To summarise the issue so far... a few nights ago I came across a website called SuperFeedSystem that was written in an overtly Informercial-like manner. The gist of it is they are pitching a product that automagically turns RSS feeds into content for websites. Sounds fine, right? Well yes, except they're talking about other peoples RSS feeds! For example, this is one of their pitches:

"What if you could have constant new content on your site ... without having to write a word of it?

Now you can with the wonderful power of FEEDS."

What's more, SuperFeedSystem explicitly states what they're doing further down their homepage:

"Use other people's information to have constant, new, expert articles auto-added to your sites."

I soon found two other software products that promise the same thing: RSS Equalizer and RSS Content Builder. There are others out there too.

So over the past few days I've been writing about these RSS Ripoff Merchants over on ionRSS and here on Read/Write Web. Hector Jimenez, the creator of SuperFeedSystem, left two comments in response to those posts. Here's his second comment (the first one is a shorter version of this):

"I believe this discussion about fair use for web feeds is concentrating on the wrong people. The real problem is a lack of education for web masters as to what is fair use for the feeds they post onto their sites. Any credible services and software similar to SuperFeedSystem.com will never modify nor remove the content within the feed.

Just for a little background my partners and I have spent most of the last year developing the technology behind SuperFeedSystem.com and its sister services. We have consulted with attorneys and our terms of service is very clear as to what our service does and does not do and also what our and the clients responsibilities are.

What our service does is take a feed and translate it into HTML or other web format. The converted file is then delivered to the client for them to do with it as they see fit. We do not modify or remove any content within the feed nor do we encourage our clients to do so. It is up to our clients to follow any applicable laws for use of the materials."

While I give credit to Hector for taking the time to respond, I think his argument is akin to gun lobbyists who say: guns don't kill, people do. To my mind, software such as SuperFeedSystem, RSS Equalizer and RSS Content Builder is like a loaded gun in the hands of plagiarists and other people looking for "free RSS feeds" (to quote SuperFeedSystem).

Also I think Hector's response is more than a little disingenuous. Firstly, the issue isn't about modifying or removing content - it's about taking advantage of other peoples hard work and re-using it for profit. As Ian Kennedy from Six Apart put it, software like Hector's is positioning RSS "as a quick way to harness other people's original work for easy profits." Ian summed it up by saying "the fact of the matter is that the technology is in place to spawn thousands of automatically updating sites with no other purpose than to juice a search engine ranking around a particular topic."

Exactly right. Furthermore, Hector I'm not so sure your company will be able to escape legal ramifications. Your software is directly enabling people to skirt copyright and IP laws - and indeed you are to all intents and purposes promoting it in that manner. For example the SuperFeedSystem homepage says that by publishing RSS feeds "the owners of the content are inviting you to use what they've written". Well I can tell you that I am 100% NOT inviting you to re-use my writing. I'm inviting you to read it, not profit from it.

But I'm no lawyer... I'm interested to hear what the blogosphere thinks about this. Thoughts?