THE DANISH CASE
Censored by Apple and Facebook
The documentary book, “Hippie”, by the prize-winning author Peter Øvig Knudsen, is about the big Danish hippie experiment i the summer of 1970. The book was removed from iBookstore and App Store due to the 40 years old photographs of half and full naked hippies. Later on Facebook also censored the photographs.
The censored photos, shot by Denmarks leading photographers, were then shared massively on social media the world over as a protest.
“The Danish Case” is an english abbridged version of the original two-volume work with a foreword about the events surrounding the case.
Read the preface about “The Danish Case”, which it has been called since it was taken up in the European parliament. Below are also the author’s blog posts about the case.
The case appears in the newly released documentary film, Facebookistan, as one of the most blatant examples of censorship on the social platform.
The story of the hippie-book that was censored by Apple and Facebook
Yes, maybe we were naive, just as the hippies were with their visions of love and peace on Earth, forty years ago. We imagined that the Net, with its social media, and Apple, with its new iPad, would surely be the perfect platforms on which to create a digital book that could accommodate many more dimensions than the printed version. And weren’t both the new media and Steve Jobs’s company very much born of the hippie movement, with its collective vision of sharing knowledge and spreading art to all people on the planet?
As early as 2009, when I began to write a book on the Danish hippies and their grandly constructed social experiment— the so-called Thy Camp — in the summer of 1970, the digital ambitions were set pretty high.
Around a campfire that summer, with cava and smoke, my editor, a couple of my friends and I were all in agreement that a work about the hippies by its very nature demanded more than just printed words on paper. Because how could you describe through text alone the motley, colourful youth revolution of the late sixties, with its rebellion against all established norms? Much of the movement was characterized by music, for example from names such as Lennon, Hendrix and the Doors.
The new types of digital publication would surely provide the opportunity to incorporate pictures, film, sound and music into an ebook.
We also agreed, around that fire, that it would be wholly in the spirit of the hippies to involve the latest technologies: they had experimented with getting new sounds from their instruments, especially the electric guitar, and were some of the first to make use of the new Super 8 film equipment, along with new printing technology, in order to create art and reach out far with their message of peace and love.
In collaboration with Gyldendal — my publisher, and Denmark’s largest — I myself and two specialists from the digital communications world, Christian Kirk Muff and Jens Lauritsen, started a company which was to develop the most advanced multimedia ebook. We called the company Hippieselskabet — ‘The Hippie Company’.
Right from the beginning pictures were not just an integral part of the project, but kind of an entry point: the idea of describing the hippie revolution through the story of the experimental camp in Thy had arisen in the first place when I saw a photograph from the special train, which had taken the first hippies up from Copenhagen to the camp area in Northwest Denmark. The picture showed a dancing woman in a very special dress which had holes cut out for the breasts.
I saw the dress as a symbol of the era’s desire for freedom and its joyful breaking with
conventions — and it was from this symbol that the book about the hippies was able to unfold.
The picture was taken by one of the period’s most respected Danish photographers, Gregers Nielsen; and at the Royal Library in Copenhagen, the book’s visual editor, Poul Rasmussen, discovered a hidden treasure: it became clear that Gregers Nielsen had spent most of the summer of 1970 in Thy Camp, taking hundreds of pictures, and that these pictures now sat forgotten in a box at the library.
Gregers Nielsen’s unique photographs from the camp became the focal point for the pictorial history presented in the book, supplemented by substantial visual material from the archives, along with Poul Rasmussen’s present-day portrait photographs of the book’s key characters.
In my research I also found jumping-off points in some of the photographs, seeking out the history in reverse. It was in this manner that I managed to locate Karen Grue, the woman who had sewn the dress with the holes for her naked breasts, and to hear her account of the camp.
Music was another touchstone for us. During one of my interviews with one of the key people at Thy Camp, Claus Pedersen — known in Denmark as a musician and composer under the name of Tomrer-Claus — ‘Carpenter-Claus’ — the idea came about simply to set the book to music. Without further consideration, Claus got started on composing the music for an audiobook version of the work.
