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Monday, February 21, 2005

AutoLink: Unlicensed Derivative Work?

I was listening to Dave Winer's 2/18 Morning Coffee Notes, and he's more than a little exercised about Google's AutoLink. I haven't downloaded the updated toolbar or seen it in action, but I'm getting an idea of what AutoLink does thanks to Dan Gillmor and others. Aside from competition related legal considerations (thanks, Tom, for the pointer), I smell a copyright brouhaha. (Yes, sorry; we see lawsuits, the dead people come later.) Why? Listen to Dave's podcast. He's ticked about his writing being altered without his permission and saying an "opt out" is in order. And read the Rogers Cadenhead post he points to today: "Autolink edits Web pages, making subtle inline changes to text while presenting them at their original URLs, which implies the original author created the transformed work." (That smacks of trademark trouble too, methinks? Yep, as Marty ponders, and he discusses the potential derivative work issue as well.)

I think this is something that hasn't been addressed in the post-Feist linking cases. Linking to a Web page is one thing; adding unauthorized links to a Web page is another. Anil Dash makes the "Rip, Mix, Burn" analogy, which is probably apt on some level and just underscores the copyright issues — 321 Studios, for example, lost at trial and went out of business before it could pursue its appeal.

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