RSS Rights and Wrongs: How Do You Tell if Content Reuse is Fair or Foul?

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Beg, Borrow, or Steal
Dornfest says one of the reasons she created Parent Hacks was to provide a way for parents to share information, and to some extent she is happy to have other people use the content to share with others, so long as she receives proper credit and the site links back to her original content. "I'm of the general belief that links back are worth something. If somebody is using my content on their site, and it's for non-commercial purposes, even if it's all of the content, essentially it's just more pointers back to Parent Hacks. So I'm really not concerned about that. I started this site as a resource in the first place. The point is for the information to get out there and to be useful for people," Dornfest says.

But not all content owners are so generous. Jonathan Bailey is a poet who started a blog called Plagiarism Today in response to repeated theft of his poetry. Bailey says that people would lift poetry from his writing website called Raven's Rants. Since he first stumbled onto the idea that people were stealing his work when someone in a chat room casually mentioned they had seen his work on another site, Bailey reports he has documented more than 400 instances of unadulterated plagiarism. "They were ripping off the poetry wholesale, copying the whole thing, and tacking on their name . . . Some cases involved 20-30 works," he says.

Both Dornfest and Bailey say there are numerous ways to get people to stop using your stolen content, and in most cases, they will stop after you ask. Dornfest says she had trouble tracking the owner of the offending website but did contact Google and informed them of the violation. Google sent Dornfest contact information immediately, and she was able to write to the owner and ask him to take down her content. The owner apologized and took it down, but Bailey says after four years of violations, everyone says they are sorry after they are caught.

In cases like Bailey's and Dornfest's, people stole the content outright, stripped out the owner's name and links back to the source site, and surrounded the content with Google ads to pass the content off as their own to make money off it. There's little doubt that such blatant activity is stealing, but in a time when it is so simple to link, to quote, to pull other's feeds from a site, and in some cases like Dornfest's, the publisher doesn't mind if you do (with proper attribution), it becomes more difficult to ascertain where to draw the fair use line. We may never know where the line is, but most of us know there is a difference. How far you can go depends on the intent of the publisher and how you use the content, but with the law and cultural norms still evolving, it is not always easy to know if you are doing the right thing.

Companies Featured

Bromberg and Sunstein

Creative Commons

Electronic Frontier Foundation


Numly Numbers

Parent Hacks

Plagiarism Today

For More Info, See Michelle Manafy's Editorial "RSS: Use, Lose, or Abuse"

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