If you have a Web property, your content is being copied. This is how Jonathan starts one of his recent posts about copyright infringements.
Jonathan is a game changer with a very interesting story that speaks to how new careers are born out of interest and a desire to be helpful in an underserved or overlooked niche.
The reason why I like him so much though goes beyond the technical competence. Spend a few minutes with us and you will discover what it is.
There seems to be a bit of confusion about RSS. Web properties - sites, even networks - can be created in a few hours, if not minutes today. Everyone goes after traffic - but to gain traction, they need content, lots of it. And not just any kind of content, ideally it would need to be top shelf.
It's no surprise therefore that the question of whether RSS implies permission to reuse content be popping up more and more frequently. Isn't it always best to ask first? What are your thoughts?
Jonathan: Whether or not it is ok to scrape and reuse RSS feeds comes down to the question about whether there is an implied license to republish RSS content. This asks the question whether or not placing one's content into an RSS feed, they are giving permission for others to use their content in this way.
Most lawyers don't feel that there is such an implied license. This issue was roundly discussed and trounced on Episode 3 of This Week in Law in 2007 and very few lawyers seem to argue that there is such a license. This largely stems from the fact that the predominant use of RSS feeds is individual subscription and that most RSS feeds are generated automatically, without the user taking any actual action. It's difficult to argue an implied license when many don't even know they are putting an RSS feed out there.
However, until we get a court ruling on this, we won't know the actual answer and there hasn't been one yet (all previous cases were settled well before that point) and no one seems to be both willing and able to fight on this one.
The most recent case of note was the NYT v. Gatehouse Media case where NYT property Boston.com scraped and displayed headlines and snippets of Gatehouse stories provided via RSS. Gatehouse objected and sued, NYT settled the case by agreeing to not scrape the feeds. Considering that the use was likely a fair use regardless of the scraping issue, the future doesn't look bright for the implied license theory.
You can read more about the NYT settlement here.
To answer the question though, it is always best to ask first. Relying on an implied license theory right now is dangerous and likely to fail in court. Furthermore, it doesn't prevent you from being sued, and all of the hassle that entails, and enduring take down notices and other issues with scraping content. In short, asking first is always best, even if you do believe in the implied license theory.
Recently I run a search on the issue, but had to rely on a friend who also happens to be an IP lawyer to get the skinny. Why isn't there better information available on copyright and RSS?
Jonathan: There are several articles on my site about the topic and many others have covered it as well.
Part of the problem is that most of the coverage is old, at least two years. The issue was particularly hot then but has since died down. Much of that is because a sort of de facto standard has taken hold where full RSS scraping is not ok but headline and/or snippet scraping is at least widely accepted (though clearly not by Gatehouse).
The issue is still very muddled and not straightforward nor have the legal issues been resolved in the least, but it is no longer a top-of-mind issue for most, even those who are very interested in copyright matters.
Are Creative Commons licenses a valid way to protect yourself from scraping for gain? I'm noticing that people are starting to use them less. Can you give us a quick tutorial on the things to look for when choosing a Creative Commons license? Can it be used while also displaying a copyright?
If you are considering a CC license though, it is important to note that it is not right for everyone. If you earn a living by selling copies of your work or your bottom line would be seriously hampered by others being able to make free, legal copies, it isn't for you. Also, don't forget about the emotional impact of seeing others use your work without direct permission legally. If you're in doubt, it's better to either not use a CC license or use a very restrictive one to prevent any regrets down the road. You can always choose a new, more liberal license later.
On that note, a CC license does not change the fact you are the copyright holder of a work. So you can display a regular copyright notice. The difference would be that instead of "All Rights Reserved" you would say "Some Rights Reserved", probably linking to the license for clarity. In short, a CC license does not change that you hold the copyright in a work, it just provides other a license to use it under the terms you set.
I haven't noticed any reduction in the number of licenses but it isn't something I've been tracking or following closely. To me, they still seem very prevalent but it could also be the circles I move in.
You've been writing at The Blog Herald about many of the touchy issues people tend not to think about, or to have a cavalier attitude towards. In fact, that's how we met, while I was contributing content to the site. And of course, you write at your own site, aptly named plagiarism today. What's your sense, are we just scratching the surface with these issues? Is the worst yet to come?
Jonathan: What has happened with the Web is that everyone is now a publisher capable of reaching an audience of millions. Along with that comes a lot of legal issues, issues that until recently were the sole dominion of mass media professionals. Mass media professionals typically endured many hours of law and ethics training and were backed up by media attorneys. Now, everyday citizens with no training and no attorneys to advise them are publishers.
It is a Pandora's box of defamation, copyright, trademark, privacy and other legal issues that, before the Web, the vast majority of people never had to worry about.
What is unclear is whether, as people learn more about these issues (by force, most likely) will they grow wiser and avoid problems or will they use the knowledge to file more lawsuits. Knowing what our rights are helps us both enforce our own boundaries and not step on others, how we use that knowledge is what matters in this case.
On that front though, there is a definite upward trend to the number of lawsuits being filed against bloggers and it doesn't look like it is going to stop. So, between the two, it definitely looks as if we're just scratching the surface.
Your story was an inspiration to me. Stemming from such a personal place when you discovered your poetry was being lifted at an alarming rate. How you felt that something needed to be done, and how your first attempts left you tired and frustrated resonated with me - and I'm sure with many others. You took the kinds of steps that all game changers take - you faced the challenge, and found a way to learn while teaching. If you were to share one word of advice with my readers, what would that be?
Jonathan: If I were going to offer a single broad piece of advice, it would be this. Every challenge, every problem and every disaster is an opportunity to do something good, both for yourself and others.
In my experience, the quickest and best way to deal with something bad that has happened, no matter what it is, is to try and turn it into something positive. Destruction becomes rebirth, heartache becomes poetry and, in my case, widespread plagiarism becomes a chance to teach others. It's the best approach for both yourself and the world around you.
And this is especically why his message really resonates with me. Jonathan is manager of CopyByte.com, a copyright enforcement start up. They're devising systems for protecting content without generating a backlash.