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Did the New York Times Just Declare War on News Aggregators?

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Updated: The New York Times (s nyt), like many newspapers, has been trying to find an online business model that works, including experimenting with iPhone and iPad (s aapl) apps, as well as a pay wall that’s expected to launch soon. Now, the newspaper company appears to be sending its lawyers after news aggregators that use its RSS feeds in commercial applications. According to a report from All Things Digital, the Pulse newsreader application for the iPad was pulled from the Apple store after a legal threat from the NYT over unauthorized use of the company’s RSS feeds. According to the email notice that Apple sent the developers of the app, the senior counsel for the newspaper said:

The Pulse News Reader app makes commercial use of the and RSS feeds, in violation of their Terms of Use. Thus, the use of our content is unlicensed. The app also frames the and websites in violation of their respective Terms of Use.

The newspaper’s lawyer also noted in his email that the Pulse app includes the New York Times feed when a user downloads the app, and that the newspaper’s feed is “prominently featured in the screen shots used to sell the app on iTunes.”

Ironically, the removal of the app came on the same day that Pulse was praised by Apple CEO Steve Jobs during his keynote presentation at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference. The app was even written about positively by the New York Times itself, in a blog post that highlighted how easy Pulse was to use for browsing multiple news sources, and how the fact that it was a paid app should give media organizations hope that readers might pay for content on the iPad and other such devices.

It’s not clear why the New York Times decided to target the Pulse app, however, apart from the fact that it is (or was, until it was pulled) one of the most popular paid apps on the iPad. There are dozens of applications and services that do fundamentally the same thing as the news-reading app does, by pulling in the RSS feeds of media sites such as the New York Times — and many of them are paid applications, just as Pulse is. There are also many websites, including Yahoo (s yhoo) and Google’s (s goog) customized homepages, that allow users to embed RSS feeds from other sites.

What may have contributed to the complaint is that Pulse also has a view that shows the newspaper’s website inside a Pulse frame. Although there is no obvious advertising in the app, such framing of a site’s content has led to legal challenges against news aggregators in the past, including a high-profile case launched in 1997 by the Washington Post (s wpo), CNN (s twx), Reuters (s tri) and a number of other media entities against a site called TotalNews, which embedded news content from other outlets inside a frame.

Update: When asked whether the newspaper’s threats towards the Pulse news app were an indication that it would be pursuing other news aggregators as well, a spokesman for the New York Times told PaidContent that it would look at other situations “on a case-by-case basis.”

Update 2: The Pulse app has reappeared in the iPad app store, according to a tweet from one of the company’s founders, and it still contains New York Times content as it did before the complaint. It’s not clear why the app has been reinstated, but according to a post on the NYT Bits blog, the newspaper is not happy about it.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): What We Can Learn From The Guardian’s New Open Platform

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user bloomsberries

54 Responses to “Did the New York Times Just Declare War on News Aggregators?”

  1. I think it’s ridiculous. You can’t syndicate your feed across the web because you want people to pick it up and then turn around and say, “Except for you”.

    What does the NY Times think RSS is? Why even have a feed if you really don’t want to syndicate your content?

    They come up with some interesting articles every now and then but it’s not like you will miss anything if you don’t read the times. Anytime a story breaks, 100 other reporters and bloggers will pick it up and rehash the whole thing anyway…”according to the New York Times…”

    Syndication is like free advertising in places that you wouldn’t normally be. It’s your work, a by line, a teaser and a link back to your site from anywhere on the web.

    How bad can that be?

  2. fred_bilson

    I think it still comes down to the definition of fair use. Sites such as and only show a small snippet of an article so that the user has to goto the author’s site. It sounds like this application was going beyond that and framing the actual content and taking eyeballs away.

  3. Consider this:

    1. You go into a shop and buy a copy of the NYT. The money mostly goes to the NYT to cover their costs in producing the paper.

