Copyright Questions Over Flipboard Show — Yet Again — How Outdated Copyright Rules May Stifle Innovative Tech

from the not-allowing-what-the-tech-can-use dept

There was a ton of hype last week for “Flipboard,” an iPad app that the various digerati “flipped” over — before admitting that it had some kinks to work out. If you somehow missed all the hype and buzz (lucky you), Flipboard basically tries to take the various feeds (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) that you follow, and format them into a much more engaging format. Effectively, it takes your Twitter and Facebook feeds and turns them into what looks like a magazine on an iPad. The effect is visually impressive. But, one of the issues is in how it deals with content linked to from those social media sites: it follows the links and brings back some of the scraped content to display it. Again, the effect is impressive, but as Joel Johnson at Gizmodo notes, it’s entering into very murky territory on copyright issues.

Basically, it’s scraping content and hosting it on its own Flipbook servers as part of how it displays the content. It’s not using RSS (where the publisher would control what’s offered). And, while it claims to carefully make sure to only show some of the content — requiring users to click through for the full content — that doesn’t always work properly, such as with photographs, where it tends to display the full photograph. Flipboard also promises that it will adjust its rules to any publisher who complains — though, publishers have long pointed out that copyright isn’t supposed to work that way. Of course, there are similarities to Google, which also scrapes content. And, you could also claim that Flipboard is really no different than a specialized browser.

But, what this story really shows is how ill-equipped copyright law remains to deal with modern technologies like the web. When you publish something on the web, copyright effectively breaks down. In order for anyone to view a website, they’re already making a copy of the content in their local browser. Is that authorized? What if they write (or run) a script on their own local machine that strips out ads? Or what if they run a script that reformats how they view things, using tools such as Greasemonkey? Now, what if you move those local scripts to someone else’s server? Suddenly, we’re back in the territory of the Cablevision case, where some may claim the rules are different if some software is running in your home or on a server somewhere. From a technical standpoint, it shouldn’t matter. Whether or not you personally find Flipboard useful (and, I don’t think it actually would be useful for the way I consume news), it is an impressive use of the technology that does a nice job trying to present information in a different manner. That copyright laws might mean it’s technically illegal seems like a huge problem for copyright law and those who support today’s copyright law, not Flipboard.

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Comments on “Copyright Questions Over Flipboard Show — Yet Again — How Outdated Copyright Rules May Stifle Innovative Tech”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Copyright needs to be opt in and there needs to be an online directory listing all copyright works and all previously copyrighted works that have later entered the public domain. Everything covered by copyright needs to expressly state that it’s copyright and it needs to state when the copyright expires. Copyright needs to last far less than 95+ years.

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I tend to agree, though I think we’re still limited as to just how much past works we could realistically list. Just to discover and catalog every single copyrighted corporate brochure ever made could amount to a lifetime effort for an entire nation.

Add in all the legal complexities and abuses we’ve seen over and over again and I’m more of a mind that we need to completely toss the old copyright system in favor of a model more sensible for use in the modern world.

I think the Creative Commons effort is a good illustration of what copyright could be like if we re-tooled the system to work today.

Duke (profile) says:

When you publish something on the web, copyright effectively breaks down. In order for anyone to view a website, they’re already making a copy of the content in their local browser. Is that authorized?

This is actually one of the very few things UK copyright law seems to get right. Section 28A of the CDPA 1988 (added by the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003) specifically adds an exception to copyright for “the making of a temporary copy which is transient or incidental, which is an integral and essential part of a technological process”.

Of course, I have no idea how well that would hold up in practice or in this case; and it isn’t like the rest of the law here is perfect, but it is nice to see we got some things right.

Tom barger (profile) says:


Mike I do love flipboard. The graphics meet my expectations and vision a decade ago how a browser could work! The page turn is just an extension of the Mac flow. I thought this would meet the magazine or newspaper publisher desire to get some fees. I did not pay wired what it wants, a $7 per issue. Now that I see flipboard in action, I grasp that I don’t want one magazine per app, I want a syndicate. Why is this different than a magazine sales call, offering you a list of publications?

It did not occur to me that the flipboard people rushed in without approval. I think they’re screwed. Too bad. It’s beautiful.

How would you feel if tech dirt was offered up? My opinion is your reach would show immediate results, and what is the problem with that? It clicks through to your website.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Like Flipboard

I like the app. It’s not how I “consume” news, either…but it is a way I can browse or poke around. That’s also how I am using the iPad, just in idle moments. Got a minute? Check out what Flipboard has. See some Economist articles, good times.

For me, the twitter and facebook feeds are useless on the Flipboard. I’ll look at those feeds on my PC. I signed up for them because Flipboard is supposed to USE them to ascertain what you and your friends are interested in, and leverage that in selecting the articles it shows you. That sounded interesting to me, although I have yet to determine if it’s working.

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