Mobile RSS and Copyright: The Snatch of Content Value

13 May 2015


New technologies make for smart content but it's not smart to infringe copyright. Gilles Raymond, CEO & Founder of News Republic and speaker at the GEN Summit next month in Barcelona, explored the phenomenon of "content snatching" by mobile RSS feeds in his blog, mythoughtson.it. His blogpost (Mobile RSS: The Snatch Of The Content Value) highlights a sourcing problem arising from the emergence of a series of new applications. In this interview, Gilles tells GEN how some news aggregators are passing off content that's not theirs: 

Let them eat Crack - Gilles Raymond

Your blogpost point out that, thanks to in-house technology, these news aggregators grab the full content from the web and offer it for free through their application. If these publishers are breaching copyright laws, are many of them being taken to court?

You do not need to go to court to stop it. A simple “Cease and Desist” letter is sufficient. In 2011, major publications such AP, Dow Jones & Company, Gannett initiated a lawsuit against Zite news aggregators (see here). Effects were immediate upon receipt of the first letter.

Even more powerful, app stores will remove applications that infringe on intellectual property, if they are informed about the breaches. In 2010, Apple removed Pulsenews from the store following a complaint from The New York Times.

How aware do you think media companies are that this is happening? Are they turning a blind eye?

Sometimes I have the impression that they are like the music industry with the MP3 10 years ago (see here). News organisations are not very reactive on the subject, probably for two reasons: On desktops, RSS feeds are a great way to generate traffic to websites. They can generate up to 50% of their traffic. That which is valid for the desktop is fundamentally wrong for the mobile. The click through rate to read the “next” article on mobile is at best 5% with an average far below 1%! What used to be a source of traffic is now merely rip off value. The market is moving fast, and there are now technologies that crawl the web and cut to the full content without going through RSS feeds and paywalls. In this context you need to act fast, and those big organisations are not always structured to act fast.

Copyright imageYou make it clear that media companies will lose out if they fail to act on the reformatting of their content by another provider. Would you argue that the reader also loses out?

In the short run, having access to full articles without going through paywalls and/or without advertising can be an advantage to the reader. But, in the mid and long run, it hurts the media industry and so, too, the consumers of that industry. If the media industry is not able to deliver the right news, it impacts the quality of the information the user receives. Furthermore, a weak news industry weakens the fundamentals of democracy and the ability of our civilization to move forward.

Do you think that part of the solution lies in building a culture around the digital values of diversity and connectivity; in insisting on giving the reader a richer, immersive experience by providing links to original sources?

There is no other choice than to build a sustainable eco-system. News aggregators answer to strong demand from customers, but they can only be successful by taking a balanced share of the value chain. It should be a shared obligation of aggregators, media organisations and applications stores to ensure that all the actors are respectful of a robust and sustainable ecosystem.

Further Reading: Katharine Viner "Being part of the web's ecosystem" in "The rise of the reader: journalism in the age of the open web" | Guardian