Internet Ethics II

Yesterday, I wrote about the ethics of screen scraping, specifically as it relates to David Thomson’s Tapestry. Speaking of which, David also spoke out on the same subject.

He is not a lawyer either, and in fact does not live in America, so please realize that his views may be as off-base as mine and may not even apply the same since he’s in a different country than I am. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I still don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, and I still am not a lawyer, but it certainly seems to be an interesting topic, so I’m going to talk about it again today.

Is the providing of feeds, such as those from Tapestry, legal? I think so, because Tapestry is not hosting, archiving, providing or even displaying any content. Only the URL that points to the content. There are services, such as MyRSS.com, that used to provide screen-scraped feeds for virtually any web site. In fact, MyRSS.com provided a feed for Calvin and Hobbes, which is also a feed previously available at Tapestry.

MyRSS.com, a site that is arguably much more commercial, seems to me to be closer to any line of legality than Tapestry. For instance, they include advertisements in feeds, allowing them to generate revenue from the production of a feed that is based on content at another site. They also allow people to “sponsor” channels. Short of a book here and there that David might receive for his troubles, Tapestry is not a commercial service.

That an aggregator, even one based in a browser, chooses to parse that feed in a way that displays the content located at that URL without displaying anything else (ie, advertising) doesn’t seem to me to be a violation of copyright law or even of the terms of use by the provider of the feed. The aggregator, on the other hand, as it makes available that content in a format not intended by the author? Perhaps a bit closer to violating those terms.

But is it ethical? Ah-ha. That’s the big question, isn’t it? If an organization provides content to the world through a web site, and makes no effort to obscure the path to that content (the URL), and apparently does not make an attempt to block access to content from unauthorized sources, it would seem to me that it’s fair game. What do you think?

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