Hijacking RSS Feeds for Fun and Profit

Full-text RSS/Atom feeds are wonderful for information addicts. A newsreader brings new articles and posts in from around the web and makes it possible to skim through hundreds of sites very quickly. Well, the upper limit is probably around 200 where reading blogs is not one’s full-time vocation.
From a publisher’s perspective, full-text feeds cause problems. Such full-text feeds make it especially easy to enable copyright infringement.
Two of my favorite hockey blogs, Puck Update and James Mirtle, recently switched to publishing only abridged feeds after finding their posts providing the content for a third-party web site.
Merely publishing an RSS feed does not grant a license to republish the content on another site and republishing the full text of the content without permission is a prima facie example copyright infringement. But, what about when a service republishes the full text because a user subscribes to a full-text feed through a hosted service? What is the difference between a user-driven republication and one initiated by the republisher? Is it merely the commercial intentions of the republisher? Does it have to do with source identification and misattribution? The right of publicity?
Micro Persuasion’s Steve Rubel is also a victim of Blog Content Theft: “This problem is only going to grow over time. Perhaps some digital watermarking technology needs to come into play here. Or, once again, Google needs to step in and shut down all Adsense sites that are deliberately spamming the blogosphere and bloggers. Anyone have other ideas?”
Daniel Solove suggests one way to deal with Blog Post Piracy:

There is, of course, copyright law. The creative commons license for Rubel’s blog states that the work must be attributed to its author and it cannot be used for commercial purposes. The pirated post doesn’t contain his name on the post or the name of his blog, but it does at least have a link to the original post on Rubel’s blog. Is this sufficient enough attribution? As for commercial purposes, the blog copying Rubel’s posts is displaying Google Ads.

What about hosting an RSS feed that republishes the content of another RSS feed? What if that RSS feed consists of pointers to audio files hosted on the original publisher’s server? This is the situation with at least one podcast “service”– it is publishing its own RSS feeds that link to a podcaster’s audio. These feeds do not hold themselves out to be the publisher of the content, but by placing their feeds in podcast directories, these hijackers manage to control the connection between the podcaster and her subscribers. Colette Vogele discusses potential legal solutions: RSS Hijacking? A threat to podcast and blogging infrastructure?:

Since RSS and podcasting is new technology, there does not exist a handy “anti-RSS feed hijacking statute” out there on the books. There are, however, other possible claims that a lawyer can consider. For example, I’m brainstorming on a number of claims including unfair competition, trademark infringement/dilution, DMCA takedown options, computer fraud and abuse, tresspass, right of publicity, misappropriation, and the like.

Read the comments for additional technical methods of approaching this problem.
Cyberlaw Central’s Kevin Thompson discusses: RSS Hijacking: Is it Copyright Infringement? “Alleging copyright infringement should work, at least for purposes of a cease and desist letter.” Thompson goes on to note, “Interestingly, although the RSS feed itself could be copyrightable by itself if it contains sufficiently original material, this method of infringement doesn’t copy the RSS feed itself. The interloper’s site just links to the existing feed which remains intact at the podcaster’s site. The interloper just acts like any other subscriber to the feed, making it difficult to detect.
Finally, if you are going to repost content from my blog, all I ask is to properly attribute the author and to maintain the indications of quoted text– don’t make it appear that “Rafferty” wrote something that should be properly attributed to Easterbrook. Not that it should be too difficult for a careful reader to distinguish…
Previously: Syndication and Copyright: “What are the norms for using, repurposing and republishing syndicated feeds?”