Copyright Questions Over Flipboard Show — Yet Again — How Outdated Copyright Rules May Stifle Innovative Tech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