Internet Ethics

I was having a conversation with Tony Sumrall about the ethics of publishing a feed of comic strips. Since the syndicates themselves have decided against sending comics by email (at least decided against doing it for free), do we have the right to grab the image URL from their pages and create a feed of those URLs? Let’s look and see.

From the comics.com terms of use: For purposes of this Agreement, the use of any UM Materials on any other web site or networked computer environment is prohibited.

The comics.com terms aren’t terribly clear. I think the big question for them is: Is a URL considered material, or is it the image itself that is the material? If the answer is no, then this is clearly not a violation. If Google indexes their site and has a link to an image, is that a violation? If not, then I don’t see how this could be. You might argue that Google doesn’t actually display the image, while an aggregator does. To that I say: Have you ever tried the Google Viewer? Try it – Google displays the comic right there on their page.

From the ucomics.com terms of use: Displaying, storing, copying, or otherwise making available any content from the Site on another website without the prior written permission of uclick is expressly prohibited.

I think the ucomics.com terms of use is very clear – simply making available any content from their site on another web site is a violation of their terms of use. The larger question, I’d suppose, is: What is a web site? You have to use the feed in an aggregator of some sort in order to access the content, but it may not be a web site itself. Is a web site considered any use of HTTP? Or is it required to use HTML? What if you view your feed in a service such as Bloglines, which to you is a web site (both HTTP and HTML) – albeit one that you created by subscribing to the feed?

The Google Viewer argument? Doesn’t hold water here. If you search on ucomics.com fifth wave, you’ll get some results. The first of which is the ucomics.com page for The Fifth Wave. However, this page doesn’t display in the viewer. I can only assume that ucomics.com and Google have worked some sort of arrangement.

These are difficult questions. I don’t know the answer to them. I think that if it came to a court, you may see the syndicates win their case, as distinctions such as those made here may not be quite so distinct in a court of law that doesn’t understand the intricacies of technology. Remember that Because Google Does It is probably not a valid defense. Finally, make sure you know that I am not a lawyer, and this is only my interpretation. Your own mileage may vary.

One Reply to “Internet Ethics”

  1. Bottom Line: The digital image is intellectual property and there for is covered by copyright laws as well as The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. The intent of the copyright notice is clear and that is what will matter if the issue goes before a judge.

    The owners of that image can regulate that image anyway they want. If someone was to create a RSS Feed using content they did not own that could be subject to legal action. If the content owners could show how they lost money due to the unauthorized feed then the person who published the feed could be made to repay the lost revenue.

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