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Fair use or copyright violation?

October 29, 2006

Top Ten Sources, described by TechCrunch as a human edited blog aggregator, just raised $3.5 million in funding.

I wonder about business models that appear to be merely a display of RSS feed excerpts broken down by category surrounded by advertising. In the case of Top Ten Sources, even charging to access to the feeds at some point, as indicated in their FAQ’s. Is it permissible to use RSS feeds for commercial purposes without seeking permission of the blog publisher and/or paying the blog publishers a portion the ad revenue? I think it’s an open question.

Anything written, including copy distributed by RSS feeds, is copyright protected. ‘Fair Use’ allows for the use of portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism. A model like Top Ten Sources looks to go beyond fair use.

Better minds than me may have the answers. Perhaps Stephen Nipper, Martin Schwimmer, or Denise Howell, all excellent IP lawyers, would chime in.

I’d be interested in Ashton Peery’s, President of Top Ten Sources, take on using other people’s feeds for the company’s financial gain until the blog publisher requests to have their feeds removed.