If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, the Internet is the most flattering place in the world.

It’s not just the bad SEO being practiced by folks like JC Penney’s Search Engine Optimization consultant. We talk about SEO a lot here at Answer Guy Central, and we believe we do Search Engine Optimization in a clean, legitimate way. Scraping, Content Farm tricks, and the like aren’t clean.

Neither is framing someone else’s content and passing it off as your own. That practice isn’t even an SEO trick; with the proliferation of mobile computing via Apps on SmartPhones, iPads, and other tablets, framing content has become an easy way to make money.

I bring this up because yesterday I received an e-mail from the author of an Android App called World Newspapers, asking me to change the wording of a piece I wrote a few months ago. That man, Abhishek Kumar, thought I was being unfair when I questioned whether World Newspapers might be violating the copyrights of the many magazines and newspapers available through it:

I am developer of world newspapers App.
In your post http://answerguy.com/2010/11/17/smartphone-rim-ceo-blackberry-dumbphone/ , you say ” World Newspapers then just frames the (SmartPhone formatted) versions of the periodicals I like inside their App—which, by the way, is probably a violation of many trademarks, copyrights, and patents.”

The app is just a list of browser links, which shows the mobile versions of websites like http://m.usatoday.com/ . I do not format or steal any kind of content in anyway. Its just list of all mobile versions of pages, so that people dont have to search themselves. So would you please remove those lines?

I informed Mr. Kumar that I had some questions about the legitimacy of how World Newspapers “frames” the content it “presents”. From my perspective (and by the way, I like World Newspapers, and use it), World Newspapers is stepping way beyond the “Fair Use” tenet of US Copyright Law:

Thanks for your note. I appreciate your position, and that you quoted my words accurately rather than trying to twist them.
If you consider what I’ve said, though, I hope you can understand why I won’t be changing those words:

* First, I was clear that I was only giving my opinion (“is probably a violation”), rather than stating fact.
* Second, while I understand you interpreting that you are “just providing links”, I see several problems with the way you defend your actions:
* The impression that many readers might get is that you are doing more than that; perhaps even that you have a relationship with the periodicals you are framing
* You’re doing nothing to dispel that impression
* You aren’t JUST providing links. You’re “building a portal” through which you profit by selling advertising based on individual page views of content created by others that appears to be and appears as “on your site/app”.

In other words, and once again, in my opinion , you’re violating a publishing tenet known as “Fair Use”.
Simply put, I disagree that you’re “just providing links”, and my guess is that if the companies whose materials you are profiting off of knew how to find you and could take legal action against you here in the USA (for example) they would do so.
For a third time, let me state that this is only my opinion, and if you can refute the facts I’m citing I’m truly interested in hearing you do so.

In simplest terms, what World Newspapers does is make it so you can see other web sites all in one place by pulling from a list of available sites that Mr. Kumar has found, framing them in his “browser within a browser”, stripping out ancillary content like advertisements from the web sites of the newspapers and magazines that he “presents”, and then showing you the content with advertising that Mr. Kumar profits from. I am CERTAIN that The New York Times Corporation, Gannett, News Corp., and the many other companies whose content is being redistributed via World Newspapers would have a problem with that.

And odds are, they know. But they have no practical way of tracking down or bringing legal action against Mr. Kumar.

In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Kumar re-responded to my words:

Regarding your violation concerns, I am partnering with most of papers and licensed provider such as PressReader. My app also has a rss reader and other features and I do not put ads over papers content, its my custom browser which has ads. Its something live a mozilla browser with ads, which opens the mobile links.

But frankly, this only confused matters more. Mr. Kumar references PressReader, a similar App, but one that charges a not-insignificant $30 per month to use it and access the content from its partner publications. I imagine it’s possible that Pressreader has granted World Newspapers a license to redistribute the content that it has licensed from over 1700 magazines and newspapers as Mr. Kumar implies, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where that would make much sense for Pressreader.

Now as I said, I use World Newspapers. I have no interest in creating trouble for Mr. Kumar or in World Newspapers going away. I’ve been outspoken in my belief that content creators need to make it as easy as possible for people to lay their hands on that content, even going so far as to acknowledge that I’ve been known to download a movie or two when I couldn’t lay my hands on it at either the local Blockbuster or through Netflix.

I’m only asking this, of you: as you create your business change plans and put more and more stuff on the Internet, please, please, please give some thought to what happens to that information after you send it out there.

And if you need help getting your information out there the right way . . . you know how to contact me.

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Update, March 18, 2011: I’ve heard a few more times from Mr. Kumar about this piece and some specifics concerning the way World Newspapers works, as well as once from Alexander Gagin, who identifies him as a product manager at PressDisplay.com, the company that produces PressReader. Mr. Gagin helpfully provided some insight as to the relationship between his company and World Newspapers.

Mr. Kumar still doesn’t like the things I’ve said about World Newspapers. I’ve made it clear that I was expressing my opinions rather than trying to state fact about the way World Newspapers works, and have offered to retract any words that are factually inaccurate.

Mr. Kumar’s response to that offer was to point out a couple of things, so in the interest of clarity, I quote him here, in part, but also precisely:

  • “stripping out ancillary content like advertisements from the web sites of the newspapers and magazines” this is totally untrue. Please remove it:-)
  • Its not a browser within browser,  the content part is browser,  which loads the mobile urls( without stripping any content or ads in any manner,just a http request). The ads are a part of application, totally indenpent from browser component.

“Browser within a browser” was wording I use to convey a feeling I get using World Newspapers, and was not intended as a presentation of “fact”.

“Strips out . . . ancillary . . . advertising . . . ” may in fact be inaccurate, and if it is I apologize for the error. Mr. Kumar has indicated that he simply puts the entire contents of the mobile web sites inside World Newspapers, and that may indeed be true. I’ve never specifically observed a mobile version of a full website framed with World Newspapers to have had content stripped. I was comparing the full on-line versions of certain publications to what I’ve seen inside World Newspapers, and acknowledge that the mobile versions may not have the same advertisements that run in full versions and that I’ve therefore perceived as “missing”.

-JY

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