Home Lawyer asks Bloglines to remove his feed

Lawyer asks Bloglines to remove his feed

Looks like the first salvo has been fired in what is sure to be an ongoing controversy
over contextual advertising using RSS. Martin Schwimmer, a trademark lawyer, has
asked Bloglines to remove
his RSS feed from their service
– and Bloglines has complied. Schwimmer publishes his
website using a Creative Commons non-commercial attribution licence and he claims that
“Bloglines’ reproduction of my site is a commercial derivative work”.

In a follow-up post,
Schwimmer references one of my posts from late December 2004 – entitled Contextual Adverts in Bloglines in
. In that post I’d discussed Bloglines plan to introduce contextual advertising
into their service in 2005. I wrote a follow-up post a day later
(based on a great comment by Charles Coxhead),
questioning whether Bloglines can use other peoples content as a base for contextual
advertising. So now, a few weeks later, Martin Schwimmer is the first person to force the
issue with Bloglines. 

Schwimmer has gotten some kick-back from other bloggers. Robert Scoble asks why
doesn’t Martin just publish excerpted RSS feeds? A very good question and it’s
certainly the method most of us would use to get around this issue. And paidcontent.org
: “A better solution — since he’s advertising his firm — would be to insert
an info line in every post that comes through the feed.” 

But I think Schwimmer’s beef with Bloglines is less about pragmatics and more about
the (legal) principles he feels strongly about. Or as he puts it:

“[there’s] a fear and a perception that a model where no blogger has control over the
commercial re-use of their feed is the only model – and that’s unfair and plain

You know it’s about principles when words such as “unfair” and “wrong” get bandied
about, especially by lawyers. 

I’m not sure what to make of this yet, but I would guess that Bloglines has been
trying to nut out this very issue for the past few months – at least. The fact is, we
don’t know what Bloglines plans are for contextual advertising. We know that Bloglines
plans to introduce contextual ads in 2005, but they haven’t yet revealed the what
and the how. So Schwimmer’s action seems like a preemptive strike in a way. But
he is a lawyer and so he will have a better grasp of the legal principles involved than
most of us. It’ll be interesting to see how this issue pans out in 2005.

Update:Russell Beattie points out the Web 2.0 angle:

“Also, Bloglines specifically acts as a server-side proxy for me. People like Martin need to understand that the line between what’s a desktop app and what’s a server-side app are disappearing. Bloglines is to me just a more convenient and useful aggregator application.”

I agree with Russ, because I use Bloglines the same way. However I think Schwimmer would argue that unlike a desktop app, Bloglines is re-publishing his content on the Web and (he argues anyway) with the intention of commercially gaining from it. Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if a desktop app started to place adverts in or around peoples RSS feeds? I guess that would be a similar type of thing to what Schwimmer is accusing Bloglines of doing (or what he thinks they intend to do).

Update 2: I like this comment by Georg Bauer in the comments to a Phil Pearson post:

“The borders between an aggregator and commercial use of content are fluid. I don’t think he [Schwimmer] didn’t understand aggregation – I think it’s more a clash between understandings. Just because you put out some RSS feed doesn’t say that everyone can do everything they want with it.”

I think Georg hit the nail on the head on where Schwimmer is coming from. Bottom line: there are a lot of fluid borders and fine lines involved here 😉

Update 3: Dennis Kennedy likens the Bloglines preview function (example)
to a doppelganger
of his website. Doppelganger is one of my all-time favourite words – ever read Dostoyevsky’s
The Double?
It was also one of the themes in my Nanowrimo novel, Dirtside
to Spaceside
. Anyway, this is a great post by Dennis – I still haven’t
worked out if it’s a piss-take though? I think it is, but the issues are of
course serious 🙂

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