Over the following two years, the book grew into a two-volume work of over 1100 pages — and, running alongside it, Carpenter-Claus worked on composing what would end up being almost 32 hours of original music, to accompany my reading of the text.
We have not yet been presented with a similar project anywhere else in the world.
In 2010 yet another ebook reader was to be found — one which was able to play sound and music: Apple’s iPad that had just been released onto the Danish market. Apple’s original philosophy of sharing knowledge and culture, along with the iPad’s user-friendliness, fitted perfectly with our multimedia hippie-book.
The app needed to be able to integrate text, pictures, audio readings and music. Our goal, for example, was that the user should be able to switch without problems between reading the text on the screen and listening to the audio book: when you sat in your armchair, you could read the book; and when you wanted then to wash up or drive to work you could choose, with a single click, to continue experiencing the book wherever you happened to find yourself. And the other way around.
In October 2011 the first volume of Hippie was published in printed book, ebook, and iPad app versions. We were particularly proud of the app, which we believed to be the first in the world to combine an ebook with text, images, audiobook and original music. The app was spoken of in the Danish press as an example of the digital book of the future.
We soon received a warning, however, of the problems that lay in store.
The option to shift between text and audiobook can be somewhat hard to describe, so we therefore decided to make available a free app of the first three chapters of the book, in text, sound and music.
Our director Jens Lauritsen suddenly informed us, however, that the App Store had refused to distribute this free app, citing the company’s rules about “nudity and pornographic content”.
We looked for a long time at the pictures, which were also the first ones to be featured in the ebook to follow. Yes, in some instances you can see naked body parts: one picture showed a couple enjoying a smoke outside of Thy Camp’s shower block. Another was of the woman with that special dress.
Of course we were familiar with Apple’s rules about avoiding pornographic content — but we didn’t see the photographs as pornographic, and had a hard time understanding how it might be possible to publish a richly illustrated, documentary book about the hippies, for whom a liberated relationship with the human body was a principal element, without showing images of those hippies.
We wrote to the App Store, but did not receive, then or since, any response to our enquiry.
We realized then that our investment in the development of the ebook as an iPad app had been risky: the app could not be used on any other ebook readers or tablets, and neither could it be distributed through any other channels than the App Store. If Apple banned our full-version app, then we would not be able to sell a single copy more of the company’s flagship product.
At first, therefore, we avoided any press coverage of the matter and held our breath. Nothing else happened, and our Hippie app remained on sale from the App Store throughout that winter and into the spring of 2012.
We kept our heads down for the next part, too: in the spring of 2012, Apple opened their iBook Store in Denmark for the sale of ordinary ebooks. We sent our standard ebook edition of Hippie 1 into the new ebook store. Shortly afterwards we received a statement that the iBook Store would not be selling the book, owing to offensive photographs.
Within The Hippie Company we discussed the fact that there was no way we could remove the controversial photos from the ebook. We were united about refusing to do so: to let myself be censored would be to tacitly compromise my artistic integrity as an author.
In October 2012 the second volume of Hippie was published, again in printed book, audiobook and app versions.
To our relief, the app was approved for sale in the App Store without issue. However Apple’s other web shop, the iBook Store, once again refused to deal with the ebook version.
Perhaps we were feeling a little presumptuous, especially since Hippie 2 in all of its formats had been positively received by readers and reviewers alike. In any case, we decided, inspired by the hippies themselves, to put humour and satire to use: instead of removing the controversial photographs, we would carry out an obvious self-censorship of the ebook by covering up those body parts which had caused such offence to the puritanical Americans.
Could we use Apple’s very own apple logo for the purpose? This risked bringing some tedious case about the misuse of a trademarked logo to our doorstep … so we found instead, through Google, a photo of an apple without copyright protection — a shining, glossy red apple, just like the one we imagined Eve to have tempted Adam with in the Garden of Eden.
