Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

It’s 2008. I can’t believe we haven’t figured this out.

If you read this site via RSS, you may notice that now you can only read the first couple lines instead of the whole post. That’s because apparently, amazingly, we still have not figured out how to use RSS and abide by copyright law on the web.

Let’s be clear about a few things.

  1. Outside of fair use provisions like parody, duplicating a whole creative work is a copyright violation, period. That means you can’t take a whole blog post from one site and put it on another. (Take a portion, link to the rest. Duh.)
  2. The DMCA’s “safe harbor” provision is not a license to go all douchebag-Napster-crazy. Safe harbor protects sites from getting sued for copyright violation only if they do some very specific things, like having a way for copyright holders to report violations and taking down any infringing materials once reported.
  3. Your work is protected by copyright no matter what format it’s in. Syndication formats like RSS do not invalidate copyright. There’s a big difference between one person reading a feed in a reader and republishing content on a public page.

I was putting the full text of my posts in this site’s feed because I wanted people to be able to read it in a feed reader if that was their preference. But some site creators think that gives them permission to republish my work on other websites – sometimes without even attributing it or linking back to the original.

That’s not just a copyright violation – it’s also highly uncool. If you’re running a site that hosts other people’s creative work, you should know better.

I’m sick of explaining this, so to avoid the problem, I’m only putting excerpts in my feeds now. I’m sorry if that means you can no longer read the site in your favorite RSS reader. Blame the current crop of crapware sites that think everything on the web is theirs to monetize. I do.

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UPDATE: I’ve discovered a few WordPress plugins that might help the situation.

  • AntiLeech, which allows me to turn off RSS to specific IP addresses or User Agents.
  • ©Feed, which inserts copyright information into the posts, as well as a tracking number so I can see where the posts appear online.
  • RSS Footer, which puts a link back to the original post at the end of the feed item.

This might be overkill, but what the heck, I’m experimenting.

So I’ve reenabled full-text feeds. To make full use of the plugins, I also had to delete my FeedBurner feed and use the local one instead. So if you want to stay subscribed, please use this feed (FeedBurner should redirect for the next month).

I consider this an experiment. Let’s see if technology can solve the problem that it started. Thanks for all the email, y’all. It’s always nice to know people give a shit.

More thoughts on this from James Duncan Davidson, Scott Jarkoff, and Chris Harrison. Also, thanks to Jonathan Bailey at Plagiarism Today for his fantastic articles on this topic.

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.