April 27, 2005

Save the Web?

Yahoo has followed Google's lead and rolled out their own snooping operation. They call it "My Web".

This goes in the same direction as Google's "My Search History" privacy violation service, but goes a few steps farther.

As in Google's case, Yahoo is showing zero sensitivity for the data protection problems involved. And they seem to be inducing their millions of registered users to break copyright on a massive scale.

Their neat new service has a "save" button. Users are encouraged to save any web page to a "my web" page.

What exactly gives Yahoo and their users the right to make those copies? I would be surprised if they had licenses from every single owner of the copyright in web pages.

As a publisher of web content, I can't recall to have given Yahoo permission to use my content commercially. Many Creative Commons licenses also don't allow commercial use. And there are even web publishers who reserve all their rights (actually that's the default if you don't declare anything).

Search engines have been given a free pass on copyright violations for too long. Just running a search business along with your advertising and media empire doesn't give you the right to steal everyone's content.

The question of how Google's cache of the Web is compatible with copyright standards is related to this. Cory Doctorow noted that *of course* Google is infringing copyright with that, and implying "as well they should" here.

In contrast, I don't approve of copyright violation on a massive scale.

European law on the exceptions and limitations of copyright is laid down in Article 5 of the 2001 copyright Directive. Number 1 a) gives an exception for caching that does not help Google and Yahoo in making wholesale copies of the Web, since it requires that the cache in question has the sole purpose to enable transmission in a network between third parties by an intermediary.

Searching for an exception or limitation for the purpose of building a search engine comes up with zero records in Article 5. It may be noted, however, that the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive might come close to qualifying for an exception under Number 2 c) (however, the requirement of "specific acts of reproduction" might be not fulfilled).

Google and Yahoo don't even come close anywhere. They are ripping off other people's content for their own commercial gain, without a shadow of an excuse to do so.

As a matter of public policy, I would oppose changing the law to allow search engines to copy other people's works freely. If they want to build a cache, they can do so with the content of authors who want their content mirrored even for commercial gain and declare that license in a machine-readable way. There is no need to assume implied licenses where there are none, and absolutely no excuse for grabbing content from web publishers who are opposed to having their works mirrored to help Google make still more billions of profit.

Have a comment or trackback? You are welcome at k.lenz.name/discuss.

Posted by Karl-Friedrich Lenz at April 27, 2005 03:40 PM