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June 19, 2008

RSSmeme Creator Served With Legal Threat Over RSS Shares

The foundation of RSS is in its syndication (the second 'S'). A feed, published from one location, can be read in a different location, whether it be a feed reader, a blog widget, a lifestreaming application or any number of aggregation services. The simplicity in sharing has also led some to worry about where their content goes when they hit "Publish", as, often, they lose control over where it can go.

Today, RSSmeme's Benjamin Golub, who has developed a tracker for the most popular shared items on Google Reader, saw one unhappy publisher threaten him with legal action after she had found her feed included in the service.

The RSSmeme service utilizes Google Reader's shared link blogs as its underlying database. Those items that receive the most shares from Google Reader rise to the top, and Benjamin, over the last few months, has updated the service to sort by categories, by languages, and highlight the most active users and tags. But one thing he doesn't do is hand-select the content displayed. That's done by the thousands and thousands of people using Google Reader every day, and sharing new items. So when he received a takedown request by e-mail, he was a little surprised.

Talking with him by phone this afternoon, he said the complainant's feed had only been shared two times, by a single sharer. But she had essentially penned an e-mail saying to "remove all content, or I will send a lawyer."

Not eager to have legal trouble, Benjamin removed the offending shares, and recommended to the publisher that her feeds be set to broadcast as partial feeds, not full feeds, assuming she was concerned her content was being stolen, or used in a commercial way. Benjamin told me that he anticipated such a threat might happen once he posted ads on the RSSmeme site, but said with rising Web hosting costs, monetizing in some way soon became necessity.

"When I started RSSmeme, it only cost $20 a month, and (due to site growth), it doesn't cost that much any more," he told me. Since launch, costs have more than tripled, and the Google-sourced ads are used to offset any out of pocket expenses.

While Benjamin considers his options, at the time, he has globally altered settings on RSSmeme to show only the excerpts of feeds, removing the ability to read an entire blog post on the site, the same approach taken by Shyftr back in April when similar complaints arose.

The issue of how RSS-enabled content is monetized, where comments lie, and who has full control over blog entries isn't going away any time soon. Even if Benjamin never hears back from the woman threatening to take him to court, it's definitely got him rattled, and once again is stirring up discussion, as you can see on FriendFeed.