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June 01, 2008

Shouldn't You Have To Ask Permission If You Want To Take A Blog's Feed For Your Profit?

(Update:  Another interesting perspective published two weeks ago by Larry Borsato at PC World and the Industry Standard.)

This has been troubling me for a while.  And it just may go over like a lead balloon for some of you. We all work really hard on creating quality blog content, building our readership, creating trust in order to sell our legal services.  We publish it on our blogs, some under a creative commons license.  But when we started publishing did we automatically implicitly give any one person or company the right to gather our blog's feed and present our feeds in an aggregated format so they may profit off our reputation and work....without our permission?

When the ABA Journal On Line went live with their blawg directory, if you chose to submit your blawg and they accepted, you gave them permission to publish your feed. And they aggregate for profit. That's perfectly acceptable.  I have submitted my blawg to several directories and sites like Feedburner and Technorati who profit from the collective body of feeds. This was my choice.  And I actively consented.

When I suggested to Guy Kawasaki he create a LawAlltops I gave my permission for my site to be used on his aggregator.  Will their come a time he may monetize the site?  I strongly believe that's his plan.  But, again, he has my permission.

What I have noticed lately is others looking to take my feed without my permission for their own profit.  One could rationalize that it's free publicity.  But since when did I lose my authority to publicize my work the way I choose to and with full knowledge of where it will be fed? 

Remember, these are not other bloggers writing their own blog post on their own blog and referencing my blog post (even with select paragraphs copied) then providing links back to my blog. Nor am I referencing those who are listing my blog in their blog roll.  I'm also not discussing traditional RSS for the individual reader who is simply looking for the convenience of having the blogs they like collected together for easy reading. There is no profit motive for the individual who creates their own aggregation, just convenience. 

The for-profit sites I am talking about are those sites created by an individual/company who wants to funnel readers to their site on a grand scale, to encourage them to go to their site exclusively to find your blog post and mine based upon the concept of convenience to the reader.  Then the owners monetize the site. They profit by selling advertising and/or they market their own products and services.  Just by being part of the aggregation on this site there may be implied consent and endorsement of whatever the product or service is being advertised or sold.  And should the aggregation be part of a larger company, the company could be sold to yet another.

Is aggregation without permission any different than the content scraper who lifts your post without permission, while still giving you attribution, so they can draw away your traffic and promote their 'ad words' or services or products for their own profit?  If the SEO for the aggregator's site is or becomes great, will it replace your site as the first site in a search for your name or content and draw your intended traffic there?  Is it really fair?  It may or may not be technically lawful but what better way to encourage endorsement from those whose feeds you seek then by asking permission.

Should bloggers state clearly on their blog they do not give any third party the right to take their blog's RSS feed for personal profit without the owner's express permission? I know I do in the creative commons license I post on every page of this blog.

Maybe I'd be OK if I was asked and I might even enjoy the publicity depending upon the quality and mission of the aggregator.  And I don't really even begrudge them looking to turn a profit for their work if they are producing something of value. But I do have a problem with someone just taking.  Just ask me.  I don't bite....well, not often. 

Anyone have any thoughts on this?  I'm really just looking for discussion as to whether I'm off base, have missed something or have hit the mark for any or many of you.


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Susan: Great post. Because all of the Creative Common Licenses are inadequate to protect from the latest forms of content theft, we have created our own license which we would encourage you and others to copy and use. I have posted about it at the above link and included some additional language to protect bloggers.

Edward Wiest

GAL's proposed amendment to the CC form of license does go at the real problem. Its importance is magnified because many blogs (including BSP) are now using full-text feeds (a great idea), which raises the ante on blog infringement.

Brooks Schuelke

My initial reaction is to say you're correct. But then, I'm not sure how that's much different from an RSS reader. I read your blog in netvibes and only venture over to make a comment. Is another site hosting the feed much different than that?

I think there is a duplicate content issue to consider. I have been plagiarized by a scraper, and after enough griping, they have finally added attribution at the end of the posts. But I do wonder if Google, etc count that as duplicate content and hurt by original site.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Brooks, Thanks for joining the conversation.

It is different. You are gathering feeds you have interest in for your personal use and we, as bloggers, are providing this convenience for you. We are specifically through the CC license not permitting aggregation for monetization.

The key is the aggregation of feeds for profit for which we do not consent.

I'm happy for all my readers to include my feed in their personal aggregators like netvibes, bloglines, etc. and this is why I provide full feeds, too, so readers can read the content.

Content scraping is specifically taking your content without permission, putting it on a site specifically to generate money, with or without attribution.

Here is a good discussion abou the issue you raised regarding the impact of content scraping on your ranking and credibility which in turn impacts your revenue.


Plagiarism Today

There are a lot of difficult issues here. The best thing I know that any blogger can do is provide an actual license, including a CC license, for the content use. If there is ever ruled to be an implied license for RSS scraping, an actual license would trump it.

Personally, I doubt that an implied license argument would work and I've read several good legal arguments against it but none that made sense in favor.

On that note though, if there is anything that I can do to help with such a case, please let me know.

I'm glad to assist if I can.

