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Kimberly Powell

The Legality of Caching

By August 29, 2007

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After a lot of backlash from the genealogy community, Ancestry.com has removed their new Internet Biographical Database That's not to say that Ancestry.com doesn't still face a major dilemma, however. Their perceived stealing of content upset a lot of people. The trust and goodwill they've lost will be hard to earn back. .

The question remains, however. Do Ancestry.com and other such companies have the right to use the cached content of others in such a manner? The law which primarily addresses this issue is the service provider caching subsection of the Digial Millenium Copyright Act of 1988. This act essentially provides a "safe harbor" for Online Service Providers (OSP) who follow certain guidelines.

Search Engine guru Danny Sullivan weighed in against legal caching after a the landmark Field vs. Google case in this blog post, Caching Made Legal - Do You Agree? I Don't. One thing that disappoints me the more I read about this issue, is that the courts appear to be leaning toward the side of the companies doing the caching, unless it can be proven that the copyright owner is losing income as a result. If I offer my content for free, why does that make my copyright less important? Since Google's caching of sites has been ruled legitimate, doesn't that open the door for any Internet publisher to scrape content in this manner? The Internet is definitely a whole different medium than the print world and we have to be careful not to strangle the open exchange of information, however some rulings on "fair use" are going a bit far in my opinion.

Legalities and ethics aside, I personally think the search features of the new Internet Biographical Database at Ancestry.com are excellent. A lot of good information turns up when you type in only a name - I usually don't get that in Google unless the name is extremely unusual. However, I feel that this might be better offered up as a specialized genealogy search tool, rather than a database. Present users with the full page title, the brief content text that appears now, and a full URL for the site - and then link to the original site, not a cached copy. Just as Google does. Keep the cached copies behind the scenes. This way the tool still serves its original intended purpose, without treading all over the copyrights and feelings of the hundreds and thousands of genealogists who have spent so much time putting free genealogy content online. If implemented correctly, I even feel (and I'll probably get slammed for this), that the database could go back behind the subscription wall as it does offer a useful added benefit to the genealogy community. Ancestry.com deserves to make money from the work they do - as long as they aren't profiting from the work done by others. This would also offer a benefit to the included sites and blogs as they would receive a lot of potential new traffic.

If the cached links remain, the opt-out system needs to be improved to allow an alternative to the robots.txt exclusion method for bloggers using blogging software that does not allow editing of the robots.txt file. Content owners need to be allowed not to participate if they so choose.

For further discussion on this topic, please see the following blog posts:

  • Is this Fair Use? by Becky at kinexxions

  • Ancestry.com scrapes websites by Susan at Family Oral History Using Digital Tools

  • Greedy Ancestry.com Stabs Friends in the Back by Jasia at CreativeGene

  • Caching for Cash by Chris at The Genealogue

  • Ancestry.com Hijacks Cow Hampshire by Janice at Cow Hampshire

  • Ancestry.com Nothing but Theifs by Amy at Untangled Family Roots

  • Ancestry.com is Caching some web site data by Randy at Genea-Musings

  • Ancestry.com: Thieves, Hypocrites, Blunderers, or Fair Users? by Craig at GeneaBlogie

  • Ancestry.com: Copyright Violations? by Miriam at AnceStories

  • My Two Cents on Ancestry's Internet Biography Database by Jessica at Jessica's Genejournal

  • Internet Biographical Collection is Free at Ancestry.com by Dick at EOGN
  • Comments
    August 29, 2007 at 11:24 am
    (1) Danielle Plumer says:

    I think it’s better to compare what Ancestry is doing to the Internet Archive does with its Wayback Machine (http://www.archive.org/web/web.php) and Archive It! (http://www.archive-it.org/) services. Like Ancestry, the Internet Archive presents you by default with an archived, or “cached,” copy (the difference is that IA keeps multiple versions of a page, so you can see what it had on any particular date). Ancestry adds some value by indexing names and dates (how, exactly, I’m not sure) and by rolling it into their multi-database search engine.

    There was a major lawsuit over the copyright implications of the Internet Archive’s practices in Colorado this year — for a nice write-up, see the Technology and Marketing Law Blog at http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2007/03/can_a_spider_en.htm

    I’m very interested in this, because I’m developing a search application for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to pull together materials from libraries, archives, museums, and, eventually, historical and genealogical societies. I’d love, for example, to be able to have people searching for genealogy to search the materials on the TX Gen Web pages in addition to the documents at various state agencies. We use Archive It! to archive state agency web pages, and I could easily expand that to selected genealogy sites, but based on the community uproar, this might have to be an opt-in service, which would considerably increase the difficulty. I’m curious to hear what others have to say about this.

    Danielle Cunniff Plumer, Coordinator
    Texas Heritage Digitization Initiative
    Texas State Library and Archives Commission

    August 30, 2007 at 4:40 pm
    (2) Sara Binkley Tarpley says:

    I too am troubled by the growth of the idea that if someone is not making money from their original work then it really does not merit copyright protection. This philosophy is totally contrary to the intent of current copyright law.

    I have a few biographical essays on my genealogy Web site. What if I should write more and publish them as a book a few years from now? Did they not deserve copyright protection from the beginning?

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