One thing I’ve been wondering about from time to time: the copyright implications of news aggregators and the increasingly widespread use of RSS feeds. I’m told by serious bloggers and technologists who wrote the code — like Dave — that it’s understood that an RSS feed is to be republished and it’s not a big problem. Some say it’s “fair use,” others an “implied license,” others that there’s not enough of the text being reproduced to be a copyright violation. I, for one, think there’s no problem if you’re offering an RSS feed plus using a Creative Commons license that says “by attribution” or the like. In the current state of the Net, this arrangement seems not to be problematic.
But fast-forward a bit. Let’s say publishing through blogs really hits the mainstream: the google, Terra-Lycos, who-knows-what-other deals hit and blogs become a mainstream means of creating, publishing, learning. Businesses that rely on their ability to charge for content are into the act, so people start paying attention to who’s paying for what. Bloggers in today’s world, who trusted one another to play by understood rules, are now outflanked by the masses. The understood rules about how RSS feeds would work, even with full copyright protections, no longer suffice for some users — i.e., people who are publishing with RSS feeds and full copyright reserved start going after the republishers, the aggregators, who didn’t ask permission.
I fear that this could be like some of those first struggles on the Net. When the first Netizens were among friends, the law wasn’t really needed. But once the mainstream hit, the understood rules no longer sufficed. And what we got was a lot of bad law and a bunch of hard-to-follow lawsuits. Could it happen again here?