free html hit counter What TechDirt Said | John Battelle's Search Blog

What TechDirt Said

By - October 22, 2006

I won’t bother linking to the original Cnet opinion piece eviscerated so well by TechDirt here. The topic is whether pointing to and summarizing content openly posted on the web is illegal and “immoral”. It ain’t.

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6 thoughts on “What TechDirt Said

  1. JG says:

    John, please define “openly posted”.

    Suppose I post something to the web.. Do I have the right to license the use of that material to individual consumers, and to search engines, but not to aggregators and/or summarizers? It is my copyright, is it not? Do I not have the option of distinguishing between these various types of uses for my material? You know, like how when you buy a DVD, even though you own it, you only own the rights to private viewing, not to public display. Can I post something to the web, but only grant certain rights to some users and not others?

    Or is the very act of posting something to the web mean that I lose the ability to distinguish between various usage scenarios of my material?

    In other words, what do you mean by “openly posted”?

  2. My comment is more to JG than to John. …

    ‘Openly posting’ is not a contradiction of terms. and we must begin to accept that even private emails or IMs are not inherently immune from public exposure by various agents.

    First, I agree that we are on the edge of a gray area, JG perhaps probing it from the other side. My domains and writings are only of mild elegance, lacking state-of-the-art brilliance, and mostly focused on and for veterans of past wars.

    I find it hard to write something truly beautiful and unique. When I think I’ve done so I am amazed. I can create something meriting a ‘copyright’ perhaps once a year.

    For my own web pages, hand-crafted all, I claim only a ‘design copyright’. I am very concerned that I give proper credit to a source and, barring format or access problems, I would much rather link to your work than copy, crop, edit, and repost it.

    The very act of my putting something online – other than in an occasional e-mail – is my statement that I have something to say, to be seen, to be heard. Each of us has a private life, and we can but train ourselves to maintain the proper barriers to keep it that way (barring governmental snoops).

    Data is just bits and bytes; information is the value which humans can extract from it (credit Robert W. Bemer). Said the other way around, information not shared is information lost, and we are both the worse for it.

    The tone of your post suggests that you are in the business of creating or sharing information for hire. I respect that, and wish you good fortune in it. But I march to a different drummer. I receive a stipend for some of my online work, but I gain no remuneration for what I write and create online, only an occasional compliment. I admire those who credit me or link directly to my work, and I think the less of those who would ignore my contribution or appear to claim it as their own work.

    Thank you for listening.

    - Patrick Skelly

  3. JG says:

    Patrick, you’re very welcome. I respect your thoughts, and respect the effort you put into crafting “beautiful and unique” prose around the topic of veterans.

    I am not against sharing, when one wants to share. I post fairly regularly on this blog, and try my best to offer insightful, useful, and thought-provoking comments. Not out of desire for money, or even out of desire for attribution (indeed, I post semi-anonymously, so I am really not looking for credit). But I share because I think I have a voice and a perspective that not many others share, and that I hope others find useful. Like you, I also believe most of my posts contain only mild elegance, at best. I am certainly nowhere near any sort of brilliance, and have no illusions of this. But like you, I also find value in the openness and sharing.

    That said, there is a big difference between “sharing” and “taking”. And what I wanted to know from JB is whether just because something is available on the web, with no password access, is means that information is infinitely mashup-able, i.e. “takeable”.

    For example, what if I were to run hundreds of thousands of the most popular web queries on Google’s engine. I would do using a bot network, of course, so as to avoid detection ;-) Using the top ten links Google returns for each query I would start my own web search engine, serving up those same top ten links.. and running my own advertising! Of course, I am not really copying from Google. I don’t actually display any full Google results page. I just serve up the ten “headlines”, a summary, from each Google results page. At the bottom I could put a link to the Google results page, in case users want to see the original.

    Is this fair? Would Google be fine with this? My gut tells me no, but by Google’s very own arguments this should be ok. JB writes: “The topic is whether pointing to and summarizing content openly posted on the web is illegal and ‘immoral’. It ain’t.” I would be doing the exact same thing: pointing to and summarizing content [results pages] openly posted on the web [by Google].

    If Google’s lawyers would not stop my behavior, then I respect what Google is doing. If Google’s lawyers would send me a cease-and-desist, for doing what I propose, then I have no respect for what Google is doing.

  4. JG – I think it should be takeable to the extent it’s fair use. Linking to something, and summarizing, critiquing, analyzing, discussing it – that’s all fair game.

  5. JG says:

    John, well, ok. If we want to get into the fair use argument, then we’re in a whole different ballpark. I’m reacting to your statement about content that is “openly posted on the web”. Whether or not the content is openly posted is orthogonal to the fair use argument, is it not? Because what Google claims in the Print project is that it has the right to take, index, mashup, snippetize, etc any book it wants to. Even if that book is not “openly posted on the web”.

    As a company it will remove the book if the author so wishes; but Google makes clear that this removal is a favor, not a right. Google maintains that it has the right to scan and index anything it wants to.

    So even if something is not openly posted on the web, Google would maintain that, via the fair use doctrine, if it can get access to the content (e.g. through an employee with an account at, say, the NYTimes) it has every right to index it, the same way it has every right to scan and index any offline material it comes in contact with, even if it does not own that material. Right?

    So again, what does the “openly posted” have to do with anything? (Sorry, I think that last sentence comes off as overly antagonistic. It is not. Please take it in the spirit of open intellectual debate :-)

  6. JG says:

    One more, very important point. So it seems you agree that Google results are “takeable to the extent it’s fair use. Linking to something, and summarizing, critiquing, analyzing, discussing it – that’s all fair game

    Well, let us have a look at Google’s Terms of Service: You may not take the results from a Google search and reformat and display them, or mirror the Google home page or results pages on your Web site. You may not “meta-search” Google.

    Wow, this is big, is it not? Basically, Google is saying that I have no fair use rights to the pages it “openly posts” on the web. Because if I wanted to index a bunch of Google results pages, and make that index searchable, and only show snippets of the results page, Google says I cannot.

    Google scans and indexes entire books, and then makes 3-4 sentences (50-60 words) available and claims fair use. I would want to scan and index Google’s results pages, and then make a mere 10, maybe 20, links available (unicode equivalent to about 50-60 words). Or only 5 links, if they really complain. Whatever. I will even link back to Google’s homepage, to help increase their traffic so they can sell more ads. Basically, I will do all these good things for them, the same way they do all these good things for authors.

    And yet they explicitly say they do not want me to do this. They say I have no right to do this. I should have the right to link to and summarize Google results pages. And yet Google explicitly says I cannot “meta-search” them. What is meta-search, if not links and summaries?

    Is this not a double standard?