Is republishing a blog RSS feed without permission copyright theft?
May 5, 2004 1:51 AM   Subscribe

my partner's weblog's RSS feed is being republished on a Live Journal users friends page, without permission. is it right that your blog can be aggregated and published on another site without permission? have LJ automated copyright theft?
posted by quarsan to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
Is it legal? Probably not. Is it "right"? I dunno. Probably not. But if you want to control access to your RSS feed, then you should control the access to your RSS feed, if you catch my drift.

Content aggregation, even where the content is not actually served by the aggregator, has been found to violate copyright. (Which I don't agree with, but whatever.)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:06 AM on May 5, 2004

Wait a second. Are you talking about someone using LJ as an RSS feed aggregator, or are you talking about someone copying and pasting entries and pretending they're theirs?

If it's the former, and they don't want it to be aggregated, read this from the LiveJournal syndication FAQ.

For further reference: LJ FAQ on syndication, or using an LJ friends page as an RSS aggregator. According to that, they are making no claim on syndicated content.
posted by Electric Elf at 2:12 AM on May 5, 2004

I suppose it depends upon what the presumptions are about what a garden variety RSS is and implies. If uncontrolled RSS access implies something like the creative commons license, then I suppose it's legal. Note that uncontrolled generic http access does not imply any such thing. That status of your browser cache is legally uncertain (and likely shaky). This is why a screen scraper aggregator of generic web content without permission is not legal. You don't have permission to copy the content. And, as I said, even aggregating content on the client side without the producer's permission has been found to be illegal; presumably because judges don't understand the technology but, more reasonably, users certainly don't understand the tech and they can't tell a bit of difference between serving the content directly or only including it via a pointer.

The argument might be that the whole point of RSS, by definition, is giving people a different sort of access to your content, basically allowing them to make copies of it (as provided by the RSS mechanism). On the other Some of the first people to talk about syndication were commercial enterprises looking to sell and buy syndicated content where, assuredly, access was not open. Just because someone can take it doesn't mean that it's free.

Except when it does. You can't open a box of cookies at the grocery store and eat them before you've paid for them. But you can eat a cookie sitting on a sample table without paying for it--it's understood to be offered gratis.

So, what is the cultural presumption about RSS, and how does the law understand it?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:39 AM on May 5, 2004

Honestly, I can't see the problem; I assume the RSS feed is there to be read in an aggregator, and that's essentially what LJ friends pages are. My friends page on LJ includes lots of syndicated feeds and I don't use any other aggregator. The page exists to allow me to read all my friends posts and other stuff I want to read, on a single page. It doesn't exist for other people to look at... but they can, because that's the way LJ works.

Now, it's true that a side effect of this process is that the friends page is viewable by someone other than the person using it as an aggregator. I assume that's the issue in your question. But calling it "published on another site" is kind of a misunderstanding of how these pages are used in LJ by most people.

I tend to think that if you put that RSS file out there, it's unreasonable to expect it not to be aggregated (that's the purpose of RSS, isn't it?), as long as credit is given and a link provided to the original -- and on LJ, this is automatically done.
posted by litlnemo at 2:54 AM on May 5, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you for the replies. My partner uses Blogger and has no problem with people quoting etc her posts. she used Blogger's atom.xml feed to make it easier for people to read her blog, not to allow people to re-publish her entire blog.

It seems to me that there is a big difference between using a RSS reader - like I do in my browser, and taking the feed and publishing it on the net, which it what LJ appears to be doing.

If, for example, I used the mefi newsfeed and re-published it on my website, I suspect that Matt and Mefi's would go nuts. we have solved the problem by removing the newsfeed, but I think there is an interesting issue here and I appreciate people's thoughts on this.
posted by quarsan at 3:10 AM on May 5, 2004

But people do that, actually, and Matt hasn't gone nuts.

Though some other site admins might.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:22 AM on May 5, 2004

By removing the RSS feed you have made it harder for people to read the blog, though. :/

It is true that, by virtue of LJ's operational method, the blog was being "re-published," of sorts. But, basically, this was a side-effect, done because someone on LJ wanted to read it, by using their friends page as an aggregator. Now they can't do this anymore.

Some people set up their RSS feeds to only send the title or abstract of a post. Maybe if you did that, people could still see the links to the blog posts in their friends pages even if they don't see all the content, and the folks who liked the blog enough to subscribe wouldn't be disappointed. Is that possible to do with Blogger?

I have also seen feeds that found a way to automatically include copyright info on every syndicated post in LJ.

(There are 12 people subscribing to my blog's feed on LJ, and I am thrilled to have them. It's not as if I am missing out on ad revenue, and the credit pointing back to Slumberland is there, so it's obvious that the content is from Slumberland. For those who haven't seen syndicated posts on LJ -- they are posted as if the syndicated site was an LJ user -- here's an example, sorry for the self-link. The source of the content is very clear, so although it is technically "re-publishing" it is not as if the content is being posted in someone else's journal directly.)
posted by litlnemo at 4:00 AM on May 5, 2004

If, for example, I used the mefi newsfeed and re-published it on my website, I suspect that Matt and Mefi's would go nuts. we have solved the problem by removing the newsfeed, but I think there is an interesting issue here and I appreciate people's thoughts on this.

