Your own or your organisation’s sites: Content distribution, Part 2 – Possible copyright implications of publishing content via feeds

With the versalility and portability of RSS feeds comes a greater ability on the part of third parties to easily copy your content by, for example, republishing it on another website. However, the publication of an RSS feed does not mean the copyright owner relinquishes its rights in the literary, audio or video content that the feed conveys.

Although the issue is untested in New Zealand courts, in my view the legal position is that the production and making available to the public of an RSS feed carries with it a licence (sometimes express, sometimes implied) to anyone using the internet that they may subscribe to that feed in any personal feed reading application (whether in the nature of a desktop feed reader, web-based feed reader, personalised homepage or otherwise), but no more unless the copyright owner expressly says so by way of more encompassing licence terms. In particular, the mere making available of a feed does not convey any right for third parties to, for example, re-syndicate the full feed content (i.e., item titles and full item descriptions) on their own website.

This is one area where the law and common conceptions do not necessarily coincide. A significant proportion of people using the internet appear not to appreciate that the publication of a feed does not, of itself, mean the feed can be resyndicated on another website. To the contrary, they think it means precisely that.

Proactively protecting feed content from resyndication

The practical implication is that if a site/feed owner wishes to proactively protect its feed content from resyndication (as opposed to reactively through lawyers and the courts), it may wish to consider:

  • adding copyright and use provisions in its terms of use relating specifically to feed usage;
  • adding copyright and use provisions beside or via the “subscribe to RSS” or “RSS feeds” link on your website; or
  • adding copyright and use provisions in the feed itself, either in the feed title or description, or at the top or bottom of each item/post.

An example of the first approach can be found in the terms of use on InsideoutLegal. Those terms state:

“You may utilise our XML (RSS or Atom) feeds for personal use but not for commercial use. In this clause:

  • “personal use” means subscription to the feeds in news or feed reading applications or in email applications with feed reading functionality, whether web-based or desktop-based, and whether by means of private or work computer systems;
  • “commercial use” means syndication or re-syndication of the feeds (either wholly or in part, including of any single feeds constituting part of a composite feed on this website), whether on your own or a third party’s external website.”

Other notable examples of the first approach can be found on, for example, the British History Online website and the website of the UK Met Office. The RSS terms of use on these sites are interesting because, among other things, they prohibit the splicing in of advertising items with the original items from their feeds.

An example of the second approach can be found on the feeds page of the website. That page lists the available Stuff feeds and then states:

“Important terms of use:These channels are for personal use and only in news reader applications. You may not publish headlines from these channels to a web page.”


As regards the third approach, adding a copyright/use statement to the feed title or description is simple if one uses a service like FeedBurner to enhance and replace one’s original feed(s). Depending on the content management system you use, it is also likely that you’ll be able to find a plugin (or similar functionality) that enables you to add copyright/use statements at varying places within your feed. For example, those using WordPress can employ one of the following plugins:

  • FeedEntryHeader which, among other things, enables you to add a copyright statement and a link to the original article to the top of your feed entries;
  • Simple Feed Copyright, which adds a simple copyright notice at the end of articles in your feed along the lines of “Copyright Year. BlogName. All Rights Reserved”. The BlogName is linked to your blog/site URL;
  • Angsuman’s Feed Copyrighter Plugin, which adds a copyright message to your feed items; or
  • Disclosure Policy WordPress plugin, which enables one to add all manner of statements, including copyright statements, both at the bottom of posts and in one’s RSS feeds.

Allowing resyndication of your/organisation’s content

All the above said, there will be those who do not, in fact, want to prohibit resyndication of their feeds and would prefer, instead, to make them available for use by others by way of a non-exclusive licence. This will often be the case with public sector websites and, at least in that sector, is (in my opinion) to be encouraged.

To avoid both confusion as to permissible re-use and the receipt of requests from those wishing to re-use your feeds, it is helpful to set out your licence terms in a clear and simple way.

Many of the mechanisms referred to above can be used to achieve this end. Alternatively, one can add a line to the website footer (or somewhere else) stating that content on the site and in its feeds, as well as the feeds themselves, are subject to a Creative Commons New Zealand law licence. These New Zealand law licences were launched in late 2007 (see the Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand website) and are a very useful way for individuals and organisations to licence their content without having to get bogged down in legal minutiae. The process is straight-forward. You simply:

  • go to the Creative Commons website;
  • select the type of licence you’d like on your site (the main choices being whether commercial use will be allowed and whether you’ll permit modifications to your work);
  • make sure that “New Zealand” is selected as the jurisdiction for your license; and
  • click “Select a licence”.

You’ll then be given three different icon options and some HTML text to insert into the relevant area of your website.

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