    2. The paper boy takes the NYT from the shop without paying a dime for it, then delivers it to you and gets paid for the service. The NYT gets nothing.

    Looking at it that way, what Pulse was doing doesn’t sound right – i.e. profiting from NYT’s hard work without paying them a penny for it.

  4. I think there’s something defensible for the New York Times. The fact that Pulse Reader was promoting its paid app by saying that it had NYT content is a bit iffy. What if someone wanted to make an Unofficial GigaOm iPad application and charge $5.00 to use it?

  5. The answer to the question is “no.” The only relevant issue to the NYT is that the Pulse app is a paid app. Pulse was making money off NYT’s product, which in the NYT’s view was like leaving money on the table. Their reaction was knee-jerk, the legal equivalent of “Whoa! Let’s think about this for a second.”

    My guess is the NYT see’s a potential source of revenue, as they should. What I suspect will be coming is a revised Terms of Use, one that requires some type of fee to be paid for commercial use of there content. The feeds will still be free for non-profit use.

    • Jeremy

      I think where he is right, is in using the NYT’s in there advertisements.

      For example, if I sold car wax, and use a BMW in my ad to show how well the wax worked without there permission, I think I would get in trouble.

  6. Jeremy

    Well, The first thing I did when I installed Pulse was remove the NYT’s RSS feed, and thanks to this kind of thing, it’s never coming back

    The funny thing is, Pulse has an option to view the RSS feeds in the webpages they are presented on, and more times then not that’s how I view them. For the RSS feeds that I do look at, they get more ad views because of Pulse, and not less. (from people like me anyway)

  7. For once I will say something nice about Apple. Jobs in his keynotes said that app are rejected solely based on 3 criteria:
    1. non standard APIs, 2. if they fail to operate, 3. if they don’t work as intended/advertised.
    Therefore, this claim is not falling under any of those and should have been reinstated!

  8. REPRINT of my commentary on Dave Winer’s “Pulse” post:

    These actions reveal how much the #OldMedia types still don’t get how the world has changed. And Dave is pointing out that the NYT does have a fantastic Attention Economy platform that it could easily monetize much, much better with just the least little bit of moxy and imagination.

    E.g. start by placing an ad or other (better, more contextually relevant) offer into the end of the BODY of your content (where people will actually see them, unlike the sidebar, etc. ads/banners that we’ve all trained ourselves to ignore). “Problem” of aggregators solved. They’d actually be doing the NYT a huge favor, in fact they ARE doing them a favor right now, it’s just that the NYT doesn’t get it…

    Also remember that the NYT gets FREE organic Google listings on just about every search term it might choose to target in virtue of its high Google Page Rank! If you can’t make THAT work for you financially, then I don’t know what…

    Understand this: On the Front-End, you MUST Move the Freeline, in order to build and sustain your piece of the attention pie. The NYT already has a huge piece of that pie, but it is too dumb not to mostly let it rot away unmonetized on the BACK-END.

  9. Vischameel

    If were running an aggregation service I would simply drop the NYT’s from the site. Case closed. Their content is commodotized in web terms. Their brand means very little online these days.

  10. Chris Weiss

    So where do you draw the line on the ‘repackaging for profit’ violation? Pretty much any non-free or ad-supported RSS aggregator is in violation by the letter of the law (including web-based readers on ad-supported sites).
    Add to that list Microsoft Windows 7 and Office, which support displaying RSS feeds in several locations and are most certainly not free. OS-X includes an RSS feed screen saver – also in violation.
    Failure to enforce the ToS sets a precedent that can be used by other providers to avoid prosecution, so clearly the NYT must address all applications in violation.
    It’s entirely unrealistic to expect these software programs to be removed from the market. I propose the following:
    Any service that provides an RSS feed restricted from re-publication for profit include a tag in the feed indicating this.
    All non-free RSS aggregators (including Windows, OS-X, NetNewsWire, Google Reader, Office, etc). Respect this flag and reject content from that feed.

