Copyright and fair use are poorly understood in the population at large (just ask high school teachers or college professors how much time they spend vetting submitted papers for flagrant — let alone subtle — plagiarism). However, syndication technologies such as RSS and Atom make it so easy to repurpose works that what’s proper — morally or legally — is often overlooked. After all, feeds are purpose built to make content portable. If the author did not want others to copy the content, the author would not send it out in a format designed for its simple syndication.
The Australian magazine PC World runs an interesting article by Larry Borsato: “Who owns ‘public’ content? RSS feed ownership brought into question.” In the article, Borsato recounts a recent incident in which a commercial entity reproduced, in toto, his blog posts via RSS on its web site. While Borsato has a Creative Commons non-commercial attribution license, he felt the commercial entity had violated it; they were, after all, a commercial entity. While the question was resolved amicably, it highlights, once again, the difference between how copyright is frequently viewed in the syndicated environment from how it is often seen in the print world. Borsato concludes:
Like many other facets of life in the Internet age, technological possibility is outstripping common practice — and often outstripping common sense. Some of this particular misconception, about what can legitimately be done with online content, can be cleared up through experience and training. Some of it will inevitably be resolved through better technological solutions. But when it comes down to it, we as bloggers must take greater responsibility for tracking how our content is used.