That old copyright song

My cable connection started working without problems yesterday, just in time for me to attempt to connect using DSL later today. I’ve also been attempting to take photos of the bald eagles wintering in our area, but have run into interesting complications, which I’ll write about later.

In the meantime, thanks to Halley Suitt for pointing out this rather amazing sleight of hand trick from John Palfrey at Harvard on copyright law, RSS feeds, and his new enterprise, Top Ten Sources.

Mr. Palfrey, the Berkman Center at Harvard holding the copyright of RSS is completely beside the issue, and only serves to obfuscate the discussion–as does raising the specter of the Big Bad Media companies. In addition, I’m very confident that I hold the copyright on my writing regardless of the medium in which I publish the writing, unless I grant that copyright to another. The fact that what I write appears in a RSS feed does not change how copyright laws work. No matter how much you wave the Web 2.0 wand, it does not change copyright law.

People who provide syndication feeds do so in the assumption that the feeds will be picked up in personal aggregators. A personal aggregator is nothing more than what amounts to a ‘reader’ for the content. Whether you read my content in your personal aggregator or via a web browser (point being moot since I only publish partial feeds), does not violate the copyright law because you’re not re-publishing or copying that material in its entirety. The personal aggregator becomes nothing more than a variation of a web browser.

To the techs out there: am I right, or am I wrong? Isn’t a personal aggregator, whether web-based or desktop-based, nothing more than a variation on a browser, in that it renders web-based material for an individual’s personal consumption?

However, re-publishing the content in its entirety for mass consumption without permission is a violation of copyright law. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. In addition, at least in the US, copyright is granted automatically on a work and one does NOT need to re-publish copyright information in one’s feed, unless one wants to. Now, people can and should include Creative Commons licenses that allow one to re-publish content if they don’t care that this happens. But if they do, and no commercial re-publication is allowed, this means that sites such as Top Ten Sources cannot re-publish the material if the site is run as a commercial for-profit enterprise.

To the legal beagles out there–point blank: am I right? Or am I wrong? No, ‘gentlemen of the court’ niceties; no A-list deference; no but it’s Harvard obfuscation; no Web 2.0 bullshit. As clearly and precisely as possible: am I right, or am I wrong?

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55 Responses to That old copyright song

  1. Barry Walls says:

    Copyright law is basic the author or publisher has copyright. The issue here is not copyright but the usage of copyrighted material. Let us look at some basic situation’s that have been raised in the past. First a copyright notice is required with a statement of its indented usage defined for copyright to be determined to have been breached. Open any book or magazine and you will find the copyright notice “copyright Fred Smith 2006 you may not ……… etc and etc … without the express permission of the publisher or author etc how many web sites or arterials on the web have this declaration and believe that use of the © 2006 symbol will be protection its not, the declaration of usage defines the protection .

    Now let take the case of 2 people that are required to give a presentation to the board.

    Person A (Adam) has taken 16 pages from “ABC business practices case study 49” and copied this into his presentation.

    Person B (Bob) has taken the same 16 pages from “ABC business practices case study 49” but he cut them from the publication and rebound them into his presentation.

    Unless the copyright notice said that any part pages and or all the pages where not to be rebound pasted glued or affixed in any manner to any other publication for viewing to any third party Bob has not breached any copyright law but under all normal standards Adam has most defiantly breached standard copyright law.

    Non profit or profit has been attempted to be used as a … “it is justified if it’s non profit”, sorry let me take you to court and if that’s your justification you will lose and be paying my court costs plus a little more. 1000’s of schools breach copyright every day but hell you would look like a jerk if you tried to sue them. But If you are the publisher of school books you have ever right to sue and you do.

    The word copyright only protects you if so far as you are the author and or publisher and no other party can claim they are the authors and or publishers it also implies protection against reproduction but without expression this implied protection is false. For protection you must also define the allowed usage or not. E.g… This comment may not be reproduced in any way in full and or in part and is only to be viewed via the original published web site etc etc etc etc.

    It is not required that you cover ever possible usage situation but that you show the intention. How the material is gathered or obtained has no bearing on the case.

    Barry Walls.

  2. Shelley says:

    Barry, I was aware that copyright violations aren’t dependent on the second party making a profit, but isn’t there a ‘default’ copyright? In other words, do I need to put some kind of copyright notice and allowed usage on my site to ‘copyright’ the material more effectively?

  3. Sherri says:


    I’d like to think that your last statement is true that a person is not required to cover every possible usage of their copyrighted material for it to fall under copyright protection, but a judge in Nevada has ruled differently.

    According to his ruling, once a page is cached, even if the author removes it from their own site where it did fall under copyright protection, it then becomes fair use.

    I’m not an attorney by any stretch of the imagination, but I do understand metatags and cache and I know what it’s like to be ripped off and nobody give a damn.

    A person must prove profit and loss in order to fight for copyright protection or so I’m told. That’s not logical to me for this reason.

    If someone gives me an expensive statue and I place it on my lawn and in the middle of the night someone comes along and steals it, I’ll call the police and they’ll look into it because a law has been broken. If they find the thief, that person will be prosecuted even though I didn’t really lose anything because I didn’t pay for the statue because it was a gift.

    We can understand that concept because the law is in place, it has been tested and it has been enforced.

    On the other hand, the law in cyberspace is in place, but it’s not being enforced and I believe for the most part it’s because those who have to make the decisions on whether the law has been broken or not don’t understand the Internet. They don’t know what a cache is, they don’t know what metatags are, they have no idea that a pic is on a page, but that it’s also located on a separate page on the server and a person can delete the page and leave the pic on its separate page.

    I could drone on about details all day, but help me to understand this. Seriously, I’ve just finished making a post about this ruling at the following URL:

    The more I think about this the more confused and angry I become. It can make a person just throw their hands in the air and say, “I give up! Take it!”

  4. Robert says:

    I’m still muttering to myself about this whole thing. I mean, I understand the legal doctrine of copyright — it’s just that it doesn’t seem to make sense in a medium like the web. What does ‘copyright’ mean when you’ve already given every person on the planet a ‘copy’? I quote copy because I think a hyperlink is, effectively, a copy. On the web, it truly becomes irrelevant where a piece of information resides — the whole goal of the web was to eliminate that distinction. So, once you’ve put a document on the web, it is, effectively, everywhere. Whether or not it is in some cache somewhere seems to me to be irrelevant; in fact, the document is probably cached dozens of different places on its way from server to client.

    I fully agree with the legal doctrines of copyright and patent. Reasonably applied, they can be enormously beneficial for society. They reward creators, and then, in a hopefully balanced period of time, revert ownership to the society as a whole so that fields of inquiry can be more fecund. They are, at base, a form of reciprocity. Tipped too far towards any one party, and the relationship becomes less than reciprocal.

    But with the web, where the medium’s essence is to remove ‘space’ between documents, or more generally ideas, what does ‘copying’ mean? Maybe, as was the case with radio, it’s time to find a new form of reciprocity.

  5. Pingback: PlagiarismToday » Why RSS Scraping Isn’t O.K.