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Metabrowsing Controversy Continues 214

sonnerbob noted that Yahoo is running a story about the ongoing controversy surrounding metabrowsing. This one mentions eBay of course, but others like Priceman and Ticketmaster. The long term effects of this stuff is incredibly significant: if the courts go the wrong way, it could even make things messy for the big search engines.
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Metabrowsing Controversy Continues

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Eventually, someone will come up with an open sourced gnutella type application that acts as a personal search engine to do price comparisons on ecommerce sites....thus ebay, etal will have no one entitiy to sue...instead, there will be millions of "bidder's edge" and "auctionwatch" personal sites searching for the best price, instead of one centralised website...
  • Aside from the main issue, the article makes some weak arguments....
    1. Companies can forbid pricing sites from automatically extracting their prices
      The company will be hurting themselves, as they would close themselves off to any possible customers from the pricing site. Sure, potential customers may tend to go for the lowest priced (although there are often other factors at work such as service), but they certainly won't choose a vendor who doesn't show up at all.
    2. Companies can restrict which search engines they are listed in, making the search engine owners pay to list them
      That's insane. Companies want to be on search engines, how else are people going to find them? Unless a search engine is inappropriate for the company to be listed on (for example, a company may not want to be on a porn search engine and seem thus affiliated), there's no reason they wouldn't want to have a listing; and there's certainly few reasons that a search engine would want to pay to list a company...if people miss the company's URL on a search engine, chances are they already know it and don't need to search for it.

    Aaron Gaudio
    "The fool finds ignorance all around him.
  • That's probably because E-Bay's prices are insufficiently creative to qualify for copyrights. Phone books traditionally can't be copyrighted either - they're just names and addresses and numbers.

    Still this is all pretty bogus. E-Bay should charge a transaction fee on each auction, mediate the transfer of funds (holding it in escrow) and be happy to have other sites link to it.
  • Once you decide that it is OK for a site to ban "personal spiders," where do you stop? Would I be in violation of such a policy if I use Avantgo to download a hierarchy of pages into my Palm Pilot? Where, really, do you draw the line between acceptable "browsers" and unacceptable "spiders"? How would you feel about a web site whose copyright notice bars access to anyone using a web browser other than IE5? And just where does that leave my fair use rights to copy copyrighted material for research and education? Only legal with Canon copy machines?
  • I guess E-bay is taking off it's gloves by saying you can not search information on my site that might harm me. This can also be look at as anti-competive behavior we may have a another lawsuit on our hand here.
  • Benjamin Shniper writes:
    Likewise, if a store wishes to only reveal prices when the item is bought, like some jewlery stores or some auto shops (due to complicated pricing) they are allowed to.
    Heh... Sorry, but that's pretty dreadfully naive, IMAO.

    Those jewelry stores and auto shops don't hide their prices unless you're really buying "due to complicated pricing" -- no way!

    It's just so you won't be able to comparison-shop.

    (So yes, I guess there really *is* a parallel...)

    Christian R. Conrad
    My ISP is the Saunalahti company, of Finland.
  • If I write a script to strain through all of the content on your site, and you have a huge site like ebay, I would think that it would hog a significant percentage of your cpu.

    That used to be a good argument back when Veronica mapped Gopher-space, and lots of Gopher servers were on mainframes and the like where people paid (in blood) for CPU time - including the people running the Gopher servers.

    But is that really an argument these days? What is the difference between a robot and a visitor who hust browses everything without using the services you gain income from (including ads)? If your site cannot handle the occasional crawler robot, how can it scale to, say, five extra users?

  • If you stay at a store for three or four hours run around, bother the salesmen, knock over displays (and most importantly) with no intention of buying anything, you will be asked to leave. Once that's been done you are trespassing.

    What you are saying is that the site should set a cookie, then check whether the user actually uses their "real" services, and if not, deny them access after some predetermined time?

    Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

  • I'd like to know by what piece of logic they say spiders are tresspassing, and people who browser but don't buy aren't.

    It comes down to $$$ in the end, like most things. Spiders don't click on adverts. People, while they may not always shop or whatever, DO see these adverts. If a site cannot say that on all the pageviews it gets that they aren't actual PEOPLE staring at their ads then that site may well lose ad revenue.

    Of course you cannot stop people deep-linking your site, but if you do not make the links well known (i.e. indexed) then a great number of people would not know the URL to start with, apart from those that HAVE 'come in the front door' so to speak.

  • They can't pick and choose who they allow into the store to shop, but they can eject people who come into the store and violate the store's shopping rules. Relevant to this situation, many stores will kick you out for taking photos or otherwise appear to be acting like a "secret shopper" from another store. I've always been puzzled by this -- you can walk in, look around, etc, but I suppose they don't want their presentation, products, so easily "analyzed" by competitors via photographic means.
  • IE: a department store, cannot pick out a specific individuals and claim they are trespassing while allowing the rest of the public free access.

