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Search Engine Disputes - - - Photo of a magnifying glass against a white background - - - Original photo copyright nickobec - - - Licensed through iStockphoto.com

Search engine Disputes

The evolution of the internet, particularly the "web" is creating new legal issues. One of these issues relates to the rights of creators (copyrights) and the technology of search engines.

In the spring of 1995, Louis Monier was having a lunch conversation with two other Digital employees. The idea of creating a very large search engine came up during that lunch. Monier then led the team that built AltaVista which debuted in December of 1995. With over 20 million documents indexed at its debut, it was over ten times larger than any other search engine on the web at that time.

The AltaVista debut forever changed the search engine landscape.

The engines index websites looking at the content, at the title, the description and at MeTA tags to provide a way to find something without even knowing it is there.

The original engines only looked at text. Now, a new breed of engines has emerged that looks, not only at text, but also at the other files, particularly graphics and sound.

These new engines are creating disputes: disputes between the engines and the creators.

Consider a graphics search engine like Arriba Vista or AltaVista. Let's say you are looking for a graphic of a house. You type "house" in the search engine and brings back information on graphic images of "house" from all over the net.

The problem for creators are many:

  • The engines are displaying thumbnails of the images. They have copied the image and created the thumbnail and stored at least the thumbnail, and maybe the full image, in their database. And they did it without the creator's permission.
     
  • Some of the engines point to the file directly instead of to the page that "contains" the file. This seems to permit the searcher to look at or listen to the file, and to copy it, without really "visiting" (in any meaningful way) the website that hosts the image. The site owner gets a visitor, but not a meaningful visitor.
     
  • Finally, why are searchers even looking for images of "house"? Is it so they can copy the image to use on your own website? Are the search engines just making this easier?
     
  • Some of the search engines haven't made clear to their visitors that the images they find are not public domain property. The novice may assume that because the images are shown that they are available for use.

The search engines are responding to these criticisms:

  • Some have strengthened their notices that images cannot be used without permission. (Creators aren't satisfied.)
     
  • Some have provided information on how to use a robots.txt file or MeTA tags to stop their engine from indexing the site or a particular page on the site. (Creators say they shouldn't have to do anything.)
     
  • Some have stopped linking directly to the files, linking instead to the page that "contains" the file.
     

Still, the debate is just beginning.

Leslie A. Kelly, a photographer, has been in the news with his public dispute with AltaVista over the indexing of his photographs from his websites. And, recently, he has filed suit against Arriba Vista for the same.

In the links below, I provide some of the history of this dispute, information on the law and other resources you may find useful.

(To receive updates to this information, just subscribe to my Snippets email list. For more information about Snippets , check out the Snippets Page.)

Articles in the Media

7am News  (14.Oct.1998), "Copyright Battle Looms For AltaVista"7am News  (14.Oct.1998) , "Copyright Battle Looms For AltaVista":  A news article about the AltaVista site.

7am News  (29.Oct.1998), "Photographer Claims AltaVista Breaches His Copyright & Trademark"7am News  (29.Oct.1998) , "Photographer Claims AltaVista Breaches His Copyright & Trademark": An article about Leslie A. Kelly's dispute with AltaVista. 

Jesse Berst 's Anchor Desk  (28.Apr.1997), "Has Your Website Been Stolen?"Jesse Berst's Anchor Desk  (28.Apr.1997) , "Has Your Website Been Stolen?": A news article about wholesale copying of an entire site! The article is also of value for the Talkback feature with many reader comments about copyright, image theft and the related issues.

News.Com  (11.Dec.1997), "Linking a copyright violation?News.Com  (11.Dec.1997) , "Linking a copyright violation?": A article about the dispute between the News Index and the Sunday Times

Newsbytes  (27.Oct.1998), "Compaq Accused Of Copyright Infringement"Newsbytes  (27.Oct.1998) , "Compaq Accused Of Copyright Infringement": An article about Leslie A. Kelly's dispute with AltaVista, owned by Compaq. Also includes some of the history of how Compaq came to own AltaVista. 

Newsbytes  (06.Nov.1998), "AltaVista Disclaimer Not Enough For Copyright --- KellyNewsbytes  (06.Nov.1998) , "AltaVista Disclaimer Not enough For Copyright Kelly": After AltaVista modifies some of its disclaimers and information, Leslie A. Kelly is not satisfied. 

