Want The Obama "Hope" Artwork On Your iPhone? Nope, Says Apple.

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iphoneapp_startmobileStart Mobile has managed to get 18 separate iPhone applications approved by Apple. So you’ll imagine their surprise when one of them was recently rejected. But you may be even more surprised to find out why.

Apparently, Apple doesn’t like the way one piece of art in the app depicts President Obama. Is it out of line or tasteless? Well, you can determine for yourself, because you’ve undoubtedly seen the art in question before: It’s Shepard Fairey’s famous “HOPE” image of Obama that was everywhere during his Presidential campaign.

So why on Earth would this be rejected? Well, here’s the wording in the rejection:

It contains content that ridicules public figures and is in violation of Section 3.3.12 from the iPhone SDK Agreement which states: “Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.”

“Ridicules public figures”? This image is hanging in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian — yet, Apple apparently finds it inappropriate.

To be clear, the app in question is a free demo app of Start Mobile’s galleries and contains a dozen images, but Apple is clearly just unnerved by the Obama one as you can see in the correspondence below which the developer has shared.

Here’s Apple’s initial rejection letter:

Subject: Start Mobile Wallpaper Gallery 1.0: Application Submission Feedback
Date: Tue, 19 May 2009 12:27:02 -0700 (PDT)
From: iPhone Developer Program
To: XXXXX@XXXXXXX.com, XXXXX@XXXXXXX.net

Please include the line below in follow-up emails for this request.
Follow-up: 74455381
Dear START MOBILE, INC.,

Thank you for submitting Start Mobile Wallpaper Gallery to the App Store. We’ve reviewed Start Mobile Wallpaper Gallery and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains content that ridicules public figures and is in violation of Section 3.3.12 from the iPhone SDK Agreement which states:

“Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.”

An example of a public figure is attached.

If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that Start Mobile Wallpaper Gallery does not violate the iPhone SDK Agreement we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.

Regards,

iPhone Developer Program
****************************

img_0031Here’s Start Mobile’s follow-up trying to explain why the image is not ridiculing a public figure:

Subject: [Fwd: Start Mobile Wallpaper Gallery 1.0: Application Submission Feedback]
Date: Tue, 19 May 2009 21:56:29 -0700
From: John Doffing
To: iPhone Developer Program

Follow-up: 74455381

Apple Developer Program:

The attached image is most certainly NOT content that ridicules a public figure, nor is it in any way “obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory”.

The attached image is an iconic portrait by globally acclaimed artist SHEPARD FAIREY, and is actually included in the National Portrait Gallery!

* http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts_and_culture/7817466.stm

According to the BBC:

“When people think of a portrait of Obama, they think of this image.”
Fairey’s works are also in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

THANK YOU!

Best,
John

Now, lest you think Apple is possibly rejecting the app because Start Mobile doesn’t have permission to use the artist’s work, Start Mobile has three other apps featuring the work of Shepherd Fairey that are already in the App Store.

Okay, so maybe Apple’s isn’t comfortable with the bit of legal wrangling that is taking place over the artwork? That’s possible, but that’s not what it says in the rejection. And there are other applications like this one that use the image in question. And, you’ll notice, that’s not even the real version of the image, and it’s being used in the app’s icon. Why Apple would let that slip by and not this app? I have no idea.

1And further, Start Mobile actually has another app that also features an Obama image that has been sitting around waiting to be approved for 2 months now, presumably for the same reason. That app features artwork from urban artist Justin Bua, and contains the image of Obama shown on the right.

So why doesn’t the developer just remove the offending images and get these apps approved? Well, because he doesn’t think he should have to, and believes this is just another case of the App Store approval process gone off the tracks.

“You notice that my original email to you didn’t scream CENSORSHIP or anything like that. I am quite sure that this is simply what amounts to a clerical error. A billion apps sold. 50k apps. etc etc. So this is just growing pains on their part. But unfortunately, it effected us directly, and had we not done SOMETHING, the end result would have been what amounts to accidental censorship,” Start Mobile’s John Doffing told us over email.

He goes on to note that he spoke with someone in developer relations a few weeks ago about the rejection, and they indicated that any apps that contain images of Obama may simply be getting rejected outright because there was a lot of “incendiary political content” that was coming through the App Store approval process around the time of the election. Sometimes “‘the baby is thrown out with the bathwater,” is what Doffing was told.

Doffing said that openness about what was going on made him hopeful that the app would find its way to the App Store, but that apparently didn’t change anything.

Sadly, this looks like yet another ridiculous App Store rejection. While Apple has no shortage of developers wanting to make apps for the platform, at some point, all of these ridiculous rejections run the risk of turning developers away.

Apple badly needs to straighten out its policies and get a team in place that doesn’t make dozens of silly mistakes with regards to app approvals and denials. The system continues to be broken.

Sure, Apple can do what it wants, but it’s asking developers to make apps for its store, which move iPhone and iPod touch units and make Apple all that money. Increasingly, the promise is that developers can earn a living off of the platform, or at least supplement their income. But they can’t do that if Apple keeps rejecting their apps for no apparent reason.

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