Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

When Media Giants Attack! Cease-and-Desist Letter to News Reader Zite Claims All Kinds of Copyright Damage

A panoply of big media giants sent a cease-and-desist letter today to Zite, the Apple iPad news reader app.

The Washington Post, AP, Gannett, Getty Images, Time, Dow Jones and many other media organizations were part of the action, which you can read all about below.

Zite bills itself as a “personalized iPad magazine that gets smarter as you use it.”

Not smart enough, it seems, to avoid copyright complaints from the content creators the app sucks in.

“The Zite application is plainly unlawful,” said the letter to Zite CEO Ali Davar, noting all kinds of copyright violations.

In a phone interview with BoomTown this afternoon, Davar said Zite would comply with the letter by shifting the content from its “reading” mode to a Web one, which points to publisher sites.

“It’s a bummer that they did this, but we expected it,” he said.

In a comment he posted below, Davar also wrote:

“Zite’s goal is to work with publishers, not to be antagonistic. The few publishers that have contacted us regarding the reading mode view we have complied with their requests and simply switched over to web view. We’re talking to publishers right now to find a win-win for them monetarily and to at the same time preserve the great user experience.”

For now, it’s lose-lose, and the letter is a dramatic shot across the bow of all the many news readers now hitting the market in the wake of the popularity of the Apple iPad tablet.

The social media-focused Flipboard and the news-oriented Pulse are two others, both of which have claimed they are working with publishers.

But Pulse wrangled with the New York Times over misuse of its RSS feeds and copyright issues, which has since been settled.

Zite showed up earlier this month, a product of a machine-learning technology start-up called Worio, which is based in Vancouver, Canada.

The aggregator of personalized content, which has $4 million in angel funding, gets its cues from a user’s interests.

Zite’s technology originated at research at the University of British Columbia several years ago.

In an interview with NetworkEffect’s Liz Gannes a few weeks ago, Davar seemed sanguine about publishers.

Wrote Gannes:

The free Zite app imports a user’s Twitter tweets, follows and Google Reader subscriptions, offers lists of pre-made categories, and then solicits feedback and refines over time a list of topics and sources the user is interested in. It features articles based on their popularity, number of shares from a user’s network and topic relevance. (Davar said he thinks a person’s Facebook network data is too heterogeneous to reliably recommend articles, so it’s not included as an option.)

Flipboard itself is likely to add more personalization features; the company bought real-time social discovery technology from Ellerdale and has yet to implement much of it.

Vancouver-based Zite is well-funded, with $4 million from angels and Canadian grants, but it doesn’t have business relationships with publishers. The app lays out pictures and articles, stripping out everything else, including ads. Davar said he doubted this would be a problem. “It would be shortsighted for publishers to think of Zite as us versus them,” he said.

Short-sighted maybe, but legally lethal definitely, as you can see by this cease-and-desist letter, as well as a video from Zite on how its app works:

Letter to Zite _03 30 11_

Zite: Personalized Magazine for iPad from zite.com on Vimeo.

(Full disclosure: New Corp. owns Dow Jones, which owns this site.)

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work