    Until then, the best solution is for consumers to just not consume those feeds, lest they be aiding the violation of the those terms of service and subject to criminal prosecution themselves.

  11. dstrauss

    It’s time to give the Times a break…and stop viewing it in ANY electronic version, until they understand that the 100 year old plus print model DOES NOT WORK for electonic data. I don’t know which one is worse, NYT or Wall Street Journal, but neither one “gets it.” Why would anyone want to pay $15-20 per month for digital ink? Pigs get fat, while hogs get slaughtered – maybe Sulzberger and Murdoch don’t understand that.

  12. Vischameel

    I strongly dislike the NYT’s. Not over politics but over these exact type of business practices. They would not try this with Google. They are slime.

  13. fjpoblam

    If NYT doesn’t SEEK and become more friendly with avenues of publication, then NYT may be cutting off its nose to spite its face. NYT may have to come begging later for customers and avenues. GOOG and news aggregators don’t NEED NYT: NYT needs THEM.

  14. NYT should focus on developing a monetize able online model otherwise it will seize to exist.It is hard to control online activities as it is beyond anyone’s unified command.

  15. Atilla

    Good. The truth is that more users does not make more users for NYT if their news is stripped from the site and wrapped in somebody elses’s site, frame, application or whatever.

    Free is dead. You get only what you pay for.

    These guys need to pay NYT for using their content to sell their application and ads, that’s all. Otherwise it is stealing.

    in 5 years all news sites worth reading will be pay sites and everything else too. The only free stuff on the internet will be junk and advertising.

    • Jason

      You’re confusing what’s happening. First, they aren’t stripping the news from the. They are allowing the reader to access the news using RSS that the NYT provides. Other readers include Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

      As for the site frame, again, this is no different then what Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer already do.

      The problem isn’t with any of that. Instead, it’s essentially that they shared a link to NYT inside their application, a link the NYT publishes and encourages people to use.

      • Atilla

        Oh now you know that web browsers do not do anything at all like collect information and repackage it. Saying this is just another web browser may be just a trifle misleading. So is your “what is the meaning of is” definition of “stripping.” Redirecting users eyes through another application rather than the NYT site itself or their own RSS feed they manage and package is close enough to “stripping” for a lawyer to argue about for quite some time.

        It’s about who controls content and manages users. Another VC backed Stanford startup to use content somebody else creates to sell advertising may just be a wee bit irritating to the people making the content. Another $5 dollar application to repackage somebody elses website in fashion colors and looks to sell (Defining “sell” is the ap or the ads) while the creator and investor in the original website watches more money get made by somebody else on their work might make them cranky. Last straw and camels and all that.

        Stealing does not create value.

      • Andrei

        They are stripping the content, that’s the problem.

        In the Pulse app they have a “text” and “web” view with the default set to “text.” Think Instapaper view or the new RSS view in Safari 5. Pulse even markets that feature in the iTunes store. “View articles without having to look at all those ads!”

        Now, sure, a web browser does the same, but a web browser is free. Pulse is $4. So Pulse is making money off someone else’s content and stripping away the ads to boot.

        Not sure how anyone can blame the NYT for pitching a fit in this context. Pulse is basically making off people like the NYT who provide content in good faith while also encouraging Pulse users to take money away from NYT by stripping out the ads with the text view.

