Recently, I’ve started to question the wisdom of offering my written works under Creative Commons. A long time ago I started using Creative Commons licenses for my blogs. I was inspired by my editing on Wikipedia (which asks you to license with Creative Commons everything you create on that website) and thought it was a great way to allow people to quote freely from my blog. “Hey, this will get the word out about my blog!” were my thoughts.
When I began optimizing my other blog Kikay Runner for better placement in search engine results, I also checked on the RSS feed I provide via FeedBurner and noticed that a website was listed under “Uncommon Uses”. RSS feeds are commonly used to bring your blog posts directly into email clients, web-based feed aggregators, news filters, and more. An Uncommon Use could be “a neat little news filter somebody wrote, a blog somebody assembled from feeds, or even blog spam.”
So I went and checked it out and found dozens of my posts from the RSS feed auto-reposted on another blog (what is called a “scraper site“). Worse, there were no links back to my blog and aside from the short footer appended by Feedburner to each post on the RSS feed, there was no attribution.
If there’s anything I could be thankful for, it’s that I had the foresight to offer only a summarized feed. Google penalizes websites with duplicate content, but sometimes it can’t distinguish between the original source and the copy (so both source and copy are punished by lower ranking in search results). Because I’d only put a portion of each blog post in the RSS feed, a large amount of my blog’s content remained unique. This means if people search on Google for a topic I’ve written about with my own spin, they’re still more likely to find my blog instead of the scraper site.
Aside from reporting the copyright infringement to Google so that the scraper site would not appear in search results, I also changed my RSS feed settings to be even more stringent. Instead of 400 characters in the summary I limited it to 200 characters, and worded the post footer more strongly by saying “If you see this on a website that is not KikayRunner.com, it may have been used without permission.”
Scraper sites have justified their actions in the past because of a notion that RSS feeds are free for syndication anywhere. The Creative Commons license also allows for copying with attribution (even without permission).
My words are precious to me; they’re an extension of how I express myself, so they’re an extension of me. So when another site reposts my blog posts without attribution, without my knowledge, without my permission, I feel violated.
I realized that I needed to retain more control of how my work is used online. People still have fair use rights when they want to quote me, but if they want to use my words for anything else (like creating an entirely new website!) they will need to get in touch with me.