RSS feeds and copyright law
By Sharon Housley [February 1st, 2011]
The Copyright Debate and RSS
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 is it wrong to reproduce content in a feed. Morally is it 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 content and label the site a directory does that make it any more legal? What about personal web aggregators? If it is for personal use, is it OK?
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 assumed that content in RSS is protected by copyright laws but let us not forget the Internet is global and their 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 contradict each other. It is for this reason, I would advise that publishers using RSS to assume that the contents of their RSS feeds will be syndicated and replicated.
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, this can be arranged by including a copyright assignment in the final line of the Item Description field.
Additionally you can include links back to your website in the Item description field.
Use teaser copy in the RSS feed's Item description field, linking back to your website which contains the full contents of the post.
At the end of the day, protecting the contents of a feed can be daunting and limiting. Controlling your contents to ensure appropriate credit and links are included is critical.
About the Author
Sharon Housley manages marketing for FeedForAll (www.feedforall.com) software for creating, editing, publishing RSS feeds and podcasts. In addition Sharon manages marketing for NotePage (www.notepage.net) a wireless text messaging software company.
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