Apple iPad App Hater New York Times Proves It's Too Dumb to Live

Last Updated Jun 8, 2010 11:32 AM EDT

When you're drowning and someone throws you a lifeline, you grab it, right? That is, unless you're too dumb to live, and that's what the New York Times apparently is. By raising a legal stink over a highlighted app for Apple's (AAPL) iOS and iPad, the Times proved that it has no practical grasp of electronic media, or even ordinary marketing.

During his keynote address, Apple CEO Steve Jobs praised the Pulse News Reader iPad app. Why not? It was a great success story, as two Stanford graduate students turned a class project into a big seller on the platform, with tens of thousands of downloads. Even New York Times writer Brad Stone praised the product, calling it "a stylish and easy-to-use news aggregator."

Ah, but forget those downloads, at least for now. Not everyone at the Times was so taken with the product, as the paper's legal department sent Apple a take-down notice on June 3, as All Things Digital reported.

The Pulse News Reader app, makes commercial use of the NYTimes.com and Boston.com RSS feeds, in violation of their Terms of Use*. Thus, the use of our content is unlicensed. The app also frames the NYTimes.com and Boston.com websites in violation of their respective Terms of Use.I note that the app is delivered with the NYTimes.com RSS feed preloaded, which is prominently featured in the screen shots used to sell the app on iTunes.

I hereby declare, under penalty of perjury, that the information contained in this notification is accurate to the best of our knowledge and that I am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the copyrights and trademarks of The Boston Globe, Boston.com and The New York Times Company. We hereby demand that you immediately and permanently remove this app from the iTunes site.

Yesterday, the Times sent an additional demand to have the app removed. The move shows how ineptly the newspaper of record understands the change in business and cultural dynamics, as well as basics of technology.

The New York Times is concerned that Pulse is somehow making money off the paper's intellectual property and violating its terms of use:

NYTimes.com Terms of Service, paragraph 2.2: "The Service and its Contents are protected by copyright pursuant to U.S. and international copyright laws. You may not modify, publish, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, reproduce (except as provided in Section 2.3 of these Terms of Service), create new works from, distribute, perform, display, or in any way exploit, any of the Content or the Service (including software) in whole or in part."
Ignore the issues of fair use for a moment. Pulse is bringing in an RSS feed -- which is published by the Times for people to read. How do individuals read the RSS feed? With software or a web site that can read it. So, if the Times wants to go after Pulse, how about other for-profit software packages that read RSS -- like Microsoft (MSFT) Outlook? And, heavens!, Pulse actually displays the Times Web site. Like any other good standalone RSS reader, Pulse incorporates a browser, which is the software you need to see site in the first place.

Obviously the Times hasn't a passing notion about how RSS actually works nor how customers use it. If a business can't navigate the easy parts of online media, like RSS, it's going to be hopeless in more complex areas.

Now for the stupid marketing aspect. When Pulse displays a Times web page, it also displays the ads. Who gets credit for the ad views? The Times. Who gets paid for the ad views? The Times. For clickthroughs? The Times. The paper has pushed away tens of thousands of Pulse users so far, and all future ones that will buy a reconfigured app. Additionally, you'd think that when you're in a competitive market, getting your brand featured during something as high profile as a Steve Jobs keynote would be worth something. But no, the NYT Wants No Part Of It.

This is business done dumb as dog doo. The paper wants to be ahead of other publishing competitors, desires ad revenue, and so pokes itself in the eye for the small "victory" of keeping a company from selling software that only helps and doesn't hurt the New York Times achieve its goals. No wonder old line media has such troubles.

[UPDATE: Pulse was back in the iPad app store later on Tuesday. Why do I think that dropping the Times won't ultimately do any harm to the app's developers?]

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.