The new Internet Biographical Collection at Ancestry.com has raised a storm of furor this week. This database, available to subscribers only, is basically a collection of cached content - copies of Web pages taken from a variety of sites across the Internet that contain biographical information of interest.
I personally have no problems with Ancestry.com offering a search feature that indexes these Web sites. It offers a useful search service, although I would feel better about it if they didn't include this among their subscription offerings as the content isn't their own, and search engines traditionally do not charge for their service.
The biggest problem I see here, however, is that these pages are being cached. A cache is basically a copy of a Web site, taken at a particular point in time.
Google has been taken to court over their practice of caching Web sites, but the ruling was in Google's favor. Judge Robert C. Jones of the Nevada District Court said, "“When a user requests a web page contained in the Google cache by clicking on a 'Cached' link, it is the user, not Google, who creates and downloads a copy of the cached web page. Google is passive in this process. Without the user’s request, the copy would not be created and sent to the user, and the alleged infringement at issue in this case would not occur."
The Ancestry.com database takes things even further, however, serving up the cached pages as the first option and offering a small link to the "live Web site." There is no way to get to the link for the live page without first viewing the cached page. On the actual record page for each search result, the cached link is identified as "cached," but it is still the only option open if you want to view the content - there is no link to the live Web page until after you view the cached page. And from the search results where you are given the option only to "view Web page" you are taken directly to the cached page, with no notice that the page is indeed cached. This is where I feel that this database has stepped over the line, possibly into copyright infringement. Ancestry.com is serving up copies of copyrighted work and, to make matters worse, selling this as one of their subscription databases. Because the pages are cached, they are also depriving the Web site and/or content owner of traffic and potential income.
How do you feel about this issue? Is the new database a useful service, a violation of copyright, or an unethical step in the wrong direction for Ancestry.com? Click on "comments" below and share your thoughts.