There’s a fascinating debate going on about the decision of one professional blogger, attorney Marty Schwimmer, to remove his RSS feed from Bloglines. Or, more accurately, to ask Bloglines to no longer display his feed. Schwimmer’s reasoning is that Bloglines is, in fact, a website (he uses language like “frames”, possibly naively, but in a way which gives you a different perspective). As such, it is potentially a website using his content to make money (Schwimmer rightly points out that, when Bloglines finally starts displaying text ads as it surely will, there is a good chance that a rival law firm could be advertising on his own content.
Of course, looked at through one prism, this is entirely correct. Schwimmer publishes his content using a non-commercial Creative Commons licence, so why should Bloglines make money off his postings, when he has no explicit commercial arrangement with them?
But wait, says the other side of the argument (put by Scoble, among others): RSS is a “syndication” platform, and once you syndicate content, the person you’re syndicating it too normally has the right to do pretty much what they want with it (other than change it), including seling ads on it. If you don’t want that to happen, don’t syndicate it.
What this all shows is the extent to which RSS is driving ahead faster than legal and commercial norms can keep up with. As this interesting post makes clear, a lot of our thinking on what’s right and wrong or fair and unfair is based on non-legal, woolly things like: is it on a website? Is it in a browser? Is it in a client or on a server?
Content, of course, wants to be free. But as with the question of ownership, which I blogged about last week, the notion of fair use is lagging behind the technology within which fair use or otherwise takes place. It’s hard to have a rigid view either way: for me, both sides of this argument are right, because the answer will lie somewhere in the middle. Content owners which are businesses need to have their ability to maintain their business protected, but they also need to embrace the reality that control over their content is becoming a slippery thing. If RSS stands is syndication, who are we syndicating to? Everyone?
We live, as they say, in interesting times.