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: