Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Copyright Overreach and the Viewing of HTML Source Code...

As this Boing Boing article and the Consumer Law & Policy Blog report, a law firm is claiming in its "User Agreement" that people will be copyright infringing if they view the source code of their website. Not only does this go against the most fundamental principles that have made the Web what it is today, but it also creates a false sense of legal legitimacy where there is none.

For any of you non-techies out there, right now go to the top menu of your Internet Explorer browser window, click on "View" and then "Source" (or in Firefox, click on "View" and "Page Source"). What you see is the HTML source code behind the web page. This may look like a foreign language to you, but this HTML code is available for viewing on every single page that exists on the World Wide Web - and it has been since Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web in the early 1990s. This "sharing" of the source code has been instrumental in developing the Internet into an open and free virtual space (free as in free speech, not free beer). In fact, it's important to remember that the Web is actually little more than billions of "shared" files located on servers throughout the world.

Inventor-Link's User Agreement states: "We also own all of the code, including the HTML code, and all content. As you may know, you can view the HTML code with a standard browser. We do not permit you to view such code since we consider it to be our intellectual property protected by the copyright laws. You are therefore not authorized to do so."

As Greg from Boing Boing accurately points out, "That's kind of like a puppet show invoking copyright to prohibit the audience from looking at the strings."

Legally, this firm is intentionally creating a false sense of legitimacy for these actions. Not only have U.S. courts overwhelmingly rejected such overreaching attempts to extend copyright protection to the public domain, but the law firm is also outright violating the Fair Use Doctrine - which legally allows the use of copyrighted material, without the owner's permission, for educational use, research, journalistic reporting, parody, etc.

Really, companies who are so paranoid about protecting their intellectual property ought to stop making outrageously ridiculous legal claims and instead, if it really matters so much to them, just decide not to voluntarily post their material on the Web in the first place.


At 11:50 AM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

As an additional quick note, I recommend reading the comments that people have left on the Boing Boing article which is linked. A great list of reasons why this is such a ridiculous claim.

At 5:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, do have a look at the HTML. I don't think i'll be copying any of that in a hurry... Urrrgh!


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