Photo District News (PDN) Online  (01.Jun.1999), "Internet Search Engines Face Infringement Claims"Photo District News (PDN) Online  (01.Jun.1999) , "Internet Search engines Face Infringement Claims": The article discusses the current dispute between Leslie A. Kelly and others. It also quotes Seth Resnick (mentioned elsewhere on this page) that technology, rather than law, may solve the problem. [This is a local site mirror of an article no longer available.]  

Search Engine Report  (06.Jun.1997), "Ticketmaster, Microsoft and Search Engines"Search engine Report  (06.Jun.1997) , "Ticketmaster, Microsoft and Search engines": This article explores some of the legal and practical issues between Microsoft and Ticketmaster, and the relationship of websites to search engines. 

Search Engine Report  (09.Jan.1998), "News Robot Leads To Linking, Indexing Dispute"Search engine Report  (09.Jan.1998) , "News Robot Leads To Linking, Indexing Dispute": An article about a dispute over the use of the robots.txt file at the Sunday Times and the News Index that ignores the file. 

Search Engine Watch  (04.Nov.1998), "AltaVista Photo Finder Has Artists Concerned"Search engine Watch  (04.Nov.1998) , "AltaVista Photo Finder Has Artists Concerned": A good overview of the AltaVista issue, and information on some of the changes AltaVista is making. 

Search Engine Watch  (03.Dec.1998), "Photo Search Fight Continues"Search engine Watch  (03.Dec.1998) , "Photo Search Fight Continues": Discusses photographer Leslie A. Kelly's continuing dispute with AltaVista and Lycos. 

Search Engine Watch  (03.Mar.1999), "Is The Lycos MP3 Index Legal?"Search engine Watch  (03.Mar.1999) , "Is The Lycos MP3 Index Legal?": You think visual artists have a problem, consider the turmoil of the musical artists. The Lycos MP3 Index may be pointing to illegal copies of their work! 

Other Discussion

Brad Mangin Photography  (07.Mar.1999), "Sports Shooter #6"Brad Mangin Photography  (07.Mar.1999) , "Sports Shooter #6": Brad Mangin is a prominent sports photographer. This article on Brad's site talks about a lot of things, including the Arriba Vista site. His discussion of Arriba Vista is actually a reprint of some of Seth Resnick's comments posted on one of the photo lists. If you don't want to read the whole article, "find" the word "Arriba" to go directly to the related section entitled "New Image Search engine Steals Copyright?" 

Focus Online Copyright WatchdogFocus Online Copyright Watchdog: This website is a subsidiary of the Focus Online Photography Magazine. It tracks online copyright issues and includes a section on the search engine dispute and Leslie A. Kelly. 

Focus Online Copyright Watchdog: Search Engine Dispute PageFocus Online Copyright Watchdog: Search engine Dispute Page: This is the page on the site that discusses the Arriba Vista (and other search engine) issue and Leslie A. Kelly. And, in the latest version it even includes a reference to this page.  (Thanks guys!) 

Leslie A. Kelly

Leslie A. Kelly Press Release Alleging Copyright Infringement by Arriba Soft Corporation and the Arriba Vista Search Engine, 01.Feb.1999Leslie A. Kelly Press Release Alleging Copyright Infringement by Arriba Soft Corporation and the Arriba Vista Search engine, 01.Feb.1999: This page on my website contains the text of Leslie A. Kelly's press release about his dispute with Arriba Vista.  

Leslie A. Kelly Press Release Regarding Suit Against Arriba Soft Corporation and the Arriba Vista Search EngineLeslie A. Kelly Press Release Regarding Suit Against Arriba Soft Corporation and the Arriba Vista Search engine, 06.Apr.1999: This page on my website contains the text of Leslie A. Kelly's press release about his lawsuit.  

California's Gold Rush CountryCalifornia's Gold Rush Country: One of Leslie A. Kelly's websites. Note that he does not maintain any information regarding his dispute on his site. 

Show Me The GoldShow Me The Gold: One of Leslie A. Kelly's websites. Note that he does not maintain any information regarding his dispute on his site.  

Protecting Your Site

AltaVista --- Excluding PagesAltaVista excluding Pages: This page on the AltaVista site explains how to use a robots.txt file and/or MeTA tags to exclude pages from the search engine.  

AltaVista Photo Finder, and How to Keep Your Images UnfoundAltaVista Photo Finder, and How to Keep Your Images Unfound: If you don't want AltaVista to index your images, this page provides some of the clearest instructions on what to do.  

Copyrights and Trademarks

Library of Congress Copyright SiteLibrary of Congress Copyright Office Site: Look under "Legislation" for both a summary of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in PDF format and for the text of all the copyright laws, including the DMCA. The site also has general information and forms.  

