Apple’s app store policy facing court challenge

Regular readers will know we’ve covered plenty of stories about Apple’s approval policy for inclusion in the iTunes App Store: a policy that has seemed inconsistent to say the least. Now one company is threatening to take the matter to court.

Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet recently developed an iPad app that aimed to repackage the contents of the newspaper in a tablet-friendly fashion. Unfortunately for its hopes of acceptance, those contents included Side-9, a daily feature on said page that features a topless woman.

Apple has rejected the app on the grounds that the photographs violate restrictions on adult content. That’s prompted the newspaper’s editor Poul Madsen to complain that the rejection is unfair censorship and a restriction on free speech. He says that if Apple doesn’t reverse its decision, he will consider taking the issue to the European Court of Justice.

Simply on the taste and decency matter, I’d suspect the newspaper has very little chance of success. While European law does cover the issue of free speech, that’s designed more for preventing government censorship than how private publishing companies choose to accept customers. And Apple does have the right to set its own decency standards: this isn’t the same as the newspaper being banned from running its own website.

Where Ekstra Bladet may have a credible point is on the issue of inconsistency. The Sun, a British newspaper, has an iPad app that contains its Page 3 feature, much the same idea as Side-9 but with added puns and a comment on the news by the model that always seems to match the paper’s own editorial line.

On the face of it, Apple clearly isn’t playing fair and, if you wanted to come up with a conspiracy theory, you could point to the fact that The Sun is run by News Corporation, which is planning a major launch of an iPad exclusive newspaper next year.

There may be a key difference, though. The Sun app is a paid app and requires users to confirm they are at least 17. Ekstra Bladet can only play the hypocrisy card if it is willing to play by the same rules and still gets rejected.

To describe Side-9 as pornographic is ludicrous. To ban applications that contain partial nudity when the exact same image can be viewed through Safari is farcical. But as dumb a move as it may be, I’m not convinced Apple is doing anything illegal.

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