This guy killed this startup that was trying to steal from you,...

This guy killed this startup that was trying to steal from you, dear publisher

The work that content creators do is worth something, and guys like Milo Yiannopoulos are trying to keep it that way.

He posted his story yesterday on TechCrunch, and the summary is this:

A company called personalpaper.me wants to offer a service that allows users to submit URLs to articles they haven’t read or don’t want to read on a digital device. This company would then print those articles out for you, and strip out any pesky advertising, and mail you that printout for $2 (honestly, that’s probably an over simplification; they probably throw a little dynamic design and make it pretty and easy to carry). Yiannopoulos — a tech journalist, among other things — tested the service to see if it was legit. It was. A bit of a surprise considering the website had no Terms of Service or Privacy Policy of any of the legal need-to-haves that capital operations should feature on their websites. Yiannopoulos informed them that their company “represents copyright infringement, unauthorised republication and illicit distribution on an industrial scale.” Putting it bluntly, personalpaper.me’s “entire business model is predicated on theft,” he wrote. About four hours after launch, as Yiannopoulos recalls, the company shut down its service. Its website currently has a “we’re trying to figure it out” message, and that is where it stands now.

On the surface, it might not sound like a big deal. You probably print out articles for friends all the time. Or, well, maybe you used to. Now you’re probably more likely to just forward the URL … or tweet it. What’s the big deal, right?

Well, what personalpaper.me aimed to do is essentially swipe published content and re-sell it, on a massive scale. That’s not cool. They’re distributing a publisher’s content, and giving the publisher absolutely nothing for it. That’s not how it works. When done for capital gain, that’s the line you can’t cross.

When a user consumes that content on the platform of the publisher (be it print or online), the user is either exposed to that publisher’s advertising or has opted in somehow to a subscription model. That’s how publishers pay for that content to be created. Cutting out that step cripples the entire process.

How could an idea like this work? They’d need to have partnerships with the publishers whose work they are distributing. At a very basic level, the content creators need to receive something for their work. Yiannopoulos’ reporting said the company was targeting users who might want to submit the URLs to long-form articles they may want to read at a later time — during a commute or flight with no net access, or pretty much anytime one doesn’t want to be staring at a digital device for that long. There’s probably at least some market for that, but the only way personalpaper.me will come back is if they figure out the legality of their service.

Should they maybe dump the idea and try to come up with something a little less larcenous? Probably.

Should they compensate the content creators whose work they’re trying to re-sell? Definitely.

Read: How I Killed A Startup In 4 Hours (And Why I Don’t Regret It) via TechCrunch.

John spent 10 years in print and broadcast news media before coming to Technorati, where he leads marketing communications, social and editorial strategies. Follow him on Twitter @swartzdesk.