The Internet WayBack Machine (AKA the Internet Archive) attempts to archive virtually everything on the internet. Just as Google crawls the web from link to link to index the pages, the Internet Archive crawls the web to store the pages. Forever, presumably. This can be very useful, since very nice web pages often get taken down when authors graduate from school, change ISPs, or change jobs, or simply lose interest. I’ve found quite a few gems in the archive over the years.
Now, the Internet Archive is being sued. Apparently, a company called “Healthcare Advocates” sued a company called “Health Advocates” for trademark infringement. The defendant’s lawyers used the Internet WayBack Machine to search for web pages the plantiff had posted in the past, and used that information in the defense. So, the plaintiff sued the law firm — for using the information — and the Internet Archive, for providing it!
Now this is interesting on at least three levels. First, I’ve never heard of a plaintiff suing a denfendant’s lawyers for defending them. I’m not a lawyer, so maybe this happens all the time, but it sounds odd to me.
Second, there’s the copyright angle. It would seem clear that the Internet Archive had every right to download those pages in the first place — after all, that’s what web pages on a publically-accessible web server are for. And I can’t imagine one would ever be required to get rid of some information one acquired legally. Whenever you view a web page, your browser stores a copy in the “cache”; the Internet Archive just has a really huge cache from which nothing (presumably) is ever deleted.
And third, it seems hard to argue they shouldn’t make that cache available to the public, since everything there was available to the public in the first place.
I think it would be interesting to see what Ron Coleman has to say about this. He is the foremost expert on the internet and intellectual property law, and he has a blog here.
(Hat tip: Slashdot.)
Ron Coleman weighs in here.