Publishers Question Apple’s Rejection of Nudity
By ERIC PFANNER
Published: March 14, 2010
PARIS — About a year ago Sebastian Kempa, a freelance photographer who lives near Dortmund, Germany, embarked on a project to show how clothes “are our second layer of skin.”
Times Topic: Apple Inc.
“They disguise, reveal, mirror our innermost being or help to hide it,” Mr. Kempa says on his Web site. Mr. Kempa has photographed dozens of people with and without their clothing, and is showing the “before” and “after” results on the site, www.naked-people.de.
The site is not pornographic, at least not by the standards of Germany, where it is considered prudish to wear a towel to a unisex sauna. The models are all ordinary people; the pictures are anything but arousing.
So Mr. Kempa was surprised that when he tried to create an iPhone application for the online exhibition, it was rejected by Apple. Aware that Apple frowns on displays of naked flesh — the company recently culled thousands of applications deemed to be objectionable — he used pictures of the models in clothing and in underwear, rather than fully naked, as they appear on the Web, and called the application Not Quite Naked People.
“Apparently Apple even has a problem with naked legs,” he said.
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on Mr. Kempa’s site. Instead, he referred to a recent article in The New York Times, in which an Apple executive said the crackdown on nudity followed complaints from women who found certain applications “degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see.”
That explanation worries some German publishers. Why should a technology company in California be allowed to decide what is objectionable to the rest of the world, they ask. By comparison, imagine a Japanese television manufacturer determining what Americans are allowed to see on their sets.
“We are very comfortable with the standards we have here in Germany,” said Mathias Müller von Blumencron, editor of the newsmagazine Der Spiegel. “We can’t adapt European magazines to the standards of Utah.”
Mr. von Blumencron wonders what will happen when the magazine publishes a picture containing nudity — something that sometimes occurs when Der Spiegel writes about, say, a risqué stage production in Berlin.
“We will not alter our content,” he said. “We document war in our photographs; we show violence. Sometimes we also show pictures of people who aren’t dressed properly.”
He may have reason to worry. The iPhone application for another newsmagazine, Stern, was blocked by Apple for several weeks, apparently because it included a fashion photo with a nude model. That incident prompted Gruner + Jahr, which publishes Stern, to protest to the Association of German Magazine Publishers, which said its chief executive, Wolfgang Fürstner, was drafting a letter of complaint to Apple.
“Apple’s behavior brutally showed publishers that they are the junior partners in this relationship,” said Peter Klotzki, a spokesman for the group.
Publishers have high hopes that applications for the iPhone — and, soon, for Apple’s iPad tablet computer — will turn into a lucrative source of revenue, replacing some of the business they are losing in print.
To be sure, even some German publishers known for their racy content have managed to reconcile themselves to Apple’s restrictions.
Axel Springer, whose newspaper Bild features a naked or scantily clad woman on its front page almost daily, developed an iPhone application that allows users to “undress” the models by shaking their phones. But unlike the women depicted on Page 1 on newsstands and breakfast tables all over Germany, the iPhone “Bild girls” keep their underwear on, rather than stripping all the way down to what Mr. Kempa would call their first layer of skin.
“We are perfectly comfortable with this,” said Christoph Keese, head of public affairs at Axel Springer. “Freedom of the press is not really about showing naked women. Nobody from Apple is telling us what to write about.”