Media companies come down hard on Zite iPad news app

A Canadian start-up which aggregates iPad news publications has been served with a cease-and-desist letter from a group of angry publishers.

Zite launched three weeks ago as a free applications, and claimed 120,000 downloads in its first week. It offers customized news trawled from a range of different iPad applications.

As Zite CEO Ali Davar points out, the content is sourced through a web crawl, just like search answers from the likes of Google and Bing.

But what’s gettting the publishers’ goat is that the articles are displayed in reading mode, meaning that the original publishers don’t get the page views. The reformatting also alters their layout, often eliminating the ads.

The letters been signed by representatives of some real industry heavyweights, including the Associated Press, the Washington Post and Time, which between them represent over 300 publications.

“By systematically reformatting, republishing and redistributing our original content on a mass commercial scale without our permission in your iPad publication, Zite directly and adversely impacts our businesses,” the letter reads.

“You application takes the intellectual property of our companies, as well as the hard and sometimes dangerous work of tens of thousands of people. It deprives our websites of traffic and advertising revenue. We do not know your intentions, but your actions harm our companies and the broader media and news industry on which your application relies for its content.”

Zite says that it’s happy to scrap the reformatting for the publishers that object – indeed, it’s been doing this for the New York Times from day one. However, it does mean that pages will take longer to load, making the service a little less desirable to users.

“We don’t look at this as an adversarial situation,” says Davar. “If the formal cease and desist we received from the big publishing companies yesterday was a one line email from the world’s smallest blogger, we would treat it exactly the same: we would switch the content from reading mode to web view mode. That’s it.”