RSS Is Public

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.


8 Responses to RSS Is Public

  1. Andy Beard says:

    Andy Beard says he is stealing thanks to the Google Reader.

    Read the content of both my original posts, and all the comments.

    Using Robert’s spin on this, as a link to my original post is biased reporting, and implying something that was not said.

    You are not a layer, and are giving legal advice / interpretation. I was careful not to.

    IANAL – my interpretation is that copyright law is very much black and white & until there has been some legal rulings to clarify it, bloggers and RSS users should be very careful. Have you any idea how much of a windfall the viral effect of RSS publishing could potentially be to a copyright holder who decides to exercise his legal rights?
    It is also important to understand that copyright law and DMCA is international. Relying on common usage/abuse in the US might not help you in your defense.

    RSS was designed for syndication. Google pays a service like Associated Press millions to use their syndicated content, maybe supplied by RSS.

    RSS does not have to be free. That is not part of the specification. You can subscribe to an RSS feed that requires a password to access it.

    IANAL but in my opinion there is no implied license to content supplied as an RSS feed by default. There may be an implied license to content from a freely available feed, but that is yet to be determined.

  2. Andy Beard says:

    In addition

    Are you being a little contradictory?

    I just read one of your other posts

    Security, Control, Trackability in Online Media Distribution

    Where you state

    Is there a way for copyright owners and publishers to leverage viral distribution of media on the web in a secure, controlled, and trackable manner? Is that media nirvana?

    That is one of the major features of RSS that is being destroyed.

    Google don’t provide tracking data and you lose total control of your content as soon as one Google Reader user subscribes.

    It is obvious to me you only read Roberts post and maybe some of the comments, and didn’t read both my original posts with comments.

  3. Thanks for your response, Andy.

    I will pipe in with a few thoughts (I wrote the Security, Control, Trackability in Online Media post you referenced above).

    Alex and I both firmly believe that respecting the rights of content owners is paramount. We built SplashCast to solve some of the challenges that digital media owners face with online distribution. SplashCast provides a level of security and trackability that simply does not exist with RSS alone. This will give both producers and publishers a highly controllable syndication model that addresses many of the concerns you’ve raised about RSS and its usage.

    At the same time, we also believe that if an RSS feed is made publicly available for free by the publisher, he/she is implying that the feed can be freely syndicated.

  4. -gary says:

    The first sentence of this post is also misleading. He isn’t republishing full feeds, but full articles that he believes are interesting.

  5. Evan Krasts says:

    All I have to say is “be careful”. I spent the last 5 years working on music services and I can tell you that the copyright holders are very aggressive and have a century of copyright law on their side. Internet folks like us enjoy saying that the old model is broken and that if these companies would just “get it” we’d all benefit. This may be true, but many internet companies that have staked their claim on this kind of thinking are no longer with us.

    Sounds like Michael and Alex have a good approach. Best of luck!

  6. Andy Beard says:

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your response, Andy.

    Thanks for not deleting it….

    Seriously all I am looking for is for this subject to be discussed, some awareness of the possible consequences of sharing, and maybe a slightly less cowboy attitude in promoting it until such time as content owners have more control.

    That may very well be with your system as an alternative to RSS.

    How could your system deliver content to my desktop from a system such as 37 Signals? They provide RSS Feeds protected by RSS Authentication.

    Google Reader doesn’t currently support RSS Authentication, but Bloglines does, and then the content can currently be shared.

    Obviously 37 Signals isn’t the only such application

    The advantage of RSS delivery is it point to point, and isn’t blocked / filtered by spam.

    At the same time, we also believe that if an RSS feed is made publicly available for free by the publisher, he/she is implying that the feed can be freely syndicated.

    How would you know what you are sharing (the original article), didn’t contain information that was breaking someone elses copyright.

    IANAL, but I believe there is no requirement for a copyright holder to issue a C & D.

    RSS sharing is a form of viral distribution, where every person it touches could be guilty of a copyright infringement. a Lawyer’s wet dream.

    How many of the people sharing the content could afford to defend themselves, rather than paying damages?

    Some shared feeds that people subsequently fed to Feedburner now show up in the search engines, and conveniently have a link back to the website of the person sharing.

    One of the biggest problems we face is that so much new technology is coming online, the benefits and shortcomings in the way these services work is not covered in depth.

    How comes Google is still not providing tracking data to services like Feedburner?

    Is Google Reader the next P2P system for copyright manuscripts?

    All that is really needed to solve these problems is to introduce a standard flag in a feed stating that it is “noshare” and for the Feed Readers to respect it.

    Any content without that flag would be free to share, probably as long as you trust the source publishes only original content.

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