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Unauthorized iPhone News Readers Hit App Store, Stir Concern

If it looks like a BBC app, reads like a BBC app, and quacks like a BBC app, proverbial logic would dictate that it's gotta be a real BBC app, right? Well....

AdAge reports today about a new swarm of paid iPhone apps that market themselves as "readers" for newspapers and media outlets like the New York Times and the BBC, even though they aren't actually affiliated with or officially licensed to any major publications. Instead, these apps just assemble stories and headlines from RSS feeds without sharing any download profits with the sources from which they gather their news. At first glance, it seems like an open and shut case of trademark violation -- especially for apps that actually use a publication's name in its title, like the "New York Times Mobile Reader App." So why hasn't Apple laid down the gauntlet and shut them down? Well, most of these apps are pretty simply constructed feed readers of the exact same variety that any iPhone user can access through Safari. All the applications do, then, is charge people for the convenience of not having to open Safari and set up various RSS feeds themselves.

Now, it's pretty understandable The New York Times should be upset about someone else making a buck off of its name -- especially at a time when print publications are cutting costs to stay afloat. At the same time, though, it raises an interesting question from a market-based perspective. If there's sufficient demand for an RSS feed app from a specific publication or source, shouldn't Apple supply that demand? A simple name change would probably be the most pain-free solution, but what if consumers are looking for one particular publication and, for whatever reason, don't want to download the official (and free) Times app?

If these news feed apps want to stay alive, it seems like they'd have to demonstrate that their products introduce some added benefit to pre-existing institutionalized news apps. As long as they do that and sidestep any legal landmines, then we don't really see a problem with them -- especially in today's digitized, open range journalistic environment, where media consumers have assumed new heights of autonomy in deciding what news they want to read and how they want to read it. [From: AdAge, via: Engadget]

Tags: apple, bbc, iphone app, iphone apps, IphoneApp, IphoneApps, new york times, NewYorkTimes, top, trademark