

      This is just a guess but all they should need to do to avoid getting dragged into those types of lawsuits is including an indemnification statement. The company could basically say that the app maker/developer (<–so sexy, isn't it?) is completely responsible for the content of their program. So, getting sued and losing shouldn't be a big concern. But, who knows. Once Apple started making money again, everyone either started copying them or suing them. ha ha.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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