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More on Summly

March 28, 2013

After yesterday’s post on Summly I’m seeing more folks talking/posting about it, such as a writer for Time who asks, Why Is That 17-Year-Old’s $30 Million News App Even Legal?  The key bit:

The issue now isn’t what fancy car the teenager plans to buy with his millions. The real question is whether Summly, and now Yahoo, can take news stories from around the Web, present altered versions of them, and not run afoul of copyright law.

The precedent here – that GoogleNews uses, for example – is that search or aggregation services can display article titles and lead sentences – that is deemed fair-use.  Content creators *want* such services to do this because it ultimately drives traffic to their sites.

However Summly does more than show a title.  Through its wondrous algorithms it creates a 400-word news summary that is supposed to contain the essence of the source news item.  While I haven’t directly experienced Summly (and probably never will) it seems clear to me that this will take traffic away from content creators – why read the original 1,000 word news item on Kim Kardashian when Summly can quickly give you the 400 words with the tastiest bits?

A US Court has already ruled, in Meltwater vs. A.P., that this type of abstraction goes beyond fair-use.  A key part of the evidence there was the contention that a lede – the key summary paragraph of a news story – takes substantial skill and effort to craft, and that Meltwater’s summary services was taking ledes and offering them separate from the original content.  Certainly sounds wrong to me.

I’m sure Summly will continue to make the rounds another day or two … the world will then get back to cat pictures and Boromir memes.  Meanwhile the winner of cleverest Summly headline so far goes to Reuters:

Is this story less than the Summly of its parts?

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