RSS Is Public

November 5, 2006

Robert Scoble is getting some criticism for putting full feeds into his link blog. Andy Beard says he is stealing thanks to the Google Reader.

A commenter brings up the spectre of the DMCA (Digital Management Copyright Act) and goes as far as to say that Robert is in violation of the law by republishing copyrighted material.

Hogwash. RSS is public, thank you. It was designed to be public. It’s the responsibility of the RSS publisher to understand the full ramifications of publishing a feed.

But it’s not a black and white kind of thing. It’s about respect. If you are making money off someone’s feed then a deal has to be made with the person whose work you respect enough to show on your site. It’s good for you. It’s good for the artist. But if you are publishing and not making a buck then why the heck do you have to ask permission? That’s where it gets a bit grey. For the publisher may have text ads on the site. But if the text ads make incidental revenue, the producer has to weigh whether it makes sense to cut off the feed and lose the ability to benefit from link backs and referring traffic.

I talked with a very well-known publisher about this at the Vloggies last night. For him, it’s really just a case by case kind of thing. It’s subjective. There is no process for deciding if the feed should be shut off or not. But if the site owner is making direct revenue from the feed, it’s time to start talking about licensing. Jason Calacanis weighs in on the issue, too.

We talk about the issue of copyright every day at SplashCast. We maintain that RSS feeds are designed to be aggregated and shared. I receive full feeds in my news reader. I am getting that information without visiting the web site. Google Reader takes the next step by allowing you to publish those feeds into a link blog that you can share with the public or restrict it in some manner.

RSS is public. It allows for sharing. And its why the web has become a more interesting place over the past few years. Without the sharing, we just turn into copyright holders, restricted and forced into silos. And, unfortunately, that would make our world a very dark place. I’d hate to see that happen.