Is Zite the Napster of content?

I started using Zite ( a few days ago. It’s an iPad app that grabs your Facebook / Twitter / Google Reader sources and mixes them to create a clean personalized magazine. It seems similar to Flipboard ( but instead of simply displaying recent news / tweets / wall posts, it tries (and succeeds in it) to be smarter and actually provide you with the content that is most important or interesting.

What’s also great, it removes all the ads so the the reading experience is great. They only show you the title, logo of the conent provider and the actual content. No distractions whatsoever. There is a sidebar with a few buttons to enable you to help the recommendation engine serve you better. You can explicitly state whether or not the article you read was useful to you. If so, Zite is supposed to deliver more similar content in the future.

After a few days of using it it suddenly came to me that even though Zite is a great and user-friendly product, it may be that it’s also illegal. Remember Napster? The fantastic way to get access to all the world’s best music tracks? Simple, fast and just works. But RIAA did not share this enthusiasm. The publishers also don’t share it regarding Zite. As I read on ReadWriteWeb (, a cease and Desist letter has been already sent to the company, signed by Time, The Washington Post, McClatchy, E.W. Scripps, Getty Images, National Geographic, Gannett, Dow Jones, Advanced Publications and the Associated Press and it reads:

[…] The Zite application is plainly unlawful. Among other things, it intentially and pervasively infringes on our copyrights by reformatting and republishing substantial portions (and in many cases, the entirety) of our articles and large-scale reproductions of our photographs and illustrations. Further, it misappropriates and infringes our trademarks and falsely implies our affiliateion by prominently featuring certain of our logos on your home screen. Zite uses our content for commercial purposes in a manner that the law prohibits absent agreemnts with each of us. We demand that you immediately cease and desist all such infringing use of our intellectual property, both copyright and trademark, in or in connection with the Zite iPad application. […]

Flipboard CEO seems to agree, stating that “publishers are justifiably concerned with anyone showing entire articles minus ads”. And his right to say it, especially that Flipboard serves only the RSS content provided by publishers, with all ads if there are any, Zite, on the other hand, scrapes the websites delivering pure content, no ads or other distractions. But… what about Google Cache? Or Google Reader with AdBlock turned on? Or a “reader mode” in Safari? Should these be unlawful as well? 

Zite’s platform doesn’t really do anything new. They simply did it better than anyone else betore. Just like Napster. It’s the users who add sources. So if sue anyone, sue the users or Zite (and of Adblock). Not that I don’t believe this is exactly what the publishers are gonna do next…

If you liked this post, follow me on Twitter for more: @michuk.