When Google Play Censors Your Comic Books


John Linton Roberson is a comic book creator of titles that sometimes, but not always, get a little fruity. Selling his work on Google Play, he hit a little problem.

Hey, remember how I said STORY OF OH and VLADRUSHKA were now available (as well as LULU Book 1, MARTHAand SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF, which still are available there) on Google Play?

PSYCHE! Banned again!

I'm really getting sick of the censorship. Erotica is allowed in ebooks UNLESS THEY'RE COMICS. And even so they do allow it–if your name is Chaykin or Crepax.  But if you, say, parody Crepax? (OH) Nuh-uh.

This was the letter he received,

Notice of Book Removal from Google Play [1-8003000008684]

We have discovered that one or more books in your Google Play catalog do not comply with our content policies. The following books will no longer be available to users on Google Books or Google Play:

The Story of OH!

Reason for removal: We do not allow images of nudity with no educational or artistic value, pornographic text or depictions of extreme sexual acts, including rape, incest, and bestiality, nor do we permit pseudo depictions of these acts.

Please review your book catalog and remove any other books that do not comply with our content policies. Failure to comply with these policies may result in suspension or removal from the program.

We appreciate your understanding.


The Google Play Books Policy Enforcement Team

And then it got worse for him.

Oh, to hell with Google Play. My catalog there is now basically gone.

They just banned LULU Book 1, which is a literary work that happens to have nudity (and only really in book 1) and is NOT erotica, as well. If it were a movie, it'd be an "R." This is the one that has been banned by no one till now, because Google is simply against any kind of nudity whatsoever, no matter what the context. It can be shown in the opera, but not via Google goddamn Play.

And unlike the first bannings, they didn't even see any need to inform me of this. I found out when I looked at my catalog. And of course there is no appeal. They are Google and they are all-powerful.

As he points out,

Also, even my overtly "adult" stuff has no "extreme sexual acts, including rape, incest, and bestiality," Certainly notLULU Book 1. There is not especially graphic nudity, and on a couple of pages(or rather, a little less), a consensual, fairly tame sex scene that might be an R if it were a film. And that's the most graphic the book will ever get. After Act 1 ofErdgeist(which Book 1 covers), there's not much of that kind of thing.

Unless all even somewhat graphically depicted sex acts are "extreme." One of them–STORY OF OH!–is written by Terry Gilliam collaborator Charles Alverson. And LULU is from the work of Frank Wedekind. These have no artistic value?My drawing has no artistic value?

The second round, when they banned LULU Book 1, which has NONE OF THESE THINGS, and MARTHA, which is autobio and basically a romance story with sex in it that's simply not presented coyly, I received no message at all. I found out when I went to my account and they were gone.

He also points out the material that Google Play seems happy to carry from other, bigger, more mainstream publishers. How there is no appeals procedure, especially considering the value judgement of "artistic merit."

So I got in touch with Google's press department, asking about these issues. They told me,

I've looked into this and while we don't comment on specific cases, we can confirm that our books policies are designed to provide a great experience for readers everywhere, and we will remove any books that break our policies: https://support.google.com/books/partner/answer/1067634?hl=en-GB.

Google Play refused to answer regarding who made the decisions regarding artistic value, and how, but they did offer this possibility for appeal.

 He could contact us via the email he was sent or via this form: https://support.google.com/books/partner/contact/default?hl=en&cfnti=escalationflow.email&cft=3

Good luck John! Of course, now the CBLDF has your back….

Of course, Google is a private company and can make whatever content policies it likes. But as in numerous past instances in which tech companies from Apple to Facebook to Amazon awkwardly inhabited the role of cultural gatekeepers, the real problem with Google Play's suppression of Roberson's work is its apparent hypocrisy. Although the content policy supposedly bans bestiality and "sexually explicit terms in titles, subtitles or descriptions," for instance, interested parties can still buy Done By The Deinonychus and 15 Stories of Anal Sex. For creators like Roberson, whose stories have been taken down for even tamer sex and nudity, this stings a bit to say the least.

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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