Content Republication

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I’m trying to decide how I feel about this. There’s several sites that are pulling my feed and republishing my content. Most of the time they’re doing it with attribution, as Technology Voices is. Sometimes not. Generally, they’re wrapping my content (and that of others) in advertising. Never have they sought permission.

Almost two years ago I explored this same problem when someone asked for Bloglines to stop tracking their feed.

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? 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 [a] 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 could move to partial posts, but that’s going to damage me as much as it damages content republishers.

I see RSS as a way to build mindshare. It’s a way to make my site more popular, thus improving my authority and increasing the amount of display advertising I can sell. Because I publish the full content of every blog post for free with no ads attached, I make money. My content is read by others. It’s quoted, excerpted, linked to, and remixed. That makes my blog more popular and results in more visitors, often to old archived pages. This October I had 75,000 unique visitors per day to a five-year-old blog post about jack-o-lanterns. This wouldn’t have happened if I my blog was an obscure site. RSS is the reason that I’m not an obscure site.

I could go to republishers and ask them to remove my feed. But is that what I really want? Because of them, my words are reaching a new audience. On the other hand, it feels like they’re stealing my work.

What are my other options? I could try and add advertising to my feed in a way that only shows up on republisher sites. It shouldn’t be that hard to do. Just add the JavaScript code of an Adsense block to my feed. Feed readers strip Javascript and wouldn’t show it. I’m betting that these scrape sites would allow the Javascipt and thus my ads would show.

I could use that same idea to be a bit more malicious. I could insert an XSS attack into my feed. A small amount of script could spawn new windows, click links, or rewrite much of the page. If I were to insert a bit of script that found an clicked an AdSense link on the page, there would be 100% click through on their ads. That would probably make Google suspicious enough to kick their account. I could even ensure that anyone viewing the entry would be redirected to the original blog entry on my site. And these attacks wouldn’t affect feed readers.

There’s a number of feed readers that have public views—lots of people have public Gregarius installations, and Rojo has copies of my feed—but those somehow feel different than a company simply republishing my entire feed.

When a feed reader republishes my content, it’s because person who reads my feed decided to add it to that reader. The public republication of the feed is a byproduct of that. The nature of feed readers means that there are prominent links to the original and the attribution is very clear.

When a site like Technology Voices republishes my feed, the articles that appear there look and feel more like a magazine. The attribution and link to my blog are part of a byline. Bylines tend to be overlooked when people are reading articles on the web. There’s a bevy of "bookmark this" links to various bookmarking and social news tools—all of which point to the article on Technology Voices instead of on my site. There’s comments and inbound link counts—again all on the Technology Voices site instead of pointing to those facilities on my blog.

The copyright statement in my feed reads (emphasis added), "Copyright 2006 Adam Kalsey. Permission granted for non-commercial use. Republication is prohibited." That statement in the feed is not likely ever actually read by content republishers or anyone else for that matter. Tools that consume feeds rarely show anything but feed title, description, and the feed items.

Even if the feed republishers bothered to read my copyright statement and abide by it, I’m starting to wonder if that’s something I want. If the value of my feed is that I am widely read, then pushing my content out to the edge is likely to increase that value. Where do I draw the line?

The more I think about the problem, the more I’ve come to realize what part of republishing is bothering me. The sites that I don’t like are the ones that make my content look like their own. To the casual observer, it appears that I’m a columnist for Technology Voices. If you’re building a content aggregator, this is what you need to avoid. It needs to be clear and obvious that the content is pulled in from elsewhere. If you want my words looking like a column on your site, then you need to pay me for them.

The solution I’ll try for a bit is to insert some script that shows an ad and a prominent link back to my site. I’ll implement it in such a way that feed readers won’t show it but most republishers will.

December 4, 2006 7:08 AM

I'm not sure that the republishers have enough traffic to really matter. At least on the sites that have republished my feeds, it was obvious nobody was reading them there, so I just ignored it and the sites died quiet deaths.

Jeremy Zawodny
December 4, 2006 7:32 AM

I have this problem but have not spent much mental energy attempting to solve it yet. I'd love to hear about what you end up trying.

December 9, 2006 9:52 AM

Just a thought. How's this different from say Meebo using libgaim to offer their service?

December 9, 2006 10:48 AM

Fascinating. You might want to check with a lawyer. IANAL, but I seem to recall that if you decline to defend certain legal rights they could become forfeit in the future. Maybe T.V. doesn't bother you too much, but this could set a bad precedent for another, future site that does bug you. Also looking forward to hearing how your script-enhanced feeds work out.

December 11, 2006 1:17 PM

You can pretty much count that nobody is reading the material, and web spammers are like cockroaches (you can't get rid of them w/ a nuclear warhead) so just let it slide. They scrape the bottom of the Internet getting the least sophisticated searchers so who knows - best-case scenario is that you get an extra fan or two.

December 14, 2006 8:05 AM

BTW, I'm using a partial feed, and it still drives me crazy. I want to do full feeds, but not with splogs stealing content. Wordpress has a plugin that will stop this, but I haven't used it because you have to track down the sploggers' user agents, and I just haven't been motivated enough yet to do it. (I see you're on MT, though--maybe they'll make something like it.)

Kathy Sierra
February 5, 2007 1:58 PM

Hi there -- sorry I'm so late on this thread, but I only just discovered today that I'm one of Technology Voices "contributors". I'm furious with them... mainly because they're so blatantly making it look like we submitted these full posts, and they even have the little digg/reddit/ etc. buttons at the bottom to try to get links into the articles based on our work. I just wrote to another prominent blogger who is part of the "contributors", and he's sending him his standard invoice... $500 per 1,000 words ; ) For me, it's the principle... I just don't want to allow him to get away with it. I have allowed my full feed to be just about anywhere anyone wants it, but I have a cc non-commercial license, and this guy's done a great job of making his quite commercial.

Tom King
September 16, 2008 2:33 AM

I'm a content creator. Piracy pisses me off. But in researching this problem, the only people I have noticed complaining are people with completely trivial blogs. This isn't meant as a chop, I just don't see NBC or Amazon complaining that people are stealing their content. I genuinely wish you well.

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