Bytemobile is a mobile infrastructure services company. One of its products is web to mobile transcoder that it markets to mobile network operators under the name Web Fidelity. Competitors include Openwave, Novarra and Infogin. At the Mobile World Congress today, Bytemobile announced an agreement with Sweden's TeliaSonera. It was an occasion to celebrate for Bytemobile as it represents the company's 100th customer network deployment (press release).
While I congratulate Bytemobile on their success, I also found something potentially troubling in the announcement (bold added).
"Bytemobile’s Web Fidelity™ Suite of applications enables operators to deliver fast, rich, off-portal web browsing and multimedia play on smartphones and feature phones. Web Fidelity applications include Content Adaptation for web, Adobe® Flash® and media content; a Widget Bar for delivering useful, personally relevant information in real time to users without extensive search and navigation (http://www.bytemobile.com/news-events/2009/archive_040209.html); and Ad Insertion for automatically serving targeted ads in adapted web and multimedia content, so that operators can create new business models and revenue streams based on advertising and content partnerships."
As I read it, Bytemobile's transcoder has the ability io insert advertisements into transcoded web pages. This isn't unique, Novarra and Openwave offer similar capabilities. And it's not necessarily bad, I can see TeliaSonera or another operator offering publishers the ability to have ads inserted into their content under a revenue sharing agreement.
On the other hand, TeliaSonera is the operator who a year ago deployed the Novarra transcoder and configured it to insert ads into web pages without the content owner's consent. Swedish publishers complained vehemently and within a month the service was shut down. It appears that TeliaSonera is now doing the same thing with Bytemobile's transcoder. This time the ads, at least so far, are for TeliaSonera services rather than paying 3rd party advertisers.
I think there is an ethical and legal issue here. Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer and copyright laws vary from country. However if I create something and but it on the web with a copyright or a Creative Commons No Derivative Works license I'd consider it wrong for another website, ISP or mobile network opperator to insert ads without my permission. In an interview with GoMo News, Bytemobile's Adrian Hall apparently sees it differently.
"...ads would be inserted in the operator's headers and footers appearing on the mobile device display rather than in the site itself, which is controlled by the website publisher."
To me that sounds an awful lot like the now largely discredited web practice of framing other site's content in an ad-filled page. Unfortunately the legality of framing has never been decided by US courts. The closest we've come to a decision was in 1997, when Totalnews.com was sued by the Washington Post, CNN and several other publishers in 1997 over Totalnews's practice of framing their content. The case was settled out of court with Totalnews agreeing to stop the framing. Today almost all web sites that republish arbitrary 3rd party content including Google News and Reader, Bloglines and NewsGator do not place ads on content pages. I'm sure if Google started putting ads on Reader there would be a huge uproar. Why should it be different for mobile?
What do my readers, particularly mobile web publishers and developers think? Is the practice of monetizing copyrighted content by inserting ads with without the content creator's permission acceptable?