Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Protecting RSS Feeds From Commercial Republication

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The issue of what is right and best to do when it comes to republish content or even just headlines coming from a public RSS feed is now spreading to the growing number of independent online publishers taking advantage of RSS powerful syndication and real-time news provision opportunities.

I have myself challenged publicly at least one online publisher who threatened action against my own syndication of their content but the jury is still largely out on this one, and for what I can see it may well be there for still quite a long time.

Photo credit: Warren Gibb

The root of the issue is all in the powerful and unstoppable emergent sharing paradigm: while a large part of the economy has gone on in approaching marketing and sales just like they have been doing in the last 50 years, armies of new micro, small and medium sized-businesses have discovered that the most powerful, efficient, cost-effective and lasting form of promotion is indeed based on free sharing and distribution mechanisms.

Just like when you go fishing, you give out a lot of free fish food in exchange for a smaller and very targeted crowd waiting to jump and bite your next unique offering. As for the fish gathering around your free food giveout, RSS is a tremendously powerful vehicle not only to deliver more efficiently your content but also to enable a self-sufficient army of individual publishers, reporters, bloggers and other news publishers to further spread and deliver it to an infinite number of otherwise unreachable audiences out there.

RSS legal issues and discussions all stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what RSS is good at and how to best ride its open ended, flexible traits.

RSS is like fishing: unless you can appreciate the value of giving out a lot of free food in exchange for a very qualified, loyal and hungry audience, you may find yourself mostly empty-handed.

RSS is like a wonderful fountain built by a Pope in one of Rome's many great squares. Not hidden inside the private Vatican doors the fountain offers free refreshment, a natural meeting and resting point for people and a perfect spot for small local businesses to spring up. The Pope and the institutions behind it get lot of "branding" and the word-of-mouth marketing of the free art made available by them brings in a flowing audience of "believers" and "spending buyers" for centuries to come.

Wi-Fi and the idea of giing out free mobile phones are analogous perfect examples of how giving something out for free can reward back "investors" with much greater reach, popularity and business returns than any other sales approach you can think of.

Once you allow your constituents to become your tacit marketing agents there is no end to the amount of opportunities that can emerge from this process.

Today I let Sharon Housley takes a good shot at identifying issues and approaches that would address the conservative RSS "fishermen" worries, while advising on a more common-sense approach to the irrational fear of RSS illegal and unauthorized re-use.

Before I hand out the podium to her though, let me ask: In the end, if you are so uptight about giving out your information via RSS, why don't you make a password-protected fee or registration-based RSS channel out of it?

Or better yet (for you conservative publisher who doen't see what the future looks like) why don't you sell your supposedly scare and unique RSS feed content resyndication rights to all those that want to leverage it? Meaning: you want to take my RSS feeds and syndicate/republish headlines on your own sites and newsletters (even commercial ones)? Here is what it costs!

The Copyright Debate and RSS
by S. Housley

RSS is commonly defined as really simple syndication.

So, this means that any material contained in a feed is available for syndication, right? Well no, not exactly.

It means that the content contained in an RSS feed is in a format that is syndication friendly, if the copyright holder allows for syndication.

Offering a feed for syndication does not in fact grant any legal rights to anyone to reuse the feeds content beyond what the Copyright laws grant as Fair Use.

In practice, while your feed might legally be protected, you could literally spend weeks attempting to protect the contents of your feed.

Legal gray areas are introduced with Search Engines indexing feeds and RSS Feed Directories including copywritten feeds, in their categorized directories.

How do you distinguish between a legitimate search engine, RSS directory and someone simply reproducing the contents of a feed for personal gain? Legally how can you defend against one and not the other?

One can ask whether it is legally wrong to reproduce content in a feed.

Is it morally wrong?

Does the site have a purpose or value outside of the syndicated content? Is the aggregation of topic specific feeds in itself a value?

If you use the feeds for easily creating fresh news content and then label the site as a news directory, does that make it any more legal?

What about personal web aggregators? If it is for personal use, is it OK?

Take a look at these "custom-created" topic-specific feed directories:

Financial Investing Security Protection

One could argue that the above sites do in fact provide value, aggregating and categorizing related topic specific feeds in a single location.

In fact those in the security sector of the finance arena might find the above sites of significant value but what of the content creators?

Laws and Technology Collide
Most people publishing content via RSS support republication of feeds.

Because the technology is fairly new, the laws and legalities are still murky.

It is generally assumed that content in RSS is protected by copyright laws but let us not forget the Internet is global and there is not a centralized body governing what is right or what is wrong.

Not only does law and technology collide the laws of different countries, those creating the feed and those displaying the contents of the feed may also contradict each other.

It is for this reason that I would advise publishers using RSS to assume that the contents of their RSS feeds will be likely syndicated and republished by others.

Tips and Tricks to Protect Your Feed.
That is not to say there are not things that can be done to protect feeds. At the end of the day being proactive is the best way to protect intellectual property.

Part of feed protection is ensuring that appropriate credit is given, and this can be arranged by including a copyright reference in the final line of the Item Description field of any RSS feed.

Additionally links back to the source website can also be easily integrated in the Item description field.

Teaser copy can also be added to the RSS feed's Item description field linking back to your website.

At the end of the day, protecting the contents of a feed can be daunting and limiting.

Optimizing your RSS-based contents to ensure that appropriate credit and linkbacks are always key components of what others may re-use is the only serious strategy that has a life.

About the Author:
Sharon Housley manages marketing for FeedForAll
software for creating, editing, publishing RSS feeds and podcasts. In addition Sharon manages marketing for NotePage a wireless text messaging software company.

Sharon Housley -
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posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, August 17 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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