RSS and Commercial Aggregators

RSS has come to the forefront again in the past few days, but instead of being the center of controversy, it seems that this time there are efforts being made to learn and expand on it. I think its become completely apparent to everyone in the weblogging community that the efforts to replace RSS have completely failed, so now everyone's regrouping and seeing what they can do with the only real syndication spec that exists.

First there's Sam Ruby's great presentation he gave yesterday. Then Diego got his MT to produce unfunky RSS 2.0. Then there's Jeremy's thoughts today on extending RSS Autodiscovery for large sites. While I was perusing this stuff, I found this great RSS tutorial/overview and this one as well which really helped me grok RSS (1.0 and 2.0).

Rocking. I get it. I'm pretty sure I got it a while ago, but with so much flak flying around the blogoshere, things started getting a bit fuzzy in my brain. Nice to have a review and to get up to date. It was interesting to me tonight to find out that both Yahoo and Microsoft are using RSS 2.0 feeds. That to me pretty much clears that question up. RSS 2.0 has won. Anyone who's creating a new feed tomorrow will probably choose that spec over any other. It was a brilliant end run by Dave Winer, if you think about it, but he got it done. That's a hell of a lot more than you can say for the SyndiWiki efforts which months later is still mired in pointless bickering. The fact that there's no name yet signifies to me everything.

Alright, bygones. Continuing...

Okay, so now I was reading Jeremy's blog tonight and at the bottom of his post, he links to this complete fucking asshole who is threatening to invoke the DMCA on anyone who aggregates his content in a commercial setting. He actually has a point, which I'll get to in a second. The problem I have is that he justifies his rantings using the DMCA, which is one of the most repelling pieces of legislation that exists. He is, and will remain, a complete shit for even uttering those letters.

But like I said, he does have a point. Copyright law is very simple: You create something and its yours. It's not a trademark, or a patent, but a copyright. It's automatically given to you when you create something and if anyone wants to use your content for any reason, they need to ask you. Things like the Creative Commons license and the Gnu license *do not* supersede this basic right. You create something and its yours and you get to do what you want with it, but others need to ask. Period. I see developers all the time get confused about this - they wonder if they can change a license on their work after they've published it. It's *YOUR* copyright, you can do *whatever* you want with it. Licenses are for others.

So this guy is basically saying that all commercial aggregators are illegal, and I think he's right. That includes My Yahoo, BlogLines, MyWireService, etc. You can't take for granted the fact that the content is out there in an RSS format made for syndication. It doesn't matter. In reality it's no more or less formatted than these words are right now. If you want to republish or use someone else's copyrighted material, you have to get permission. Period. That's how it works, digitally packaged up or not. And it doesn't matter if the aggregator is free or not, if it is re-publishing the content (i.e. not from the original source) it's against copyright law.

In the comments he made a great point that TV stations broadcast their shows, but if someone took a feed and started republishing NFL games onto the internet for example, there'd be hell to pay. And in fact, exactly that has happened. It's a good point. The only one thing I can say against it is that TV shows constantly and routinely *remind* you of this fact. Every DVD has that annoying 20 second WARNING, every NBA game has reminders throughout that the NBA owns the copyright to the images and event, etc. But they don't have to do that. Just like you don't *have* to put a (c) on your work to have it automatically copyrighted. It's yours as soon as you create it. Check out 10 copyright myths for clarifications.

So the question is, now what? That's what Jeremy asked at the bottom of his article. Basically, it's a matter of permissions, which the Creative Commons was created to do, so that's great, now we need to integrate that into RSS. But the main point is that if there is *no* permission specifically granted, that means *no* aggregation. It all depends on how you word the permissions as well. If you say "I allow this content to be aggregated" that seems okay, but if you say "I allow this content to be presented on a commercial website" I'm a little less likely to want to participate.

Ready for this weird-ass solution? RSS itself is copyrighted. If *in the license* to use RSS, it's *required* to allow syndication of that content for personal and commercial services, that might solve this problem right? Though like I said before, licenses don't circumvent copyright law, this might make it clearer to everyone what the intent and purpose of RSS syndication is.

Okay, that's my rant for the evening.


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