Feed usage and copyright

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Martin Schwimmer, a trademark lawyer, has asked Bloglines to remove his feed from their service, partly on the grounds that Bloglines plans on eventually selling advertising on their site. Scoble’s got a number of links to reactions to the news.

The complaint is that his feed is licensed under a “no commercial use” Creative Commons license and he claims that Bloglines, being a commercial service, is violating that license by allowing their users to subscribe to his feed.

There are a number of products and services that are advertising supported and rely on content generated by others. Although search listings contain only excerpts of web pages, search engines regularly place advertisements alongside those excerpts. Gmail puts ads next to email created by other people. Eudora does the same. Opera puts their own ads next to every page I view.

Would Mr. Schwimmer demand that Google block Gmail addresses from receiving his email? Or that Opera refuse to display the pages on his web site?

RSS is designed to to allow for easy republication and consumption of content. Bloglines isn’t taking a feed and claiming that content as their own. They’re only showing feeds to people in direct response to their request. I’d have to subscribe to Mr. Schwimmer’s feed in order to see it in Bloglines. Is this a commercial use?

This is a sticky question. Bloglines is providing a product to consumers and they have to make money somewhere. Feeds are designed to allow people to read the content of the site without visiting the actual site. So the Bloglines service is letting people use the feed that Schwimmer is publishing in the way that it was intended to be used. A product like MyRSS that scrapes sites, turning them into feeds and inserting ads is a much more clear issue. They’re re-purposing content, republishing it in a way that it wasn’t intended to be used, and inserting their own ads into it.

The question is where do we draw the line? Is reading the feed in a reader like FeedDemon a commercial use? I had to buy a copy. What about an aggregated list of posts on a site? Mt-Plugins.org used to have the latest posts from a number of plugin authors (including me) on their site. Would this be an acceptable use? Syndic8 publishes a list of random feed items as RSS. Is that okay? Would your answer change if Syndic8 started selling ads in that feed? There are a number of services that will send you feed contents by email. If I subscribed to Schwimmer’s feed with such a service and had those emails go to my Gmail address, is that a commercial use of his content and who is responsible for it?

I don’t have an easy answer to any of those questions. Up until now when faced with the question of commercial use of my feed (which I also prohibit), I’ve treated it on a case by case basis. I know a commercial use when I see it but I’d be hard pressed to offer up a definition of it.

A side note: Schwimmer is concerned that Bloglines doesn’t display his contact information alongside his feed. That’s because he doesn’t provide it in the feed. Feed readers can only display what he actually publishes. He also doesn’t include his Creative Commons license (or any other) in his feed, simply stating “Copyright 2005 Martin Schwimmer.”

Anthony
January 16, 2005 11:43 PM

Seems like Schwimmer (wasn't he on "Friends"?) would have a better claim if he included such info in his RSS feed. His actions do bring up some important issues, though.

ed adkins
January 17, 2005 12:33 AM

his actions don't bring up anything new- his actions are essentially an uncreative answer to an old question: how do i maximize benifit from my rss feed? he's taken a lazy route and shown that he simply doesnt get why the net is so valuble in the first place. Creative people have truncated the size of the posts in their feeds, included links to their homepage in their feeds, etc. He is the grand example of the guy who gets involved in something, even suceeds in gaining an audience, but still misses the value of it and the soul. All because he is too lazy and myopic to see what he is involved in.

Arvind
January 17, 2005 12:51 AM

This is precisely why I asked the blog authors before aggregating their content on Planet Movable Type. Some didn't reply but I'm assuming they don't mind.

Trackback from Jacob M. Břtter
January 17, 2005 1:37 AM

RSS og ophavsret

Excerpt:

Nu har jeg set denne sag vćret nćvnt et par gange, og den er simpelthen sĺ absurd at jeg bliver nřdt til at nćvne den her ogsĺ.

En amerikansk varemćrke-advokat har be...

Trackback from einfach-persoenlich Sideblog
January 17, 2005 1:16 PM

Feed usage and copyright

Excerpt: Adam Kalsey zu Nutzung und Copyright von Feeds.

Chris Desrochers
January 17, 2005 4:11 PM

If Schwimmer doesn't want people accessing his content he shouldn't offer a RSS feed. He also shouldn't have a website. Googlebot will most likely crawl his site and add it to their database. If a user searches for a word that is linked to his site, not only will his posts appear in the search results, but Google will make some $ off the ads they sell.

Chloe
January 18, 2005 1:58 AM

You can block certain search engines, like specifically Google, from indexing your site... I'm not sure there's any way to block certain aggregation of RSS feeds, is there? So it's apples & oranges, no? I block that Googlebot image sifter from my site. If Bloglines was publishing entire content, or grabbed my photos, I'd have problem with that, surely. As it stands, I don't really care. You can't really get any real content via Bloglines, as far as I've seen. But if Bloglines did do those things, then they'd better have an opt-out method. It's not fair to make people totally get rid of RSS feeds in order not to be exploited. After all, it's fairly easy to use meta tags and robots.txt files to block Google. And Google is pretty aggressive. So the "don't put it on the web" thing doesn't wash with me as an argument on the RSS feed issue.

Patrick Berry
February 2, 2005 4:49 PM

A couple of things...the XML itself has a normal copyright notice, so he was well within his rights to ask Bloglines not to use it. On the other hand it seem clear that he doesn't really understand RSS, either technically or conceptually. Which does indeed make these situations awkward. It's good that Bloglines just complied instead of wasting time trying to explain it to the person. I think he will have a difficult time of trying to police which RSS readers he deems worth of reading his content though and an even tougher time getting people using their own clients to not subscribe to his feed.

Rob Fore
April 13, 2005 1:15 PM

You mentioned: "What about an aggregated list of posts on a site? Mt-Plugins.org used to have the latest posts from a number of plugin authors (including me) on their site." and this is a concern of mine as well. It seems to me most blog authors would LIKE and APPRECIATE the extra exposure. Isn't a search engine or a directory based on the same idea?

jason
April 28, 2006 11:50 AM

What about feeds that aren't explicitly created my the authors/creators, but are created and published by a service, like flickr? flickr pushes RSS feeds for everything, user's photo stream, tags (cross section style), groups, etc. The flickr site doesn't have any easily found info on their perception of fair use of these feeds, and the feeds' xml doesn't have any copyright info. But the direct commercial use of this content may seriously annoy a flickr user who sees his/her photos on another site. What would a bloglines like service do if a stubborn flickr user demanded removal of their content but the content is just part of a feed for all things tagged "sunset" for example? the ability for RSS to get passed around, and re-re-republished is very interesting to me. flickr allows users to control who can blog their photos (literally reprint them in another context) but offers no such controls for inclusion of content in feeds. here, at Platial, we just started offering feeds of member and map content, and these issues are peeking at us from over the horizon. Will our members be upset if their Places/posts/content start showing up elsewhere? what do the users expect? It's obviously a diverse set of expectations, that vary according to education about the issues, and attachement to certain ideologies about IP, authorship and the web.

DimaOn
September 2, 2006 7:24 PM

flickr pushes RSS feeds for everything, user’s photo stream, tags (cross section style), groups, etc. The flickr site doesn’t have any easily found info on their perception of fair use of these feeds, and the feeds’ xml doesn’t have any copyright info. But the direct commercial use of this content may seriously annoy a flickr user who sees his/her photos on another site. What would a bloglines like service do if a stubborn flickr user demanded removal of their content but the content is just part of a feed for all things tagged “sunset” for example?

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