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Summary:

Is the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) trying to shut down news reader apps that rely on RSS or is it just trying to smack down one in particular…

Pulse On iPad

Is the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) trying to shut down news reader apps that rely on RSS or is it just trying to smack down one in particular? An infringement letter (included in full below) from the New York Times to Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) got the flashy Pulse News Reader pulled from the Apple App Store Monday mere hours after it got a shout out from Steve Jobs during his WWDC keynote, as Kara reported. On the surface, the complaint doesn’t seem to match the NYT’s early-adopter attitude towards RSS that started with an agreement between Martin Nisenholtz and developer Dave Winer in 2002. But the NYT’s counsel says the commercial use — Pulse is $3.99 a download — and the the framing of NYTimes.com and Boston.com within the app violates the sites’ Terms of Service. In the complaint, Samson notes “the app is delivered with the NYTimes.com RSS feed preloaded, which is prominently featured in the screen shots used to sell the app on iTunes.” The NYT does not provide full-story feeds, usually headlines and links.

I asked Nisenholtz by e-mail this morning if this signaled a new policy towards news readers, CC’d to spokesman Robert Christie. The first response was to send me the complaint. When I asked if any commercial news reader app, software or browser-based version is at risk, even if the user is the one who picks the feeds, and what this means beyond Pulse, Christie replied:

“The Terms of Use on our RSS feeds makes it clear that the RSS feeds are available for non-commercial use only. By charging for an app ($3.99) that gives users access to our RSS feeds, they are violating that provision of the Terms of Use. Furthermore, when a user clicks on a story in the News Pulse Reader, it takes them to the nytimes.com site, which is framed within the News Pulse Reader app browser, as opposed to taking them directly to our site. (Since our RSS is not full text, once a user of any of our RSS feeds views the RSS headline/summary of any of our articles, a user can click a button in the app labeled ‘Web’ & this opens our web site up but keeps the user within the App.) This is a violation of the nytimes.com Terms of Use. Finally, they are using the Times name/content to promote their app, particularly because the Times RSS feed comes preloaded on the App and we are featured in their demonstration video: http://www.alphonsolabs.com/video.”

“We want to be clear that we are willing to work with Pulse, but only under our Terms of Use.”

I asked again if this has implications beyond Pulse — it’s hard to see how it couldn’t — and will update with any response. [Update: The answer is: “We would look at each instance on a case by case basis.”

Akshay Kothari, one of the two Stanford students who developed Pulse, told Kara they would be removing the NYT from Pulse, which got a rave review from the NYT’s own Brad Stone last week.

Update: Pulse is back in iTunes sans mentions of NYT. When I checked at first, the NYT had been excised from the app screengrabs. But when I downloaded the app just now (6:45 ET), the NYT feed shows up and stories still were being framed — with what looks like a new “open in Safari” option that so far I see only on NYT pages. The iTunes page carries a note at the top: “Featured in Steve Jobs’ keynote at WWDC 2010!”

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Letter to the Apple AppStore from NYTCo Senior Counsel Richard Samson

Hello-

I am writing again, on behalf of The Boston Globe, Boston.com and The New York Times Company, about the infringing iPad app,

  1. contentnext Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    Total overreaction and misunderstanding of what an RSS reader is. So since my Mac’s RSS reader allows me to access their feed NewsGator shouldn’t be able to sell it to me? All that’s going to happen is that the next version won’t have their feeds and users are going to have to manually add them if they want them. I’m not sure I get this in the slightest. I know what they (NYT) are getting at. But the whole thing is just silly.

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  2. The people at the New York Times, including their low level employees, should be ashamed of this heavy-handed bullying. It’s not the way they should be acting.

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  3. The Reptile Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    Seems to me that they’re charging customers a 1 time subscription for the application,not the content. The Times is over reacting.

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  4. Julianna Moore Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    The NYT spokesperson has bad grammar.

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  5. This has always been a grey area with RSS feeds. Almost every TOS regarding RSS feeds specify that the usage is free only for non-commercial use, but almost everyone who is in the business of crawling content or aggregating content use the feeds to meet commercial ends.

    Even though this is rarely enforced, this is not the first time something like this has happened (it has happened before between publishers & aggregators) and it won’t be the last. It is when the product you make using that RSS feed starts making enough money/visibility that the water starts heating up.

    The publisher does have a right to enforce its terms, but selective enforcement is not nice either. I’d say just get it over and done with and make summary-only feeds open to commercial use too (since they are being used that way in any case and enforcing every case would cost unjustifiable amount of time and money).

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  6. Its really bad. I can’t think its from any different angle. There must be some inner reason or clue behind this. What that might be?

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