      • Chris Weiss

        Atilla – Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer all allow you to save an RSS feed as a bookmark, creating a drop-down list of the summaries of recent entries of that RSS feed. It’s not a very high-profile feature, but it is there in all 3 browsers. By definition, it is exactly what the NYT and Globe’s Terms of Use prohibit.
        That said, I have to side with the NYT and Globe on this. Technically, it’s a violation of their Terms of Use.
        The sad takeaways from this are:
        – Almost all content on the web is covered by a license. If you’re a developer that re-publishes content, you need to be aware of and respect those licenses. If your app is a content viewer that can access thousands of sources, how do you begin to police this?
        – Content creators are making essentially no efforts to actually protect their content from these sorts of violations. Arguably, they’re encouraging it by making RSS feeds available at all without making ‘reasonable effort’ to control access. Legally, they may be on shaky ground if this were brought to trial.
        – By positioning itself as the “controller” of all App Store content, entities who have grievances with App Store content have an easy path to address those grievances. If Pulse were available through other channels, the NYT/Globe would have contacted the developers directly with a C&D for use of their content and the developer likely would have just removed those feeds from the app and their marketing materials, released a new version and this would be a much lower profile incident. The platiff entities aren’t going to spend time on “fix it” solutions requiring further review, they want “make it go away so we can move on” solutions. IE – “Remove it from the app store forever”. Unfortunately, Apple’s (prudent) response is almost guaranteed to be to comply with a legally viable request (particularly from a high profile company) rather than defend any developers (even high profile developers).
        The end result being a high profile mess that’ll surely cost the NYT/Globe a lot more than if they’d let it slide (which they can’t do – failure to enforce = invalidated ToU).

      • Andrei

        Again… Safari is a “free” product.

        Further, Apple is overlaying the stripped version on top of the original article, for which you must see the article in web format in the browser before you can even switch to Reader mode.

        Pulse is promoting the stripped version as a benefit to encourage their users to ignore ads, Pulse is charging money for an app that relies entirely on someone else to produce content to make the reader even worth using, Pulse is not sharing any of that money with their content providers, and Pulse is defaulting the view in their app to show the stripped version, which hurts the people who are providing them free content.

        I bought Pulse. I like using it. But come on, the New York Times has a reasonable position here. I think they have every right to be upset.

    • signal_lost

      “in 5 years all news sites worth reading will be pay sites and everything else too. The only free stuff on the internet will be junk and advertising.”

      Perhaps in niche markets where the information has an immediate perceived value this is true (Like FT, Wall St Journal or even GigOm PRO). Even then Niche market news websites like this one have special value to advertisers as they get to target the right set of eyeballs (The Ads for Groupon, Economist, and Apple stuff that currently are on this page when I look on it are dead on for my purchasing habits, and likely most of the people on this site. I would argue that journalism’s ultimately weakness is its lack of depth.

      Mossberg’s tech corner in the WSJ, while widely read has nothing you couldn’t pick up from skimming arstechnica, t-crunch and the occasional blog. News aggregation points like drudge, Digg and Slashdot that pull together interesting content from these Niche fringes. I find them to be much more interesting than what a reporter finds is interesting (as well as the crowd sourced ones have people writing summaries who actually sometimes understand the tech better and don’t make silly mistakes).

      Its ironic that Journalism one of the greatest early adopters of the communications revolution, is often so far behind these days (case in point, I will throw up if I see one more use of the word “cyber” in a newscast. local ABC affiliates you know who you are.).

    • IT DOES NOT STRIP THE CONTENT! The New York Times news feed is a HEADLINES only feed. It says so right on the New York Times web site.

      “RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds offer another way to get content. Subscribe to our feeds to get the latest headlines, summaries and links back to full articles – formatted for your favorite feed reader and updated throughout the day.” ~

  16. Ludicrous! I would’ve hoped that the NYT would’ve optimized their RSS feed for conversions — i.e. limiting RSS feed character counts, and including a link in all RSS feeds to download the NYT apps.

    That would’ve gained them more users and cost them none.

    Instead, they’re just burning a distribution channel.

    • Andrei

      That is what NYT is doing currently. They do optimize for conversion.

      What Pulse is doing is taking the link from the RSS and then loading it using the built webkit to display the story in browser format. Since they default to “text” view, they are also stripping the content when people load up stories.

      NYT was not shortsighted. They did the right thing. Who would have planned for the iPad with built in webkit rendering back when RSS was big and people like the NYT got on board.