Digital Millennium Copyright Act SummaryDigital Millennium Copyright Act Summary: A December 1998 Copyright Office summary of the act. A useful overview of the particulars of this significant revision. A PDF file: requires an Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act SummaryDigital Millennium Copyright Act: The complete text of the act. A PDF file: requires an Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Copyright Office Frequently Asked QuestionsCopyright Office Frequently Asked Questions 

Library of Congress Copyright SiteLibrary of Congress Thomas Site: This site, offered by the Library of Congress, provides comprehensive information on congressional legislation, the Congressional Record, committee information and tons of background information.

Information on H.R. 2281, Digital Millennium Copyright ActInformation on H.R. 2281, Digital Millennium Copyright Act: Complete legislative information on the act, including history, committee information and links to text of the bill in both text and PDF formats. 

Digital Millennium Copyright Act PDF TextDigital Millennium Copyright Act PDF Text: From the Government Printing Office, linked through the LOC Thomas site. A PDF file: requires an Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act HTML TextDigital Millennium Copyright Act HTML Text: From the Government Printing Office, linked through the LOC Thomas site. 

U. S. Patent and Trademark OfficeU. S. Patent and Trademark Office: Home site for the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). The PTO has recently introduced online searching and electronic registration to their system.  

Basic Facts About Registering a TrademarkBasic Facts About Registering a Trademark: Previously available only in a pamphlet, this information is now available on the web (HTML), in word processor formats and as an FTP document.  

Web Trademark DatabaseWeb Trademark Database: An online searchable trademark database.  

Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS)Trademark electronic Application System (TEAS): The PTO now has two online systems: e-TEAS for electronic online filing and PrinTEAS to complete a form to print and mail.TEAS also includes both a wizard and extensive online help to assist with the application process. 

Web Organizations

Eleventh Commandmenteleventh Commandment: This web campaign uses the term "11th commandment" to describe a set of principles including respect for copyright and opposition to bandwidth theft. It also advocates credit on the same page, a theme emphasized by another campaign: Give Credit Where Credit is Due.  (eleventh Commandment is also on my Memberships Page.) 

Give Credit Where Credit is DueGive Credit Where Credit is Due: This campaign by Cathy (no last names please) works to promote credits, not just when credit is due, but also where. The answer to "where?" is "on the same page". Credits pages are hard to find, aren't looked at and may actually be helping to convince newbies that the graphics (or sound or text) is public domain. The campaign is similar to the 11th Commandment campaign but places more emphasis on the "where".  (Give Credit Where Credit is Due is also on my Memberships Page.) 

Grey DayGrey Day: Grey Day's purpose is to raise awareness of the need to eliminate online plagiarism, the unlicensed use of copyrighted works, and bandwidth robbery. On Grey Day, October 1, 2003, (just like 2000, 2001 and 2002) participating individuals and companies of the Web will replace their websites' entrance page with a special grey page as a statement of global support and fellowship with the artists, writers, musicians and programmers of the World Wide Web.  (Grey Day is also on my Memberships Page.)   

Look But Don't StealLook But Don't Steal: This is an effort by a freelance graphic artist named Kristin. She has created a network of sites promoting respect for artists' rights, including copyright.  (Look But Don't Steal is also on my Memberships Page.)    

Spider AwarenessSpider Awareness: This campaign by web artist Robyn A works to help other web professionals learn about spiders, what they are, and how they can be both used and misused. (Spider Awareness is also on my Memberships Page.)   

Stop Internet PlagiarismStop Internet Plagiarism: This campaign is sponsored by the Phenomenal Women of the Web organization. (Stop Internet Plagiarism is also on my Memberships Page.) 

Take ResponsibilityTake Responsibility: This web campaign seeks to make web creators aware of the need to actively protect artist's rights. Sites that vacuum images and music from across the web (then post a statement offering to remove something if you ask) work against this principal. Web creators should take responsibility themselves for identifying the artist, crediting the artist and complying with other use requirements.  (Take Responsibility is also on my Memberships Page.) 

Web GuardWeb Guard: Web Guard is an organization (and a webring) of websites and web authors dedicated to two principles: First, respect for other's original, copyrighted work. Second, avoiding bandwidth theft. (Bandwidth theft occurs when your website displays information from another site, instead of from a copy on your site.)  NB: In Nov 1999, the Mother of Web Guard, Shena Delian O'Brien found it necessary to step away from her role as manager and graciously permitted me to assume the sponsorship, hosting and management of the site and the Webring (Web Guard is also on my Memberships Page.)   

