"Copyright" notice in new Yahoo! feed's Terms of Use

Check out the terms of use section in Yahoo!’s announcement of its new RSS 2.0 feeds (which, as a general matter, is terrific news).  They effectively grant to individuals and non-profits a license “for personal, non-commercial uses” and “ask that you provide attribution to Yahoo! News…”  They also reserve “the right to require you to cease distributing these feeds at any time for any reason.”  I’m surprised at how much the license sounds, in effect, like a Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial” license, but is not one — and by how terse the statement in the terms of use is.  The (cc) license would do one thing that this terms of use does not: it could embed the license in the feeds themselves.  Maybe they wanted to do something slightly different than what the by-nc license achieves, in terms of being able to pull back rights and/or limit use of the name and logo in a very precise way.  I can’t tell if the terms of use was written by an uncharacteristically self-controlled lawyer or if some technologist decided not to show it to anyone in the counsel’s office. 

In any event, the decision to release these feeds is a cool one.  I applaud, loudly, what Yahoo!’s trying to do here.

Update: Dave makes a nice point, that I missed in my first pass, in the comments field below: when exactly is attribution required?  With every otherwise infringing use of the material, or just if blogging it or displaying on the web as part of an aggregation of syndicated work, say?

18 thoughts on “"Copyright" notice in new Yahoo! feed's Terms of Use

  1. John, it wasn’t clear to me what they meant by providing attribution. People who merely read the feeds in an aggregator won’t be attributing anything, they’re just reading. It’s as if the Boston Globe said we had to attribute any article we read there to them. Not sure what that would mean. If I said to you “I read in the paper today that Pedro Martinez is becoming a Seattle Mariner” would their rights be violated if I read it in the Globe and didn’t say so?

    Perhaps they’re assuming that I’m going to blog the story. If so, the link seems attribution enough. Isn’t that the reason why they’re syndicating, to help drive flow to their sites and thereby increase readership, and make their ads more valuable?

    My guess is that the lawyers didn’t really understand how these feeds would be used, or how the economics work. This is the start of a very interesting discussion, or actually a continuation of a very interesting discussion.

  2. A very good point — you’re just right, as it reads ambiguously, just as you suggest. It’s incredibly vague as to how the attribution should work. What I found particularly interesting was the fact that it reads roughly like a legal doc but without the precision of a legal doc (i.e., it does not anticipate the type of questions you raise). I’d presume that what they mean is that if you reproduce the content on the Web (i.e., in a page that includes aggregated, syndicated content) that you ought there to provide attribution. But you’re certainly right — you have to read that far into it, and make a pretty big presumption.

    Further, it’s all in generally non-binding-sounding language: they “ask” that you do things. Polite? Yes. Legally binding? Not so sure.

  3. SethF: Your take on the matter would make total sense, as it reads just like a summary and not like a license, but I don’t see the license elsewhere, nor much in the feeds themselves that would serve as a binding license. There’s a whole set of doctrine about what you have to do to make a binding license on the web, as I’m sure you know — browsewrap/clickwrap and the like — and generally it needs to be at least easily found by a user, if not clicked through etc., in order to bind the user.

  4. This turns out to be quite interesting. See also the Terms of Service for Yahoo! at http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/ (query whether it’s binding to one who never clicks through anything, just by virtue of being in the footer). In Section 24, General Information, the first line might even *preclude* other licenses or terms from binding users (almost certainly not the intent, but on its face…): “The TOS constitute the entire agreement between you and Yahoo! and govern your use of the Service, superceding any prior agreements between you and Yahoo!.”

  5. Though I suppose the idea is probably that all other “guidelines or rules” on the site, including such licenses, would be incorporated by reference into the TOS: “In addition, when using particular Yahoo! services, you and Yahoo! shall be subject to any posted guidelines or rules applicable to such services which may be posted from time to time. All such guidelines or rules (including but not limited to our Spam Policy) are hereby incorporated by reference into the TOS.”

  6. Hmm. I *do* know that the lawyers were involved. In fact, the launch was delayed roughly a week while awaiting final legal blessing, I’m told.

    Maybe I’ll ask around a bit to see what more I can learn.

  7. I assume that it’s just a roll-out error that there’s no link to the actual license, since that’s not critical to whether it actually works or not. It’ll be there as soon as their own lawyers notice, but they probably aren’t RSS junkies :-).

    I posted an inquiry to
    Jeremy Zawodny’s blog, from Dave’s pointer.

  8. Interesting! My basic question is: why not use a creative commons license for this purpose? It seems to fit the bill so easily and integrate well into the XML. I’m not at all critical of Yahoo! for so doing; I think it’s great; though it would be yet greater with (cc).

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