Webmaster Claims Spider Entered Contract In Suit

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The Web and artificial intelligence have brought about some surreal, science fiction like questions. The most recent mind-bending concept is whether or not robots can enter into contracts – that is, is a Web crawler implicitly entering a contract posted on a website announcing copyright conditions?

A little while back, we explored the idea that RSS, as an automatic distribution agent, could imply permission to republish. But that involves two human parties, essentially, with a technical agent in between.

A court battle in Colorado, however, focuses on claims brought by Suzanne Shell against the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which holds in searchable perpetuity pages that appear on the Web, for future historical reference.

Shell owns the website www.profane-justice.org, devoted to providing information and support for people who feel they’ve been unlawfully targeted by state agents (like police or child services organizations) or unfairly accused of child abuse.

A notice appears on the site stating that users copying or distributing the content on the site automatically agree to the terms of a contract. Failure to abide carries a fee of $5,000 per page copied; $250,000 per occurrence of unauthorized use, and a charge of $50,000 for each occurrence of failure to pay, plus costs and triple damages.

There was no mechanism in place on the site (such as in the robots.txt file) to prevent Internet Archive’s robot from scanning, copying, and storing the pages on Shell’s website. She discovered that the Wayback Machine had reproduced the contents of her website about 87 times in five years, "and displayed her entire website to the public daily during that period." 

Shell sued the company for conversion, civil theft, breach of contract, and violations of the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (COCCA).

As might be guessed, most of these claims were dismissed. But the breach of contract claim is still under consideration, awaiting more information. The question that will be decided, ultimately, is whether a web crawler that is not blocked by a website can legally be bound by a contract posted on the site.

The outcome of that question could also have important impact on Web-crawling and Internet copyright law itself. Search engines like Google have leaned on Fair Use principles when scouring the Web (and off-line libraries) for information. The Google Book Search project defenders have claimed that publishers can "opt out" of their network by letting Google know their desire to do so.

Of a similar vein, then, is Web crawling. Webmasters must opt-out of indexing via the robots.txt file, preventing the spider from crawling the site. If the courts continue to back search engines’ and other Internet companies’ right to copy and index at will, then the whole copyright system, by default, it would seem, goes opt-out, too.

Copyright law blogger John Ottaviani, on Eric Goldman‘s blog, goes into the Internet Archive v. Shell case and its implications in greater detail.  


Webmaster Claims Spider Entered Contract In Suit
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  • Anonymous

    more info about Suzanne Shell can be found on http://thetruthistold.com/ and the contact person is billy wiseman president@nextfriend.us more info on billy wiseman

    • Billy Wiseman

      could Suzanne Shell’s be a thief?? could her Copyright Notice/Security Agreement be stolen property? you will haft too look at http://thetruthistold.com to find out :+}

  • vAL

    I’ve spent the past week reading through Ms. Shell’s webpages and public group. To my surprise, I found she has a degree in computer programming and continually brags about her expertise. This leads me to believe Ms. Shell is nothing but a con artist trying to entrap anyone to make an extra buck. I read through page after page of her vicious attacks. She then claimed she was the victim. Her attack on the “iGeeks” was also blamed on others. It is my opinion this woman has no integrity, suffers from multiple personality disorder and should be escorted to the nearest padded cell. Her webpages and group should be shut down for TOS violations.

    • Billy Wiseman

      you talk a good talk but my qwestion is why are you complaing here when you should be writing yahoo and her isp and raising your qwestions??
      billy wiseman

      • vAL

        Mr. Wiseman,
        To set the record straight, I complained to Yahoo and Earthlink. You know what they say about people who assume?

        • Billy Wiseman

          “You know what they say about people who assume?”
          :+} Yes I deserved That one :+} and you can talk to Earthlink till your Blue in the face as i heard they wont do anything unless they are sued…would you mind if i posted your comment on my website??

          Subject: RE: (no subject)

          im sorry But i was not criticizing I Just Didnt understand….Billy

          ——– Original Message ——–
          Subject: Re: (no subject)
          From: Date: Tue, March 27, 2007 11:44 am
          To: president@nextfriend.us

          Ya know, instead of criticizing this person, you should have posted their comment.

          • vAL

            Apology accepted. Post it if you wish. I dislike dishonest crazies.

          • billy

            doen…lookie what i just made

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