Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Apple takes down popular news reader Pulse after Times lawyers send letter protesting RSS feed use

Update: Macworld.co.uk reported that Apple has demanded cuts from the iPad app version of Robert Berry's adaption of James Joyce's epic novel Ulysses, called Ulysses Seen, in order to get approval. Apple apparently has a real problem with nudity -- even cartoon nudity.

My first post of the day contained a short rant about Steve Jobs' keynote yesterday where he listed three reasons why an app gets rejected -- all them essentially technical. I called BS.

Right on cue, Apple this morning pulled the popular Pulse News Reader app after Apple received a letter from lawyers representing the New York Times. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple sent the developers of the app a notice that read “The New York Times Company believes your application named ‘Pulse News Reader’ infringes The New York Times Company’s rights.”
The WSJ and Wired are pointing out the irony of the situation. Just yesterday Steve Jobs used the app in his keynote address at WWDC. And Times writer Brad Stone wrote a glowing review of the app on the Bits blog: "Pulse is a stylish and easy-to-use news aggregator."

For me, however, it is not the fact that both Apple and the Times seemed fine with the app before the lawyers got involved that bothers me, it is the fact that Apple's app store is filled with RSS readers. Most, of course, are designed for publishers who are using their own RSS feeds. But many, a great many, RSS readers are in the iTunes store for both the iPhone and iPad.

As I've written before, the problem with Apple's approach to media apps is that there seems to be no one at Apple who understands the media business who is working the app review teams. Each category of apps, not just the News category, needs a category manager. (Apple may have these in place -- I know that Apple recently brought on board long-time IGN editor Matt Casamassina to help manage the App Store’s games section. Is there a "News" manager?)

If Apple is now concerned about fair use issues involved with the Pulse News Reader it is way too late for that. It was clear almost immediately that developers were creating apps that took the RSS feeds of major media companies and were building apps around their content. I couldn't understand why the Times and other media companies weren't crying foul before. But Apple was creating the rules -- apparently in the dark. (Here is but one example.)

It is time for Apple -- and the other app stores being created -- to bring in category managers who understand media and will work with the media companies and the industry, in general, to create sane, sensible rules of the media app approval process.

As for the Times demand that Pulse is violating their RSS use agreement I must say that I would probably do the same in their shoes.  The creation of new commercial products (emphasis on commercial) built solely around the content of others, but with new layouts, is problematic. But what if Pulse included no RSS feeds when the user originally launches the app, but instead gave the user an easy way to add the feeds later?

You can see that any reader product that simply reformats the content can come into conflict with the Times' agreement, couldn't it? Ultimately this is the issue with aggregation of web content, and also the issue with creating RSS feeds, in general.

For now, it appears that the developer will simply eliminate the Times feed from the product. (The app is back in iTunes this afternoon.)  But since the user can add in feeds themselves . . .