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Hypergene MediaBlog » Copyright,, and repurposing RSS feeds

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Tuesday, 31 May 2005

Copyright,, and repurposing RSS feeds

About a week ago, somewhat to our surprise, we found out that Matt McAlister, the VP and general manager of The Industry Standard online, had decided to repurpose our feed on the Media section of their site. (See the list of links under “Media Bookmarks.")

At first, we were thrilled about this. It’s a great compliment. And we were great fans of The Standard’s daily Media Grok back in its first incarnation. However, a few days later, we began to ponder some tricky questions in regards to copyright and repurposed RSS feeds. And then we saw this post by Robert Andrews, a former BBC reporter, which echoed some of those thoughts:

"It may have only taken Matt 10 minutes to place 10 stories on his site from Hypergene’s feed – that’s because Chris and Shayne have already done the hard work of researching, reading, sifting and bookmarking the best links. Did they give permission for use of their feed, are they getting compensated for their time and expertise? In old media terms, isn’t it a bit like taking Chris and Shayne on as staff?"
Ultimately, we are flattered that The Industry Standard is using our content. And we do not wish them to stop using it. It’s great promotion for us. However, it poses some serious questions about what conflicts might arise when a news site or industry association site attempts to repurpose an RSS feed, or otherwise.

1. The question of permission and compensation: All content on our weblog is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license. This means you can repurpose and share our content as long as you give us attribution and do not use our content on a commercial site without our permission.

So, isn’t The Industry Standard a commercial site? It’s owned by IDG, “the world’s leading technology media, research, and event company.” On the Media section page, where our feed appears, there is a large skyscraper banner ad space, which randomly cycles GoogleAds and banner ads. This probably qualifies it as commercial.

The Industry Standard did give us attribution, albeit buried at the bottom of the page, and a hyperlink back to our site. However, we were never asked for permission to repurpose our feed on their site. Nor were we compensated in any way.

2. So, what exactly is the definition of a “commercial use”? For example, if a weblog carries any of the following advertising, does that qualify the site as commercial?

a. Banner Ads that advertise a product or service
b. BlogAds (Henry Copeland’s network)
c. GoogleAds
d. Amazon Affiliate links
e. Tip Jars

Obviously this would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Lawrence Lessig, chairman of the Board of Directors of Creative Commons and a professor of law at Stanford Law School, told us via e-mail, “We intended ‘noncommercial’ to preclude use by sites primarily intended to make a profit.” This could be a fuzzy issue in the weblog world. Many weblogs carry one or all of the aforementioned advertising, but it’s usually for the purpose of covering the cost of creating and maintaining a weblog.

Our weblog was created primarily as a research and knowledge management tool for the We Media paper we wrote for The Media Center @ API. Our feed was created as a way to track and share all our research for the next edition of that paper. Consequentally, however, both are great promotional tools for any citizen journalism and social media services we might provide, such as consulting, training and speaking. Perhaps that would qualify our site as “commercial.” We’re not sure.

3. How does, being the host of our feed, complicate this issue legally? does not have any copyright notices posted on their site. Since our feed is published on, and they have no notices on their site, is The Industry Standard free to do what they wish?

Joshua Schachter, founder and creator of, told us in an e-mail conversation: “This is an interesting and complicated question. I have not fully settled my position on ownership of feeds and I am still trying to work this out with the lawyers.

“Just because there is no copyright statement does not mean that it is not copyrighted. I need to figure out exactly what and how to assign rights and who owns what and so on.”

Lessig told us, “It doesn’t affect your copyright in any of your content, and in the arrangement you’ve made of your content; it might mean you have a thinner copyright than if you didn’t feed from”

4. A feed is a collection of links, usually to the content of work created by other people. Can that even be copyrighted? We belive that a user’s collection of links is copyrightable in the sense that:

a. The user researched and selected the specific collection of links.
b. The user wrote the headline and description.
c. The user defined and wrote the tags (metadata).
d. The user typically ensures that there is no duplication in the feed. (That cannot be said of aggregate or tag-based feeds. My “photography” feed is loaded with duplicates.)

That said, the user is posting bookmarks in a social network so that everyone can benefit from it. Why else do it? Posting to is not without some effort. That’s what makes social bookmarking different from posting links on a weblog.

As such, an aggregate feed or single tag feed is more or less public domain, or under whatever license ultimately operates under.

5. Relaying the copyright and Creative Commons license: In terms of providing attribution, The Standard does give us a credit, and a hyperlink back to our site. But they do not “keep intact all copyright notices for the Work” as stipulated in the Creative Commons license. Shouldn’t they note our Creative Commons license on their site? Yes, but in our experience, this is rarely done with repurposed RSS feeds.

6. What should do with user copyright and RSS feeds? In our weblog feed, we have a copyright tag which stipulates our CC license. Our feed does not, because it’s not yet an option on

Schachter, founder and creator of, told us that he is considering the idea of letting the user define the copyright policy in the RSS feed. We think that’s a great idea. However, since it’s a social network, and the intention is sharing, we recommend that licensing is restricted to variations of the Share-Alike Creative Commons licenses.

We are curious about your opinions on this issue.
• Have you had a good or bad experience related to repurposed RSS feeds?
• Has an organization paid you to repurpose your RSS feed?
• What do you think it would be worth to repurpose your feed?
• Do you know of any good articles or posts written on this subject?

Posted on May 31, 2005 | 7:13 am EST
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