The battle over bundling: Top Ten Sources and more

Executive Director of Harvard’s B erkman Center for Internet and Society John Palfrey has a post today about whether the way his independent venture, Ten Top Sources, sources and then publishes content from blogger’s RSS feeds is a) legal and b) appropriate.
Palfrey describes the selection process: ” As the editor compiles the site, the editor sends out an e-mail to the person who appears to be responsible for the site, or, sometimes, posts a comment to say that the site has been chosen. The site renders a list of those sites offering the feeds as direct links to the page. The site also subscribes to those feeds and renders them all together on a single page. It is this latter activity that I take to be the concern.”
He goes on to say ” The issue raised here is whether it is a copyright violation to render these syndicated feeds in this way. As a matter of copyright law, I contend that it is not. The strong form of the pro-copyright argument runs like this: the creator of the RSS feed retains, automatically, all copyrights in the content in the feed and retains all rights in its republication, use as a derivative work, and so forth.”
And “If you want people to run your feed in private aggregators, but not in public aggregators that are for-profit, to re-offer your content just as you’ve offered it, and to attribute authorship to you, why not add to your feed a BY-NC-SA license? ”
Om Malik’s said TTS is almost splog, republishing content w/o permission, and Mike Rundle’s written that the site steals content–and traffic–viz “Top Ten Sources takes all your information from your RSS feed, republishes it on their site, and then uses it to build traffic.”
What’s interesting here, what I want to talk about, is how this desire to bundle and aggregate feeds into a new product is not unique to TTS. The blogosphere is full of companies that want to find ways to package feeds and either distribute them more efficiently to publishers, or companies that want to package feeds and distribute them to consumers. Either way, the revenue potential of attaching targeted ads to readers of themed content is another way to make the CPMs jump, we all get that.
But it seems to be what Palfrey has not yet addressed–which makes sense considering this company is so new–is that many of the players entering into the bundled space recognize they have to give more back to their creative sources than just a little traffic or a thank you.
Without some share in the revenue, it’s not right to make $$ from anything more than a headline and a digest, unless the blogger has specifically given permission for a great depth to be published off site.
This is no different, in truth, than the third-party distribution deals we used to do with the portals when I worked in magazineland–we’d give AOL, or whomever, a limited set of digital assets to run on their site in exchange for links back; if they wanted more content to run on their site, the deal changed.
Why would committed bloggers want anything different?
IMHO, Palfrey and company will come to recognize that truth and find ways to accommodate it as they work to maintain the good will of the community; other entrepreneurs are exploring ways to back in rewards, incentives and revenue based on performance of the blogs they gain permission to bundle and redistribute.

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  1. John Palfrey says:

    This is a great post. Sharing the wealth, one way or the other, is a worthy goal in the aggregation business. One question your post raises is whether there’s an either-or proposition: 1) either you run headline/digest only, in which event the value of the link-back is sufficient (maybe My Yahoo! as the paradigmatic example?) or 2) you run the full posts and share revenues.

  2. Maureen McCabe says:

    I know I am late but… if you followed these instructions are you able to then allow some commercial use of your content ie; Pluck / Blogburst? Or not.
    “If you want people to run your feed in private aggregators, but not in public aggregators that are for-profit, to re-offer your content just as you’ve offered it, and to attribute authorship to you, why not add to your feed a BY-NC-SA license? ”

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