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RSS Content Licensing

January 9th, 2009 No comments

I have noticed a reasonable number of recent web sites which are syndicating content and republishing it on twitter or allowing it to be searched on their site. Often without publishing any kind of license or terms which would indicate that they had rights to the material.

Given the recent experiences that people have had with Getty Images you have to worry that the site operators are exposing themselves regardless of the use of a RSS feed to retrieve the data or the fact that the data was available for free in the original context. While linking to content has been held to be acceptable by some courts, hosting the content in your database and presenting it is likely to be argued to be an infringing use.

For example twitter content has the copyright retained by the original individual authors but people still pull it down from Twitter via RSS and use it. Some of the content is actually being republished from news services via RSS to Twitter services and the rights owner, a news agency, could easily come after anybody in the chain using it as part of their business. Many RSS terms only permit personal use, or use on a personal web site, not commercial use. A clearer problem with using personal use licensed RSS feeds are the  bargain hunting applications and staffing companies who are scanning the RSS syndication of craigslist and republishing it beyond the published personal use license and would appear to be putthing themselves at risk of legal action as a result.

Most rights holders aren’t going to mind but by building web sites around content you don’t own and which is being received from an RSS feed you are running a greater risk of the content not belonging to the person creating the subscription. As a result you are exposing yourself to future legal action in some countries and in other jurisdictions you need to respond to take down notices about user submissions promptly. If you ever have money worth pursuing you could even find yourself involved in the same kind of potential defenses as YouTube have experienced.

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