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RSS Feed Plagiarism ?


So the subject of RSS plagiarism has come to my attention recently.

About a week ago, I installed a WP Plugin that allowss RSS feeds to be published on a blog. I included just a few feeds, just to test it out and see if I like the idea.

Well, I checked my comments today and found this one: Who gave you permission to use my complete content and place your advertisements next to it?

I wont reveal the author of this comment, but it was someone who’s feed I was using. I sent him an apology email and removed his feed from the list.

But it got me thinking. What is proper for using feeds? What is legal? So I did a little searching.

Jim Moore, of Harvard Law School, explains:

RSS content is also part of a worldwide web commons. When you put it out, you presume if will be read, used, aggregated, etc. If you want to create a private feed, do so. If you want to feed only headlines and summaries, like the New York Times, do that. It is entirely your choice.

But don’t get all self-righteous and attack services like TopTenSources or Pubsub or Bloglines or Squidoo or Blogbridge or Newsgator or Yahoo or Google feeds who try to make content findable and useful. If you want to participate with your content, do so. If you don’t, don’t. But don’t try to regulate innnovation and downstream processing of the commons.

That was my thinking as well. When you place a “syndicate me” box on your blog, and include the links to your feeds, aren’t you asking for people to use your feed? There are no copyright designations on the blog in question (although after looking there was on in the feed itself), no TOS regarding usage of the RSS feed, nothing to indicate I needed permission to use the feed.

For example, the NY Times has this statement on their RSS FAQ Page

We encourage the use of RSS feeds for personal use in a news reader or as part of a non-commercial Web site or blog. We require proper format and attribution whenever New York Times content is posted on your Web site, and we reserve the right to require that you cease distributing content. Please read the Terms and Conditions for complete instructions.

As you can see, they clearly spell out how you may or may not use their RSS feed.

As I see it, if you dont want your feed used, dont place it out there for public consumption. At least make sure you have some indication of how someone may or may not use the feed. It doesnt mean much to me as far as this blog is concerned, because I dont think I want to continue displaying other people’s feeds. But its an interesting issue and something blog publishers should consider. Most blogs dont even contain a manner in which to contact the author to ask for permission. Its a dilemma from where I sit.

This is also something of interest to the vBulletin community. With the upcoming release of vBulletin 3.6, RSS feed syndication is a feature that is in the new version. Basically, a feed will be turned into threads on your forum.

I see it as a plus because you can offer your users quicker access to related news and resources. However, I do see this exact same issue becoming a problem. fter all, it wouldnt take much to set up a vBulletin with 50 -100 feeds. No members, just RSS feeds. What are the legalities of such a situation? What about the ethics? Its an interesting problem.

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