Apple has pulled the best-selling iPad RSS application, Pulse, from the App Store at the request of The New York Times. Why? Because it downloads and displays the NYT RSS feed, just like every other RSS reader on the planet.
Pulse has been an app-store hit thanks to its slick design, which pulls news from various sources and aggregates them in an easy-to-read manner, perfectly suited to the flick-and-scroll interface of the iPad. The design was good enough to impress even Steve Jobs, who mentioned it in his WWDC keynote speech Monday. The application, which costs $4, has been downloaded 35,000 times. It was the top paid app for a while.
Pulse was removed from the App Store yesterday after a takedown request was sent by The New York Times‘ legal counsel. Here is the relevant excerpt:
Pulse takes the plain text from The New York Times RSS feed and displays it. If you choose to read further, it opens the actual Times page in a new browser window which, like every other in-app browser, uses Safari's webkit engine to display it. The person reading it is therefore getting the exact same content as they would if reading in Safari.
Clearly the Times doesn't understand the purpose of RSS. Further:
I note that the app is delivered with the NYTimes.com RSS feed preloaded, which is prominently featured in the screen shots used to sell the app on iTunes.
That's right. The poor old Times has managed to gain 35,000 subscribers in a few weeks, without doing a thing. Those are pretty good numbers, and you'd think that the paper would be happy about this free exposure, especially as readers will click-through direct to its ad-filled pages. But because the app is paid, not free, it violates the Times‘ terms and conditions by making "commercial use" of the content.
What are those terms, exactly? Here is the relevant section, taken from the Times counsel's e-mail to Apple:
NYTimes.com Terms of Service, paragraph 2.2: "The Service and its Contents are protected by copyright pursuant to U.S. and international copyright laws. You may not modify, publish, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, reproduce (except as provided in Section 2.3 of these Terms of Service), create new works from, distribute, perform, display, or in any way exploit, any of the Content or the Service (including software) in whole or in part.
From this, we see that every piece of paid software you might use to read the Times's website is infringing copyright. Granted, most web-browsers are free these days, but what about other RSS readers? Pretty much every good reader in the App Store costs money, and The New York Times is a favorite to include as a default feed.
The developers of Pulse, Akshay Kothari and Ankit Gupta, are bemused, and are planning to contact Apple to fix the problem. They'll do this by removing the Times's feed from the app, thus depriving the newspaper of future ad revenue from new customers. Is the Times planning to comb through every app in the App store that links to its site and whine to Apple about it? Based on these petty actions, the answer could be yes.
The biggest irony, though, smiles at us from a week ago. On June 1, The New York Times‘ Brad Stone ran a review of Pulse, and loved it. It seems that at least one person at the paper understands the internet. Stone:
The app allows users to see text-only versions of articles, which are basically cleaned-up versions of a news site's RSS feeds, or to see the full articles as they are presented on the Web.
Pulse [Alphonso Labs]