by Nick Holmes on June 4, 2008
In response to my last post, Susan Cartier Liebel raises the question of the legalities of streaming others’ feeds without permission. She points to her post Shouldn’t You Have To Ask Permission If You Want To Take A Blog’s Feed For Your Profit? which has attracted considerable comment.
Of course your content is your copyright and others should not copy it without your permission. But a feed can be repurposed in many ways, and we need to look at what parts of the feed are being copied and who profits.
Copyright lawyers will have to fill me in on the latest case law on all of this, but I think in practice we have despatched the question whether links are legal (is the web legal?) with a resounding yes. As Sir Tim father-of-the-web-but-not-a-lawyer Berners-Lee has said:
There are some fundamental principles about links on which the Web is based. These principles allow the world of distributed hypertext to work. Lawyers, users and technology and content providers must all agree to respect these principles.
What of link+title? In principle there is copyright in a title, but it’s hard to see anyone any longer seeking to enforce copyright here.
But an RSS feed is an aggregation, so what of a bunch of links+titles? Here there is a stronger case for saying that this aggregation is protected by copyright, and if we’re talking about an aggregation of links+titles+descriptions or even +excerpts, that is clearly protected. So let’s talk about permission, express or implied.
I don’t believe there’s any implied permission for others to republish feeds. But in practice, why publish a feed if you don’t want it to be republished? It will be, and there’s little you can do to stop it. You can frame some stern T & Cs or apply a more friendly CC licence, but most, whether intentionally or by default, will take little notice.
Susan makes much of others taking your (blog) feed “for profit”. We are all miffed if we see others profiting from our work at our expense. But, with feed repurposing, in most cases we profit too, sufficiently that we do not see it as being at our expense.
- Google indexes, caches and republishes parts of my website, my blog, my feeds without my permission. Google profits handsomely, but I profit too.
- Other specialist search engines and directories – like Tehcnorati, Blawg Search – also index and repurpose my content. If I’ve submitted my site to them, I’ve probably given them permission to do this, but in most cases my signing up only legitimates what they have been doing / would do anyway. (Susan, Technorati indexes your blog whether you’ve claimed it or not.) They profit, but I profit too.
- Smaller fish might also republish my feeds, but in all cases short of their republishing my full text, I profit as much as or more than they do. All items link back to me. And I really am not going to lose sleep if they choose to wrap Google ads around it or seek to profit in other ways. (I do view sploggers etc as the scum of the earth, but I blame Google Adsense.)
So in practice, what we are all most concerned about is others claiming our real work – our full posts or articles – as their own; and there is a simple answer: if you want to protect your content, include only excerpts rather than full text in your feeds. Syndicate your metadata, not your data.