I was framed!

There's been a lot of discussion on both the Studio B and WWWAC mailing lists about the suits against TotalNews. One person asked why, if the news outlets didn't want to be featured on TotalNews, did TotalNews have the right to do it anyway? My response is as follows.

TotalNews has the same right I have to comment on CNN, or MSNBC, or whatever. A lot of people seem to be missing the key point. TotalNews is NOT copying or republishing CNN's, MSNBC's, or anyone else's work. ALL they are doing is providing suggestions to browsers about what they want to see and how they might like to see it. Both the browsers and the real publishers are free to ignore TotalNew's suggestions. TotalNews is doing nothing qualitatively different than me saying "You might want to watch CNN tonight at 8:30. There's an interesting piece on about whales." It is then up to the client to actually tune in CNN and it's up to CNN to provide the data. I have in no way violated CNN's copyright.

Another way of thinking about it: Suppose I invent a TV that's smart enough to switch to a picture of a fishbowl whenever commercials come on and switch back when the commercials are done? Does this violate CNN's copyright? The answer is no, it doesn't. Maybe I can't provide automatic cancelling of commercials, but I can hook a phone line to the smart TV and have somebody at my central office watch CNN and signal the TVs attached to the network when it's time to switch to the fish channel? Does this violate anyone's copyrights? No, it does not. TotalNews is not doing anything different.

I think a lot of people in this thread haven't yet caught on to the fact that only CNN's web servers publish CNN's content. TotalNews does not copy CNN's content. Assailing Totalnews for net respecting CNN's copyrights is like prosecuting somebody for homicide when noone's actually been killed. When there's no copying, there can't be a copyright violation.

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Copyright 1997 Elliotte Rusty Harold
Last Modified April 21, 1997