    This is completely FALSE. Perhaps you have never seen one of the signs that state "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."?

    Department stores use video surveilance and eject from the premesis known and suspected shoplifters.

    Casinos are known for ejecting 'professional' gamblers.

    Is a 'thief of content' any better than a shoplifter? Not in my book. I reserve the right to refuse access to anyone I choose. And I have. My server rejects requests from several content scanning agencies who do not provide public search services.

  • Sheer volume maybe... When we consider value however, I think you meant to say square root.

    If you've got a problem with that view of the value of a network, take it up with Metcalf.
  • Sometimes I need to pay higher prices in exchange for the ability to have that hard drive on my desk in 18 hours. If that larger company didn't want to be indexed by pricewatch, I would be screwed.
    On the other hand, that larger company then wouldn't have you as a costumer.A company that offer special services will not mind to be compared to other companies, their price may be higher, but they offer that extra service.
  • Unfortunately, requiring proper user-agent identification 'conflicts' with writing non-agent-specific HTML, in that in this day and age of computer stupidity, neither will happen at the same time. (In regards to the latter, there are sites out there that prevent you from content if you don't have the latest of the big two, so Opera and lynx and whomever else is screwed, because a cgi script does check the referrer field. You can get around this in nearly all of them by modifying it, and 90% of the time, there was no reason for it save for the idiom of forcing the latest browser).
  • As far as I can see, this is what Infrasearch hope to do, except they expect people like eBay to help them to do it by giving Infra access to their database!

    Does anyone else think that they will have their work cut out for them?


  • robots.txt should be considered the 'Posted, No Trespassing' sign, really.. ;-P I completely agree..
  • That is *NOT* true at all. A store has the legal right to kick anyone out that they choose. Go ahead and shoplift, see what happens. You'll be banned from the store, and if you go back in and are caught, you sure as hell will be prosecuted for trespassing.

    I knew an unfortionate few individuals (Ok, STUPID individuals, but who's counting) who found this out the hard way..
  • A library, yes. Goto Barns and Nobles and try it. See what they end up saying. A library holds up becouse in that particular case, yes, it *IS* a public access institution. A company, brick and morter or electrons, is a different story..
  • Look, you either make available for public consumption, or you don't. You either make it world veiwable, or you don't.

    Exactly. Those are my sentiments exactly.

    This "trespassing" argument is bullshit, and the only reason any judge would rule in favor of it is because he's been misled. Either Bidder's Edge infringed upon Ebay's trademark or they didn't. Period. And if they can't win on that angle, case closed.

    ITRW, you can't put up a sign saying "Welcome All! Please Enter and Enjoy" and then prosecute someone for trespassing, regardless of how they behaved once they entered. It doesn't matter if they do it live, or via script, or bot.

    Sue them for their behavior, if you can. Try them for crimes they committed. TOS them for heaven's sake. But you can't accuse them of trespassing, because you're a public marketplace! Geezus, what kind of manure did they force-feed the judge to get him to rule like that?

    It's like someone who sells inventory lists of all a city's flea markets being convicted of trespassing at a flea market, during its open hours, while researching his list. Absolutely ludicrous.

  • Ebay's content is NOT in the public domain. It's fairly well established that putting something on a web-page does NOT make it public domain material. You have implicitly granted everyone the right to view your material on the web using ordinary means--but you have NOT given them permission to copy your work and put it up on their own site, or do anything else with it.

    With search engines I would argue that the robots.txt spells out your intentions as to how you want your work used by spiders and so forth. It's your material, you have every right to decide how it's used.

    I agree with everyone saying that Ebay is being *stupid* by disallowing search engine access: if it was my company, I'd open it up. But it isn't my company, and there is unfortunately no law against stupidity.

    It's important to distinguish between what Ebay is legally entitled to do, and what would be intelligent behavior.
  • Amusing thought: imagine a feature for Gnutilla that found the cheapest price on any music product, using a search job efficiently distributed across all users. (It might also watch for price-fixing patterns on CD prices and report them to the FTC, just to annoy the RIAA).

    I would willingly donate cpu cycles and hard drive space in support of an effort of this kind.

    Much of the work the FBI does is simple data collection/correlation/analysis. Creating an open, public watchdog project to monitor the behavior of corporations, esp. with respect to price fixing, and put behind it the computational power of the internet, would be an exciting project.

