Monday, October 03, 2005
COPYRIGHT: Is linking a copyright violation? (fwd)
December 11, 1997, 12:15 p.m. PT
Linking a copyright violation?
By Courtney Macavinta
update Sean Peck used to grind away as a software engineer for the
popular search site Lycos before he got the Internet entrepreneurial
bug and started News Index, a little-known online news search engine.
But just as Peck was getting ready to test the commercial potential of
his two-year-old labor of love, he says on Friday he got a threatening
legal notice from The Times of London telling him to stop featuring
its stories--or else. The 200-year-old newspaper claims Peck is
infringing on its copyright by linking to The Times's headlines and
temporarily storing abstracts of its copy in the News Index database.
Peck is baffled by the situation. He says he investigated copyright
law before building the site, and believes he is in the clear. "We're
doing what any other search engine is doing," he said. "If it is
proved that we're violating their copyright, that would mean that
every search engine on the Net would be violating copyright law."
In an email interview today, Dominic Young, copyright manager for News
International Newspapers, which owns the newspaper, said that along
with summaries of its stories, News Index appears to be indexing a
"substantial proportion" of its site, which "is an infringement of
copyright and not permitted by English fair dealing rules."
"One of our main objections is that links from News Index bypass our
registration process," he added. "We want to ensure that users enter
our site via the main front page so that the presentation of our
material is the one we have constructed, not the one someone else's
search engine has constructed."
News Index's predicament is one other small news aggregation sites
have faced before. And like past cases, if News Index is ultimately
sued, the outcome of the case could determine once and for all whether
online news headlines are bound by copyright law, thus requiring
publishers to get permission before linking to others' Web content.
Legal experts say the dispute also stirs up a murky issue facing all
full-text search engines: many capture full or partial copies of Web
sites in their databases, which could be a violation of copyright as
The commercialization of the Net has brought with it a new string of
copyright questions. So far the potential test cases have been settled
out of court, or have involved small online start-ups that bowed to
the pressure of big-time copyright holders.
Last month, the Shetland Times newspaper settled its lawsuit against
the Shetland News for linking to its online headlines about the latest
happenings on an island off the coast of Scotland. The News now can
link to the Sheltand Times's headlines as long as it runs the paper's
logo next to featured stories.
And this summer, the Web site TotalNews also reached an agreement with
a group of well-known media companies that sued it for displaying
their news stories within a frame on the TotalNews site. The
Washington Post, Times Mirror, Time Warner, CNN, Dow Jones, and
Reuters New Media agreed to a "linking license" with TotalNews so that
it could hyperlink to their stories.
On the sidelines, world leaders also are grappling with how existing
copyright laws apply to digital copies of music, literature, and
software, with the latest legislation coming down from the European
Commission yesterday. The proposals implement parts of two
international treaties singed last year in Geneva, which U.S.
lawmakers also are trying to ratify. (See related story)
In addition to linking to sources of major news stories, News Index
has a key word search engine that scours about 200 sites. The first
paragraph of stories News Index links to also are posted on the site,
and therefore are stored in its database for about 24 hours.
Other sites offer similar services, but often only link to headlines.
Like News Index, NewsHub uses an automated "spider" to comb the Web
for news stories, which are linked by time stamp on its site. So far,
the one-year-old NewsHub, which started placing paid ads on its site a
month ago, has never been accused of copyright violation.
"For the most part we try to work with the publications. If someone
says we can't link to them, they can take action such as blocking our
spider," said Tom McDonald, president of VPOP Web Services, which
"We're thinking about [adding the story summaries], but because we
dont want to play with fire, we'd probably ask permission from the
sites," he added.
Publishing a sentence from a copyrighted news story without permission
may not be what got News Index into this scrape, legal experts say.
"In the United States, reproducing a headline is most likely not an
infringement. Taking a piece of the article and putting it on a Web
site would likely be considered 'fair use,'" said Eric Schlachter, an
attorney with Cooly Godward who specializes in Internet-related cases.
Based on past court rulings, however, News Index could be found guilty
of a what is known as a "misappropriation of hot news."
"If I get everything I need to know from the summary of the news
article they are providing, then News Index could be free-riding on
the effort of the originator of the story," Schlachter added.
That could be how the wrangling pans out. Like any fledgling
enterprise, News Index hopes to address the Times's concerns before he
is hit with a legal battle.
"For me to back down now would be saying that I was violating the
law--and I'm not," Peck said. "But we don't have a huge bankroll to
say, 'Hey, take us to court.'"
The Times also would like to avoid a court fight, but says it has the
ammunition to go all the way. "I want to stress that we don't want to
go down the legal route, but actually we do feel that our objections
have a pretty strong foundation in the law," Young said. "We simply
want Mr. Peck to agree to withdraw our material from his Web site
while it continues to operate in the manner it does."
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