A number of publishers have sent a cease and desist letter to the creators of the iPad app Zite. Read more here.
What's Zite? Here's their video ad:
Isn't this kind of the same thing HuffPo does?
The difference is that HuffPo is on the open web, whereas Zite has put their aggregated content into an app. Also, to judge from this June 2010 story on ADT about Pulse (a very snappy newsreader app for both iPhone and iPad), the difference may lie in commercial vs. non-commercial use of RSS feeds.
Not that creators of journalistic content like HuffPo any better than they like these apps...
The whole thing seems silly to me. In fact, I think Zite has more of a right to exist than HuffPo. Because Zite, at least, how it seems, is simply an application to organize things for you. Zite is a system, where HuffPo is actually putting everything together on a constant basis. It wouldn't be wrong for me to, say, create a closed webpage, for myself, to organize and locate all of the things that interest me from different places across the web. Why is it wrong for Zite to do that? I'm sure I didn't explain that effectively, but apparently I've been doing a lot of ineffective tonight.
Is Zite subscription only? Or is it a free application?
Right now, Zite is a free iPad app. The ADT blogpost that I linked to above suggests that the two Stanford University students who created it originally had in mind to charge. From one perspective, that seems entirely reasonable: They've created a valuable new tool for aggregating content on your favorite websites and packaging it in an attractive, easy-to-read format — and for finding new content you might be interested in; shouldn't they be able to charge for that? But from the point of view of the publishers who created the web content that Zite aggregates, it looks like Zite is making money by selling their content; doesn't that seem unfair?
The Zite story seems instructive in a number of ways. But for me, the most important take-away — to repeat what I said in class — is that digital technology has put us in a new expressive environment so different from the one we're used to that our familiar models for understanding what's legal — or even just fair — are bound to fail us. Concepts such as "copyright," "intellectual property," and "fair use" remain relevant and, to a large extent, helpful; but we need to re-think them and perhaps develop some new concepts as well.
Of course, the fact that we're struggling to make legal and ethical sense of the new, digital environment isn't simply a function of the environment. It's important to keep in mind, as we've seen in our reading and explored in our class discussion, that the meaning and purpose of "copyright" and "intellectual property" have been contested since they first came into being. There has never been a time when everyone "just knew" what was legal and ethical with regard to copying and re-distributing the information and ideas that represent the lifeblood of our culture.
And it's important to keep in mind that these contested concepts didn't even exist until the last huge revolution in our culture's expressive environment: the invention of the printing press.
What is the right way to think about the legality and ethics of aggregation in particular? This July 2009 blogpost from Nieman Journalism Lab (a blog that those of you interested in journalism should be following religiously) does a nice job of exposing some of the difficulties in answering this question. Is aggregation even a copyright issue at all, we might wonder, or does the complaint of publishers who (sometimes) object to it really boil down to, "Hey, we're trying to find a workable business model in this new environment, and you're screwing it up!" Why the "sometimes" in the previous sentence? As the Nieman post makes clear, from one perspective aggregation is, in fact, a core feature and function of all journalism.
So although our current struggles aren't simply a function of operating in a new environment, they're partly that — as were the struggles that gave rise to the Statute of Anne, Donaldson v. Beckett, Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, and the idea of "intellectual property."
In journalism, it isn't aggregation itself that's new but the environment in which it's taking place. Environment matters. To adapt Clay Shirky's adage that "more is different": Different is different.
Whoa!! They come out with new things every day...I guess it was only a matter of time before somebody came up with this idea. Why is it that some people don't want this app to be out, though? Is it because they're afraid that they're going to lose money because people only want part of their magazine and not the full subscription? What if magazines began charging by article, not by issue? (Or how do they charge it now?)
This seems to go along with the discussion we were having one day in class about art and copyright--is it fair for new artists to simply make a quilt of all of these other people's work and put it up and say, "That's mine!"? This time, however, we're going with magazines instead of music or art. What will they come up with next?