    The only downside is see: what happens if someone adopts said software to watch an individual. How does one insure their spare cpu cycles are used ethically?
  • I learned years ago that if you find a site that has gobs of golden info, you mirror it yourself. Why? because it will go away (there are hundreds/thousands of sites that were the cream of the net that now are gone, and all that knowlege is gone too.) Will this ruling make my mirroring illegal? Granted when I run the mirror process it nails the site with a good 30 connections and snags everytidbit it can grab.(I.E. it is easily noticed) What will the law do to me "mr trespasser" who is keeping access to knowlege for personal use? How about my agents? will my agent programs that watch e-bay for certian items become illegal? or how about my slashdot agent, will that someday be frowned upon because it retrieves data in a manner that is not the same as the author intended? and how about trespassing... is it tresspassing if you dont have a fence around it and signs stating to GO AWAY?

    this judge is nuts.
  • Ever heard of cgi?

    Who says that robots.txt is supposed to be robots.txt?

    So the article on yahoo to a certain extent is genuinenly stupid as the architecture for selective metabrowsing is also in place today and I even know people who use it. Not every one is obliged to love lycos ya know ;-). Some people do not like to "go fetch".
  • Obeying robots.txt is certainly the polite thing to do, and enforcing it may sound like a good legal/political solution, but it isn't a practical solution. You have authorized viewing of any work on your web site if when my client requests a page from your site, your web server provides it. If you don't want my client to receive such-and-such a page, then don't serve it. If you don't want to exchange any packets with my client, then drop them on the floor as you receive them.

    Sure, this is more complicated than robots.txt, but you will never effectively be able to police the entire world for the authorized use of deep linking and/or indexing. Ultimately, the power to prevent this problem rests on the server, not on the client or the search engine.

  • The value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes. If you double the number of nodes in network, the number of possible connections (and hence the value) quadruples.
  • Thats a good point. The problem is that sometimes the thing I want to buy isn't the cheapest one. I've been using for years, and the items are listed ascending by price. The top few records are almost invariably complete crap. Sometimes I need to pay higher prices in exchange for the ability to have that hard drive on my desk in 18 hours. If that larger company didn't want to be indexed by pricewatch, I would be screwed.

  • Yes, except that you can buy pens and notebooks at stores other than Office Depot and Office Max. Also, we had a price matching policy with any competitor, and people called us on it all the time.

  • I disagree. Anyone should be withing their rights to say their site is "unspiderable" by personal as well as coperate spiders. They should specify this in their copyright notice and spiders.txt, and it should be enforced by law. It's the sites own loss if they do so, as yahoo auctions will probably allow spiders, and thus be quicker to shop.

    Likewise, if a store wishes to only reveal prices when the item is bought, like some jewlery stores or some auto shops (due to complicated pricing) they are allowed to. And best of luck to them, competing against stores who WILL publish their prices up front, searchably, on the internet.

  • As an E-Bay seller, I cannot imagine under any circumstance how it would hurt my auction to be seen by MORE people than it would otherwise. If you go to any trouble at all to make your auction look good, you don't care if you compete with 100 or ten thousand other auctions selling the same thing...

    I really think E-Bay is stupid to push the searchers to smaller more widespread searches, it's going to make a lot more traffic than if there were just a few really large auction search sites.
  • Actually i think a better analagy would be letting actual robots into your store. I dont know about you but i wouldnt want big 500 kilo robots stomping around, their red robotic eyes clicking and whirring, scaring the customers, ruining the carpet.

    No sir, call me robotist but i would put a big sign up saying 'no robots' right next to where it says 'no dogs' and 'no skateboarding'.
  • Here's an interesting twist on this. You have a web page with copyrighted material. You've got a "robots.txt" which controls access to robots and says not to scan the page. If a robot circumvents this access control device (either by not reading it or by ignoring it), is this a DMCA violation?
  • The legality of a "semi transparent layer" is questionable. Some time ago, I searched for pages linking to my web page, out of curiosity. I was horrified to see one company (whose name currently escapes me) devote a page of their site to my site, with advertisements and linkage to what they thought were "related" sites, but were really just URL's of their business partners. They did this for untold thousands of sites, most likely just leeched from places like AltaVista and Yahoo!.

    Oh, and by the way, they _did_ link to my site, but it appeared in a miniscule JavaScript pop-up window. I hope they got sued out of existence.

