Flipboard flips bird at bad design — but also fair use?

Flipboard is an awesome new iPad app that aggregates links from your social network feeds and favorite sites, then renders it as a stunning magazine-like reading experience. But there's a problem: instead of using RSS feeds or other licensed content, it scrapes the web, including large images and original content. It removes ads — fine for CC-licensed sites but not many others — but also plans to sell its own ads around that content under rev-share arrangements.

In other words, it carries a high probability of going down in beautifully-paginated and typeset flames. Here's Joel Johnson:

Take Boston.com's The Big Picture, for instance: Each of those large images come from wire services. It's content paid for by the Boston Globe, licensed from the photo wires with strict limits on how it can be presented and distributed. The Big Picture's RSS feed presents a single image and a description for each collection.

View The Big Picture from within Flipboard, however, and you'll find all of the images available, scraped–or "parsed", to use Flipboard's phrasing–to Flipboard's own servers, resized into a grid, and then distributed to every single Flipboard app. Fair use is a murky thing, decided on a case-by-case basis, but it's hard for me to suss a scenario where scraping all of the images from a picture blog and redisplaying them without ads or context would be considered fair use.

Moreover, Flipboard is saying they're willing to shut off or rein in how much content they are slurping up if content providers simply ask. That's good, but it's still a possible violation of copyright. Content creators do not have to specifically ask that their copyright not be violated.

Rebuilding the web as a more beautiful place is a good thing: it encourages websites to keep their designs simple and limit advertising and other layout cruft. But using that as a device to peel readership away from the web, then insert itself as an advertising middleman, is another thing entirely.

Is Flipboard Legal? [Gizmodo]