What is Copyright Protection?What is Copyright Protection?: This site is an effort by an attorney and artist, Rebeca Delgado-Martinez Valette, to promote an understanding of copyright law and issues. Although she does not claim to be an expert on intellectual property law, her page is an excellent summary of copyright.  (What is Copyright Protection is also on my Memberships Page.) 

Miscellaneous Resources

Books I RecommendBooks I Recommend: This page on my website highlights a number of books I recommend (and a few I don't).  

Business and Legal Forms for Graphic DesignersBusiness and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers 

Business and Legal Forms for Graphic DesignersBusiness and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers 

AIGA Professional Practices in Graphic Design: American Institute of Graphic ArtsAIGA Professional Practices in Graphic Design: American Institute of Graphic Arts 

The Business Side of Creativity: The Complete Guide for Running a Graphic Design or Communications BusinessThe Business Side of Creativity: The Complete Guide for Running a Graphic Design or Communications Business 

How to Register Your Own Copyright: With Forms (2nd Ed)How to Register Your Own Copyright: With Forms (2nd ed) 

How to Register Your Own Trademark: With Forms (2nd Ed)How to Register Your Own Trademark: With Forms (2nd ed) 

BitLawBitLaw: BitLaw is a comprehensive Internet resource on technology law, containing over 1,800 pages on patent, copyright, trademark, and Internet legal issues. It is the work of Daniel A. Tysver, a patent attorney with Beck & Tysver of Hopkins, Minnesota. 

BitLaw: Web Site Legal IssuesBitLaw: Web Site Legal Issues: An excellent overview of may of the legal issues related to website development. 

DesignWise WebDesigner ResourcesDesignWise WebDesigner Resources: This page provides links to a variety of other information of interest regarding the image search engine controversy.  

Image Rustlers Alert Newsletter Subscription FormImage Rustlers Alert Newsletter Subscription Form: An irregular newsletter is sent on these issues. As of 03.Jun.1999 it has three issues. 

Sample Letter to Arriba VistaSample Letter to Arriba Vista: This is a sample letter from DesignWise to Arriba Vista regarding the indexing of images. DesignWise grants permission to use this letter.  [ed.: (1) The letter, as presented contains several typographical errors. (2) The letter threatens various types of legal action. You are strongly advised to consult with legal counsel before sending such a letter.]  

The Intellectual Property Renaissance In Cyberspace: Why Copyright Law Could Be Unimportant On The Internet (14.Aug.1997): An interesting article on the changes the internet might bring to copyright.  

Image Search engines

AltaVista Photo FinderAltaVista Photo Finder: Over 17 million images (a/o 28.May.1999); searchable; displays thumbnails.

Foto Search Image Search EngineFoto Search Image Search engine: Over 700,000 images (a/o 09.Jun.2005); allows users to search from over fifty top stock photography and image sources all at one site; find royalty-free photography, clipart pictures, illustrations, video clips, vector maps, and background clip art imagery.   

Lycos Pictures & SoundsLycos Pictures & Sounds: Over 80,000 images (a/o 28.May.1999); browse categories and view thumbnails; search available without thumbnails; also searches for sound files.  

SavvySearchSavvySearch: A meta search engine; searches 4 different image search engines; searches 9 different MP3 search engines.  

Sound Search engines

2Look42Look4: Includes a search option to eliminate unreliable sites.  

AudiofindAudiofind: MP3 searches and an MP3 news section. 

AudioGalaxyAudioGalaxy: It also rates the matches with speed and reliability information. 

Lycos Pictures & SoundsLycos Pictures & Sounds: Over 80,000 images (a/o 28.May.1999); browse categories and view thumbnails; search available without thumbnails; also searches for sound files. 

MP3.comMP3.com: Over 27,000,000 downloads available (a/o 29.May.1999).  

Oth.net: The most minimalist of the interfaces of all the MP3 search engines! And the support pages contain lots of spelling errors too. But, it is an MP3 search engine. 

SavvySearchSavvySearch: A meta search engine; searches 4 different image search engines; searches 9 different MP3 search engines. 

The extra text menu links (previously here) are being removed in the site redesign.
Browser and search engine improvements have eliminated the motivation/necessity for them.

This page created:
before
Wed, 16.Aug.2000

Last updated:
23:52, Wed, 12.Feb.2014

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altavista, arribavista, lycos, copyright, trademark, images, leslie a. kelly, lawsuit, artist rights, photo finder, compaq, digital, dec . . . altavista, arribavista, lycos, copyright, trademark, images, leslie a. kelly, lawsuit, artist rights, photo finder, compaq, digital, dec