Soon the apple was placed throughout the two volumes, in various sizes, on all of the photographs that displayed forbidden body parts — buttocks, breasts and genitals.
A selection of the photographs can be seen, both with and without the apple censorship, on our website: www.thedanishcase.dk.
New versions of the two ebooks, with the apple-censored photos, were sent for approval to the iBook Store. We called the project ‘Operation Apple’, and had a good laugh.
Our amusement grew even greater when the edition was approved, ending up on sale at the iBook Store from the 1st of November.
We sent out a press release straightaway and posted the images online. Over the course of 24 hours the matter was being spoken of not only in the Danish media but all over Scandinavia, from where it spread to the rest of Europe and then the USA. You could say that we ourselves were thereby responsible for Apple becoming aware of the issue.
On the following weekend, four days after the apple-censored edition went on sale, we noticed that it had once more disappeared from the iBook Store, without us having been informed let alone supplied with reasons for its removal.
The whole thing caused quite a stir among Danish politicians. Several members of both Folketinget, the Danish national parliament, and also of the European Parliament, raised the issue immediately, and the Danish Minister of Culture announced that he would make contact with the European Commission, along with his minister colleagues from other EU countries.
A few days later Apple tightened the screws. One week into November, an employee from Apple’s headquarters in California rang up the director of The Hippie Company to inform us that our uncensored app edition of the Hippie books would now also be removed from the App Store. It was not possible to get an answer about whether censoring the photographs would help to rectify the problem.
“I honestly had doubts as to whether I was, in reality, speaking to a robot,” Jens Lauritsen said.
Our smiles stiffened, and the laughter turned to something dry in the throat, when we came to understand that The Hippie Company’s most ambitious publication could no longer be sold, distributed or bought through any channel. Apple had effectively obstructed any continued distribution of the digital book of the future.
It probably goes without saying that we have yet to receive any response to our complaints or enquiries to Apple.
The case has subsequently provoked continuing debate, both in Denmark and the rest of Europe. It is used as an example of the principal democratic problem, that an American company should be able to see to it that a critically lauded, documentary Danish book cannot be purchased in its most advanced form in Denmark, despite the fact that not a single reader in the country has expressed that the book is in the least bit offensive, let alone pornographic.
I was gratified by the broad support — from the Danish public, but also from the Danish Union of Journalists, the Nordic Authors’ Society and, most recently, the 300,000 European journalists in the European Federation of Journalists who, in an open letter, have asked the European Commission to step in.
Among EU politicians in Brussels, the censorship affair has been named “The Danish Case” —not because it’s a unique case, but because the censorship of the Hippie-books has led for the first time to a debate around the principle of freedom of expression in a globalized world, in which American concerns disseminate national art and culture to an increasing extent.
Morten Lokkegaard, deputy chairman of the European Parliament’s Culture and Education Committee, has not least been active in this. He wrote to Apple on the Culture Committee’s behalf —without receiving a reply — and also managed to get two representatives of Apple Europe to take part in a meeting with him at the Parliament.
When Apple’s representatives leafed through the Hippie books during that meeting, they voiced their conviction that the contents were indisputably “pornographic”. After the meeting, the representatives had no comments to give to the waiting press.
Steve Jobs, who has declared his gratitude to the insights he gained on LSD, is dead; and Apple’s stated goal of spreading knowledge and culture to the peoples of the world seems to have met the same fate.
On an ongoing basis, I kept both the book’s website, www.hippienu.dk and my Facebook profile up-to-date with the latest on the case. Thus, in the middle of April 2013, I could also announce the news that the European Parliament’s Culture and Education Committee had stepped in on the matter and had taken my side.
I illustrated the news on Facebook with a clip from TV2, the national Danish TV channel, showing some of the censored photographs on the book’s homepage.
