Monday, January 02, 2006

The consumer as producer, and RSS

Happy New Year! and welcome to some new(ish) interesting stories which have slipped by Blogscript in our, er, seasonal hiatus :-)

The ever faithful Beeb report the emergence of Spy Media, an agency which plans to provide a market place for the sale and exchange of blog posts as well as pictures snapped by ordinary citizens armed with digicams, phonecams and webcams. The idea of a press agwency to market the increasingly valuable snaps taken by the public, and which will allow amateurs as well as professional photographers to hawk their pix to the media for solid dosh, is not new: Scoopt may well have been the first into the market. Pictures taken by the public increasingly shape the public global image of events from the second they happen : the BBC eg received 50 pictures from the public within an hour of the London bombings on July 7 2005.

But Spy Media plan to do more. They plan to "educate people. They are going to demand that material [marketed via Spymedia] not be sent through RSS where people utilise them without permission."

In other words, Spy Media plan to start policing the very common current practice of A N Other providing an RSS feed so that in-demand on-line content from other platforms or websites can be "syndicated" for free to readers all over the blogverse (and without the annoying local platform pop ups and ads). Such RSS syndication without permission is clearly a breach of copyright. But it is also very much a tool whereby the work of unknown creators goes from cult unknown to commercial success: as happened, eg, with the on line gaming cartoon, P v P (which now restricts its content from being RSSed). As with P2P services, it may be worth considering if closing down such RSS feeds may not be more damaging than nurturing to creator revenues. In terms of the syndication of "ordinary" blog posts (as opposed to, say, cartoons or comics or prfesional quality photos)there must be also strong argument of implied license to copy - the aim of most bloggers is, after all, as wide an audience as they can get, rather than monetary rewards.

RSS as a format makes loss of control by creators if not inevitable then extremely hard to police**. But it also is an amzing tool for participatory democracy and brand building for individual creators without corporate advertising budgets. Much of sf writer and EFF official Cory Doctorow's brand recognition as an author, eg, has been built on his wodely syndicated via RSS co-authored blog Boing Boing. It may be better to look at alternative means of revenue collection than to persuade creators into a cease and desist campaign on unauthorised syndicators. One is drawn again to Fisher's vision of a world of compulsory licensing of on line content (music, pictures, and images. perhaps?) along with some kind of entertainment levy.

** Aha. Enquiries among local techie friends (many thanks to Andrew Ducker, Simon Bisson, Mike Scot) reveal that when you are attempting to restrict syndication of images, (eg the P V P on line comic), you can set the site up so that when a request for the image comes in, it checks to see if you're looking at it on the site itself , or on a different one, and "can then send an image saying "Yaah, boo, sucks to you" to people trying to read it from offsite, and the actual image to people looking at it on your site."

(You still can't stop someone creating an RSS feed on their own site saying "Look, there's a new PVP comic over there" - an alert feed. But that's OK, it seems to me. Potential readers are driven to the site of origin, where the creators have chosen to make their work public in the first place, and get the benefits of such. Where's the problem with that?)

But if you're trying to protect syndication of text it's a whole other story. There's almost nothing anyone can do to stop someone scraping an open-to-the-public website's HTML and building a feed from it. "The thing is, once you have content in an open format like HTML, anyone can do anything with it. Blocking screen-scraping spiders is not a trivial exercise if they don't want to be blocked."


Anonymous said...

Spy Media does seem to be a very interesting site. Not only do they allow you to sell hot breaking news photos, but also cool interesting ones as well. I found that a lot of the photos on Spy Media are really high quality, and of a variety of things. If you think your photo is worth money, this could be a great outlet.
It appears that they are going to be selling images of the upcoming CES trade show in Las Vegas. If people start covering events and selling their photos through on Spy Media, it could really undercut Reuters, Associated Press, and other photo agencies.
I'm personally tired of seeing the same photos in every magazine. It would be nice to get a look at different images that offer a new outlook on things.
I think Spy Media's idea of selling media completely via the internet is going to be the standard 2 years from now, similar to how the blogging community has taken the news world by storm.

Anonymous said...

Hey Spy Media makes sense to me. The other side of this inovation concept is someone needs to cut these agencies and A/P types from the finacial pie so photographers can get back to making money. Our photo material value continues to erode while the the digital camera evolution is eating our profits from the other end; you can smell the paradigm shift in the air.
Spy Media should post empolyment want ads at every state unemployement job board, they'll be plenty of takers.