RSS, copyright, and licenses

I stumbled upon a site called CSS Galleries and saw a blog post there dating back from August of this year:

CSSMania have ordered that their site be removed from both CSS Galleries and MostInspired. The request came via one of Feedburner’s representatives (a little heavy-handed!) and not personally from CSSMania. After e-mailing a CSSMania representative, they were still unable to justify the request.

I immediately thought that they had been screen-scraping a site or hijacking it in a frame or something but was shocked to learn that CSS Galleries had merely been aggregating the RSS feed from CSSMania.

That's really interesting and brings up the issue of ownership and usage restrictions on RSS feeds. Specifically, who owns an RSS feed and what (if any) are the default usage rights for RSS feeds?

I looked at the RSS feed from CSS Mania and couldn't find a copyright notice or license. In the absence of these, what are we to assume?

With regards to ownership, I would assume that copyright functions as it normally does: RSS feeds should automatically be copyrighted by their authors. Thus, can we also assume that RSS feeds, by default, have all rights reserved? And, if so, does that mean that RSS feeds may only be used under "fair use".

Which brings us to: What constitutes fair use for RSS feeds? Is it limited to personal consumption with an RSS reader? What about aggregators?

RSS feeds are heralded as one of the big success stories of "Web 2.0" and open data. How can this be the case when they are, in their default form anyway, essentially closed? (All rights reserved.)

This really took my interest because, until now, I had assumed that making an RSS feed available was like placing an open invitation for anyone to take that feed and use it. Giving it further thought, I see how, in as far as IP law is concerned, that may not be the case at all. Which brings me back to licensing and RSS.

Doing a Google search on this topic brings up posts from 2005 dealing with an issue that Cory Doctorow had with the BBC regarding the license terms of their RSS feed. In it, he asks:

Why do we need a license for this at all? If you look at a web-page, no one argues that you need a "license" to read it. The act of putting it on the web implies a license to read it in a web-browser. RSS aggregated on other web-sites is what RSS is for, it's (partly) why it was invented. When you put up an RSS link, why shouldn't we all assume an implied license to aggregate, read, download, spindle, fold and mutilate it just the same way that we assume a license to download web-pages, view their source, cache them, block their popups and images and so forth?

It appears plain to me that, given how copyright works, we definitely need licenses for RSS feeds. Furthermore, we need the various RSS formats to support the license as an integral part of the format. The copyright field was added in the RSS 0.91 specification and this could be used for this purpose but I much prefer the RSS extension proposed Creative Commons for adding a Creative Commons RSS Module. Here's an example of an RSS feed with a Creative Commons license.