By the next morning, both the TV clip and my text had been removed from Facebook, with a message that the post had been in breach of Facebook’s code of practice.
My feelings are illustrated by my outburst on my Facebook page that day: “I have been censored in a censor case!!! What can I do?! !?! ! How can we communicate with each other?! HEEEEEELP!”
Three days later, late one afternoon, I was blocked from my own Facebook profile for 24 hours. The reason given was that an image on my timeline violated the rules. It was apparently the photograph of the woman with that special dress from 1970 — a photograph which had found its way onto my timeline many months before.
Facebook asked me at the same time to remove any other elements from my page which might conflict with the rules. Failure to do so would result in my being permanently “deactivated” from Facebook.
That same evening, I went through all of the pictures on my timeline, shamed and with heavy heart, removing many of the photographic artworks; among them Helmut Newton’s beautiful female portraits which a friend had posted to my page.
I had considered at length whether I should also remove the front cover of my own book, Hippie 1, on which a naked female backside can be glimpsed.
When I’d regained access to my own page, after 24 hours, I concluded my contribution to the episode:
“In his book ‘1984’, Orwell believed it would be the State that would control everything; but Facebook and Apple are fully in the process of getting us to censor ourselves, our books, pictures, games and conversations with each other. I am full of strong, mixed feelings.”
The mixed feelings were due to the fact that I on one hand wanted to leave Facebook in protest, just as I had decided one year earlier never again to buy any Apple product; but on the other hand I knew that I would thereby be foregoing a very important means of communication with my readers, who, among other things, had contributed to the research for the Hippie books by referring me to sources that I had not myself been able to track down. Our website, which is integrated with Facebook, would also be worthless for me if I no longer had access to Facebook.
I decided to remain.
Following this episode, I have censored myself on Facebook and have failed at certain points to publish photos from my book. I’ve chosen instead, several times, to illustrate news about the censorship case with a piece of art — namely Magritte’s picture of a pipe, with its caption “this is not a pipe”.
Inspired by the above maxim, a net activist by the name of Tobias Bojlen Hartman initiated an action in which he wrote “this is not porn” over a photograph of a bathing hippie from the book. The image, which can be seen on the activists’ website, www.thisisnotporn.info, has since been shared on Facebook by thousands of people worldwide — and has been taken down in most cases by Facebook’s monitoring unit which has also handed out penalties by blocking many users.
When I myself wrote about the action in June, sharing a link to the website with my Facebook friends, my post was removed, and I was once more blocked from my own page and threatened with decisive “deactivation”.
On this occasion I also received overwhelming support from the public, from the press, from the Danish Union of Journalists and many Danish politicians. However, my opportunities to spread the word about the censorship matter via social media are very limited, when photographs, links and text all continue to be removed from Facebook.
The following text from the hippie-books is an attempt to give the public, press and politicians outside of Denmark the opportunity to be acquainted with the backdrop to the censorship that Apple and Facebook have been practising.
Individual pictures from the book have been shown in the media throughout the word, but the text has hitherto only been available in Danish. With support from the Danish Arts Council, I have therefore had parts of the books translated, corresponding to around a quarter of the original text.
In selecting the text, I have concentrated on a day-by-day recounting of the story of the big experiment in Thy in the summer of 1970, and have on the other hand omitted the many characters and background stories which might hold special interest only for the Danish public.
As regards the pictures, we have chosen to concentrate mainly on Gregers Nielsen’s reportage photographs from the camp, featuring both naked and fully clothed hippies, as it is these pictures in particular which have given rise to debate. We have also included a couple of the book’s additional documentary photo series, however, along with a selection of Poul Rasmussen’s photo portraits of the book’s key figures today.
This ebook can thereby, I hope, be read purely as a story about what can happen to people and the community when conventional rules and norms are set aside for a few months — and what can happen when an American company, half a century later, finds the event to be offensive.
Peter Ovig Knudsen, September 2013.