NYT lawyers play RIAA

You just can’t make this stuff up.

In a mystifying move that only benefits the pockets of the lawyers involved, the New York Times has caused the popular iPad RSS reader, Pulse, to be pulled from the Apple system, because the reader pulls material from the newspaper’s RSS feed. That’s right. Since Pulse is a paid application, the Times figures they are benefiting financially from Times content. Hence, the cease and desist.

Where to begin?

Firstly, the Times — unlike other publishers — provides only links and a sentence in its RSS feeds, so who are we kidding here? Content? This outrageous legal bullying is based in a bullshit, pedantic argument that is contrary to the concept of feeds in the first place. If you don’t want people using your damned feeds, then don’t publish them.

Secondly, because the Times publishes nothing in its feeds, the best Pulse can do is provide visitors to the Times site? Kara Swisher has images of what Times content looks like in Pulse, and I encourage you to go on over and take a look. W. T. F.? Is not Pulse doing the Times a favor? Of course it is; that’s the economy of the link.

Thirdly, if this is the tact that the Times truly wishes to pursue, it’s path to irrelevancy is certain. Pay walls are an understandable reaction to revenue declines from print, but the Web is not print, and this is an attempt to extend the pay wall concept to distributed media via licensing. It will not and cannot work, because the Web won’t allow it. The Times may be within its rights (we’ll see), but closing doors to those who would distribute content closes doors to users, too.

I have been saying for the past ten years that, sooner or later, the lawyers who represent the status quo would attempt to restore things to the way it used to be and that this battle would be long and ugly. Media companies should take a lesson from the RIAA, who ended up suing its own customers in a similar tact. That will likely be next for the Times.

The absurdity of all of this flows from the illogical notion that we don’t “buy” content anymore; we only pay for the right to read, watch or listen to it. This will explode in the faces of those trying to protect their “rights,” because nobody has asked the people formerly known as the customer if this was acceptable.

The New York Times took an enormous step backwards with this move. I wish them well.

UPDATE: Staci gets a response from Robert Christie of the Times, who says the app violates their terms of use (of RSS). Staci rightly suggests we haven’t heard the last of this.


  1. Agree with the gist of your post, although a subtle but important feature of Pulse that probably upset the NYT is that Pulse frames the Times website, rather than linking to Safari. That means that more than the RSS feed is being displayed within the Pulse app, albeit with ads included.

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