People do that. LiveJournal offers RSS feeds of non-Livejournal blogs via a mostly-automated process. As a result, if your blog has an RSS feed, it can be "published" as a separate LJ specifically for that purpose. This allows posts from your partner's blog to be interfiled with the rest of their friend's list, or read as a stand-alone, pretty bare-bones blog. However, I don't think the re-published content can be confused with something that originated with Livejournal [when they did this to my blog, I spent a lot of time asking them about the process etc]. The problems can come when you change your feed and the automated process at LJ doesn't catch up, making it look like your "feed" [really your LJ-created feed posted to an LJ web address] is broken when it's just not being properly scraped.

In any case, I'm afraid this is one of the many uses people have found for RSS. Livejournal offers these "RSS LJs" as a feature for people in their community. I agree it's a bit weird to all of the sudden see your blog's content as a stand-alone web page, and on Livejournal no less, but it's also worth knowing that very few people use/see this stand-alone page. Most put the feed on their friends page and it allows people who otherwise wouldn't leave the LJ world to read outside content. Your partner could always put a link in her Atom feed in the post that indicates what the correct URL is for the entry so that interested people could grab the original post or the non-LJ-RSSed entry.
posted by jessamyn at 4:08 AM on May 5, 2004

To be perfectly honest, I don't see why this is troubling. I mean, isn't this the whole purpose of RSS feeds? Would you be upset if people were subscribing to your blog on Kinja?

If, for example, I used the mefi newsfeed and re-published it on my website, I suspect that Matt and Mefi's would go nuts.

Again, see Kinja. This kind of repurposing and repacking of RSS feeds is really the only reason to have an RSS feed, IMHO. If you don't want users to be able to read the content in a format of their choice, why would you have an RSS feed available?
posted by Jairus at 6:08 AM on May 5, 2004

If, for example, I used the mefi newsfeed and re-published it on my website, I suspect that Matt and Mefi's would go nuts.

I don't care. It's already there, and I'm fine with it. All links from it point to the MetaFilter server, so it drives traffic to the site. Also, the last S in RSS stands for syndication, and this is exactly what it was designed for. Syndication is good for websites, due to this traffic.

It might take a bit for authors to get over this point, but as long as the site syndicating your site isn't plastered with ads or anything, it's a good thing and should be encouraged.
posted by mathowie at 8:06 AM on May 5, 2004

holy crap. i was just about to post what matt just posted, and the link. and many of the same words.


think of LJ as a web aggregator instead of a browser-based aggregator. is there a problem with that?
posted by taumeson at 8:11 AM on May 5, 2004

Syndication technologies exist to facilitate republishing. That's what they're for. If you don't want your content republished, don't syndicate it.
posted by jjg at 10:10 AM on May 5, 2004

But what if the republication of the feed just slaps up all the content wholesle, doesn't set up any links to drive content to the original site? It's one thing to have well-attributed links, filtered to taste, constitued from an RSS feed, but another to just republish articles wholesale. I guess by "modify your RSS" y'all are saying: 'don't put the full text of the article in it?'

quarsan never posted the example, so we can't really evaluate it, but it is possible to republish someone's RSS in a bad way, as well as a good way, no?
posted by scarabic at 10:24 AM on May 5, 2004

it is possible to republish someone's RSS in a bad way, as well as a good way, no?

Only if the feed is somehow being modified by the republisher (such as if all links back to the original author are being stripped out of the feed). But if they're just reproducing your content intact, then they're only doing exactly what you gave them implicit permission to do by syndicating the content in the first place. Republishing a feed is just as ethical as reading a public Web page -- in both cases you're just using the technology for its intended purpose.

Don't want strangers reading your site? Password-protect it. Don't want your content showing up in other places? Don't syndicate it.
posted by jjg at 11:36 AM on May 5, 2004

Response by poster: thank you all for your comments. i really wasn't sure about this, but i do feel reproducing someone's entire blog without asking permission is out of order.

i do feel that the purpose of syndication is to enable people to READ your feed, not to enable any tom dick or harry to PUBLISH it.

we have taken the feed off as we are happy for people to read the site in RSS format, but we do not want people to reproduce it. since the feed was taken off site visits have risen by 25%, so it's going to stay off.
posted by quarsan at 12:01 PM on May 5, 2004

i do feel that the purpose of syndication is to enable people to READ your feed, not to enable any tom dick or harry to PUBLISH it.

This is exactly, exactly wrong. Why do you think the word syndication is used for this technology? It's not by accident.
posted by jjg at 12:12 PM on May 5, 2004

I doubt that 25% rise in visits has anything to do with the removal of the feed. For all you know, it would have gone up 35% if you hadn't.

But yeah, I second what jjg said. Syndication is appropriately named.
posted by jragon at 2:49 PM on May 5, 2004

This is the web. It's just not necessary to be so precious about people "republishing" your words -- if that's really an appropriate term for just putting them on another web page. To me, it's on the same level as "don't link to me! I didn't give you permission to do that!", and it's probably silly to actually come out and say it, but this thread makes me really sad. Do you really think that someone would want to steal your blog entries? Do you really think that it would hurt you if they did?
posted by reklaw at 3:57 PM on May 5, 2004

Now, just to be clear, I don't agree with reklaw either. Syndication carries implicit permission to republish; putting content on the Web most assuredly does not.
posted by jjg at 4:18 PM on May 5, 2004

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