Steve Matthews

Not getting into the legal status of RSS republishing here, but I think it can be done in an even handed way. For example,

* proper attribution to authors;
* full opt-out opportunity for authors;
* link titles & abstracts over full feeds;
* don't permanently archive the content;

My personal blog content is scraped on a daily basis - both by spam blogs & quality sources - and I have little problem with it. It's a price to pay for reach & influence, and Google is very good about deciphering the original source; including attributing full SEO value.

The practical side of this (not legal status), is that we must let go a bit. Not that battles can't be fought, and sometimes should, but pick them carefully.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Steve, Thanks for joining this discussion and welcome to BSP.

There is a lot of rationalizing going on here which ends up favoring the 'taker w/out permission.'

1. It's free publicity
2. It's too tough to police
3. I have better things to do with my time.

This is why aggregators are succeeding with 'taking.' What is the saying, 'we are not rational animals; we are rationalizing animals.'

I offer the compromise being 'ask permission.' I don't accept take from me and if I discover you've taken there is a mechanism to opt-out.

Silence is not consent. Ignorance of your RSS being taken and utilized for profit is not consent.

No one has answered the question - Is it so hard to get permission? And as I've stated before - Google is a library. They are not the same.

If I as an aggregator advertise one stop shopping for all (pick your topic) news and utilize others work without their permission to gain readers and then sell advertisements or my own products by creating this one stop shopping mall of blogs, this is just wrong...even if it is just headlines and excerpts.

The key is 'get permission first.' Then all problems go away. And if your aggregation site is a MUST if I want to be seen, I'm certainly not going to say, 'no.'

Steve Matthews

A couple points.

First of all, I don't see giving Google a pass. Google caches full copies of your webpage code in its entirety, and profits in the billions from its use. It's a content distribution channel like any other, and definitely not a Library.

Second, does 'fair use' not permit capturing summary (not full) content & distributing to create new works? When it comes to RSS feed mixing, I would say that mixing subject area blogs is a unique end product. (but that could be the Librarian in me)

And lastly, permission is very hard to come by. Especially when seeding new collections. I did not submit my blog/feed to either ABA or Justia, but am happy they used my work when seeding their collections.

I'm not saying you're not right, but the practicality is questionable. If the ABA sent out emails for permission to 1400 lawyers when seeding their collection, they might get 100 responses. Their collection simply wouldn't have happened.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Steve, again, just because 'permission is very hard to come by' doesn't make taking OK. It means you have to work a little harder for your dinero. Because it isn't necessarily practical to ask permission doesn't make not asking permission OK.

And 'fair use' is a legal term and is not trumped by copyright especially when you specifically state on your blog you do not permit the feeds use for repurposing (which would be creating a new product from it) or for a commercial endeavor.

I can't speak for your experiences with the ABA or Justia..but I know I submitted mine to both as did many others when they (ABA) put out the call for submissions.

But let me ask you this...would you be just as happy if your blog's RSS feed was fed 24/7 to a site listing all the 'worst legal librarians' and the aggregator was profiting off this...I'm not trying to be inflammatory.

We should be able to decide where we want our works fed through RSS, especially when it is for profit and can impact our own reputation, revenue and more.

Don't make the case today (while aggregators seem to be well-intended and give us benefit) and there will come a time when there will be aggregators we don't want to be associated with who will be using today's model of 'take w/out permission' and bloggers' passive acceptance as precedent for what they want to do and for which we do not approve....but we gave away our rights because no one argued the point or encouraged a permission-based model when this whole concept was in its infancy.

Do it right in the beginning. Or are aggregators afraid they won't get permission?

Steve Matthews

Your points are well taken. I just happen to feel they aren't practical; and will have an impact on creativity & innovation.

It's also important that everyone be treated equally. Google who are using RSS to drive their 'fresh' search results, personal web readers (bloglines, G. reader), company intranets behind firewalls, technorati, social bookmarking websites, facebook, linkedin - and every other RSS driven application out there.

It's a different web world than it was even 3 yrs ago, and the cat can't be put back in the bag. This battle should have been fought 3 years ago when RSS mixing was new.

And my answer to your question is 'fair game'. My content is scraped daily, and is placed on MANY less than desirable places. Frustrating? yes, but I've learned to let go. I simply trust my audience can discern the context of those placements (even bad ones); and see value in having an expanding footprint. All roads lead to Rome.

Susan Cartier Liebel


....Rome or that other place that's REALLY REALLY REALLY HOT!

Steve Matthews

Now where did I put that handbasket of mine... ;)

Fantastic conversation, btw.

David Carson

The Google Webmaster Blog just posted about duplicate content and scraping:

In the second scenario, you might have the case of someone scraping your content to put it on a different site, often to try to monetize it. It's also common for many web proxies to index parts of sites which have been accessed through the proxy. When encountering such duplicate content on different sites, we look at various signals to determine which site is the original one, which usually works very well. This also means that you shouldn't be very concerned about seeing negative effects on your site's presence on Google if you notice someone scraping your content.


I just came across a useful idea. Apparently some bloggers insert a header into the text of each article on their newsfeed to address this issue. The text can basically say "If you're not seeing this on [your website name] it is being used without permission."

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