Social news app Flipboard was yesterday's hot new app, despiteor perhaps because oftechnical problems that prevented some features from working. But there might be a bigger snag: Is Flipboard scraping content it doesn't have the rights to?
Flipboard, the new iPad app that renders links from your Twitter feed and favorite sites in a beautiful, magazine-style layout, has a problem: it scrapes websites directly rather than using public RSS feeds, opening it to claims of copyright infringement.
Unlike some similar news apps like Pulse, Flipboard appears to eschew the older syndication standby RSS to instead grab URLs from Twitter and Facebook feeds. While news sources that maintain their own automatic Twitter feeds tend to link the same stories as they do in their RSS feeds, there's one critical difference: RSS also allows content to be included in the feed, whereas Twitter provides only the URLs that link back to the full website. (Unless, of course, the site only writes 140 character news stories.)
Back in the ancient days of the mid-aughts, there was a healthy debate online about whether or not news outlets should provide full content feeds or simply headlines and excerpts. Rather than rehash that debateone that's still ongoingjust remember this: whether a company chose to publish "full feeds" or excerpts, the choice remained theirs.
A new class of "feed readers" have ditched RSS and built their own content scrapers. The ever-popular Instapaperthe adblocker it's okay to like!is a scraper: a reader views a story in their web browser (along with ads and other web chrome); clicks "Read Later"; Instapaper uses some sorting magic to figure out what part of the already-downloaded HTML is content and which is cruft.
From a licensing and copyright perspective it's a little bit iffy, but since content providers get at least one pageview every time someone uses Instapaper there has been a sort of truce. (One made more steady by the fact that many of those working in the media who might get frustrated by scrapers are also fans of long-form contentexactly the sort of reader to which Instapaper caters.)