Susan Mernit's Point on RSS and Copyright

Susan Mernit, a wonderful analyst of all things Web 2.0, writes,
in a thoughtful post responsive to the flap over RSS and copyright:
“But it seems to be what Palfrey has not yet addressed–which makes
sense considering this company is so new–is that many of the players
entering into the bundled space recognize they have to give more back
to their creative sources than just a little traffic or a thank you.
… Without some share in the revenue, it’s not right to make $$ from
anything more than a headline and a digest, unless the blogger has
specifically given permission for a great depth to be published off
site.”

No better time than the present to address it.  I don’t have an
answer, by any means, but it seems like a terrific question, one
well-worthy of discussion.  I should note that I don’t think of
this as a “legal” issue (those are addressed in an all-too-long post
yesterday).  But I think it’s a critical issue from the
perspective of developing this ecosystem based on syndicated
content. 

I wonder if what Susan points to is an emerging consensus, which would
help clarify the community’s views and the norm around aggregation (we
could call them the “Mernit Principles”):

1) If a for-profit company a) aggregates RSS headlines and digests of feeds only
(presumably there’s a norm around what is appropriate “digesting”, but presume for these purposes it’s
something well short of a full feed, consistent across all sources
aggregated); b) provides an easy mechanism for those who wish to opt-out to opt-out; and c) observes all licenses
and other stated preferences of those who offer feeds, then it’s OK to make money on the
aggregated content with ads served alongside the content in some
fashion.  (Perhaps My Yahoo! is a — presumably very profitable —
example of such a
model, or something along these lines, as My Yahoo! seems to render
just headlines from the RSS feeds I’ve got loaded in there.)  It
reminds me of what Dave said back in December about how to make money online.

2) If a for-profit company aggregates full RSS feeds and makes money
from the aggregation, it’s not enough to give the source of the feeds
some links back or a hat-tip or similar kinds of  non-cash remuneration.  If full RSS feeds are included in
the aggregated content, then some form of revenue-sharing needs to be
worked out to repatriate cash to the people creating the
works.   Such a model might be what Gather.com
and others seem to be suggesting as the way forward (“It just seems
fair that we share our advertising revenue with you based on the
quality and popularity of the content you contribute on Gather.”) 
Such a model could make sense in the way that eBay and Google have made
sense: serving as public online platforms on which other people could make a bit of
money, while ensuring that the platform providers got enough, say, to go public
and render the founders billionaires.

Does that sound right? 

(A broken record, I know, but my disclosures apply here big-time, as with other posts over the past two days.)

Follow-up to RSS and Copyright

Mikel.org has a post
that is right on — where Top10 Sources or anyone else makes a mistake
in republishing an RSS feed that is subject to a (cc) license, it
should fix that mistake fast.  (It’s possible, of course, for
someone to give license to do something beyond what the (cc) license
says, so there may be other facts in play here; but the core point
remains.)  The human-and-technical system may be fallible, and/but
things that slip through the cracks of the policy should be corrected promptly.  Michael also notes that Top10 Sources
itself should have an outbound (cc) license, especially to Share-Alike,
where Top10 Sources has the right to do so.  Again, that’s right,
and should (will!) be fixed. 

(Update: with thanks to Michael for
pointing it out, and to the Top10 Sources team for quick turnaround,
the changes have been made to the site.
)