Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Who owns what parts of your webpage?

Author:Jeremy Bowers
Posted:9/1/1999; 11:07:19 AM
Topic:Who owns what parts of your webpage?
Msg #:10406
Prev/Next:10405 / 10407

In Dave's most recent Dave Net piece, he starts with the question "There's something new going on, and it touches on some sensitive issues like who owns your home page -- you or the web?"

I would like to continue on the "Who owns your page?" issue.

First, let me start by pointing out we are discussing, in more traditional terms, what you have the right to do to a web page, and what you do not have the right to do and must seek permission. To establish boundary conditions, it is obviously wrong to copy a webpage in the entirity, post it on your site, and claim it belongs to you. (Obviously "wrongness" extends quite a bit beyond that.) It is obviously OK to create content from scratch, post it to the web, and claim it belongs to you. (Obviously, "rightness" also extends quite a bit beyond that.)

We are seeing a lot of controversy now-a-days (when don't we?). Some have consumed a lot of our time, some have barely rippled around here. But the question of "What can I do to a page?" is an overriding theme in many of the controversies:

It's hard to describe to a lot of people why this issue matters, but I hope that doesn't apply to this crowd. In the end, many billions of dollars hang on the answer to these questions.

Disclosure: I've been working a lot over the summer to combat web annotation, which I believe takes rights that neither the user nor the web annotation company have. But I could be wrong, after all. Who knows?

We live right now in the worst possible of worlds... no defined answer to any of these questions, not even in theory. Copyright is lost on these issues.

At this point, I'd like to reference a document I'm preparing to fully explain my views, but that is taking a while to complete and is currently in mega-pre-alpha (it's no where near done, and there are some statements in it I still need to research. I hate to release it in this state, but it is relevant now.). It is the part of my document questioning who owns the page, and specifically asks where Third Voice (as a particular web annotation company) gets the right to do what it does with the page. Without necessarily invoking that controversy directly (I'm interested at some point in discussing it here, but now may or may not be the time), I'd like to highlight the last section, which is unfinished, but is an attempt to try to explore who owns what, and where they own it. I'm interested in comments on the topic.

The point here is that we are only seeing parts of a very large puzzle, and unfortunately we, as a community, are not even starting to approach these issues in a coherent fashion. We need to do so, before it defaults to the lawyers. Who owns your page? (keeping in mind "ownership" is a multi-part entity)

(My personal opinions: Scraping, annotation, and other forms of aggregation: not without permission. I'm willing to call putting a page on the web without a robots.txt file telling search engines not to index it implicit permission to do such indexing, as, for the most part, it benefits everyone [which is the final goal of copyright and IP issues, after all]. Deep linking is OK, because there's nothing you can protect [and stopping it is trivial]. Even so, even I can see I'm not approaching the issue very consistently yet (so, no need to point it out, unless you want to try to explain it to me; I don't fully understand yet). I'm trying to figure out how.)

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