  • i worked at best buy a few years ago for a while (as a technician, whoo-hoo $7.20/hr!) and this practice is very common and not at all looked down upon. it's also common to grab the other stores' weekly magazine ads (mini-catalogues almost, you know the ones) and adjust the prices for the week to match (if needed)..

    this is completely ridiculous and should be shot down, it's another example of would-be monopolists trying to manipulate the law to insure they have no competition.

    to the person who said 'allow e-bay to win, the smarter companies will be open,' this is possible, but look how long it is taking for linux to surplant M$,.. well-known, familiar brands, products, services stick around because most people don't want to do spend the effort to investigate something new, and they feel safe with what they know (even if they are shown/told how evil and bad it is.)

    anyway, whatever,... rant off.
  • It will be the dominant or best known players in these games who want to block the meta-searcher/meta-browser. If there are a lot of small players, customers will turn to a meta-search to find results if there is one that does a good job of aggregating the data. The small players win by being found through the meta-search. If eBay chooses to be outside a meta-search, but the meta-search still covers more than eBay, then customers will probably move away from eBay to the meta-searcher. If ebay is bigger, then customers will go there rather than the meata-search.

    If sites that do not want to be meta-listed in some way can opt out, then it is possible that market forces will reward or punish them according to the quality of the service they provide in comparison to the cloud of meta-listed sites rather than just any individual site.

  • I recall a recent case where a company (sorry, I'm forgetting the parties involved) was sued for "deep linking" into another's site thus bypassing the front page with ads. The courts as I recall ruled that deep liking was legal.

    I've been thinking what the differences are between Deep Linking and Metabrowsing. One difference I can come up with offhand is with deep linking and metabrowsing would be dynamic content. If web pages are based on an inventory which and are generated throgh CGI scripts, then and external use of that program might be considred more tresspassing than a hard coded web page. In the law suit cases (and regarding bots) you actually need the other server to generate the information and retrieve the content to be displayed on the web page as opposed to data they freely post.

    It's a superficial difference as both require use of the server, but I'm working on figuring this out, and cof course I could be wrong on just about everything. Any ideas?

    Being with you, it's just one epiphany after another
  • and what is Metcalf's Law of networks?
  • Are you referring to every single bleepin Special Interest Group USENET group, regardless of niche topic being littered with links to relevant Ebay auctions?

    I can't go into without seeing 99% of the postings begin with FA: ENDS IN 3 HOURS!
  • ok, I buy that analogy (erm, or is just a rebadged analogy from somewhere else?).

    What is the legality of that, anyway? I know AMG modify mercs, but they never let people think they are buying an AMG (even when they modify it so much it has to be recertified as roadworthy).

    I am allowed to slap any logo I want to on a car, but can I sell it w/o disclosing the fact that it was only a rebadged beemer? I think so.

    But to keep up the analogy accurate, the beemer would have to be free, and BMW make their money by the purchaser entering the showroom.

    If I go into the showroom and snag a bunch of cars to rebadge, sure, I am depriving them of income. So their response is just to stop admitting me. They have that right.

    It should be easy enough for e-bay to recognise and ignore these robots, w/o needing to drag the courts into it. The courts only work in one justisticion, which is lucridously (and lucratively) easy to work around in this case.
  • reference, please?

    'cause that makes no sense
  • I note that ebay hasn't posted a file.

    Apropos of nothing, but interesting nonetheless.

    Since robots.txt expresses the site's intent regarding robotic processing of the site's content, perhaps J. Random Friend of the Court should bring this up with the judge.

    Bidder's Edge might bring it up also, if it must defend against claims for damages from their previous work.

    I agree completely that, if the courts DO end up creating/recognizing some kind of proprietary right against robotic extraction of site content, assertion of that right should require posting of a standardized, robot-readable "no tresspassing" sign, and the assumption in the absence of the sign should be that the intent was not to assert such a right.
  • It does have one -

    And (as another poster pointed out) others on and

    Guess I should have looked more deeply. Thanks for the correction.
  • Forget all these department store analogies.

    The issue is reselling. By gathering up eBay's content, and manipulating it to display on your own site, you are in violation of copyright.

    If on the other hand, you simply "wrap" ebay's content with your own (i.e put ebay in a frame under your own site) that shouldn't apply, (a la public domain).

    This seems to make the issue seem a lot more like the iCraveTV controvery. For those that don't remember, iCraveTV was re-broadcasting TV channels. Their argument was that the signals were PD, and they were not being changed.

    It seems that these forms of meta-browsing would be analogous of re-broadcasting an edited TV signal (remove ads etc.)

    Under this light, it doesn't seem quite like "Free advertising for eBay" anymore.
  • > The judge didn't buy eBay's argument that
    > Bidder's Edge was guilty of trademark
    > infringement. He instead focused on the claim
    > that Bidder's Edge's searches essentially
    > constituted a form of trespassing on eBay's
    > property.

    I dont quite understand how searching a site (even if through a web crawler) could be trespassing... A site (I *thought*) was put up as public information (unless the author made arrangements to protect that information).

    Anyone care to enlighten me?
  • Ebay wants their property to be a site, not a clearinghouse for information for their competitors. Ebay doesn't just make money by listing sales, but by retaining eyeballs in their system. If someone is able to data-mine their site and have all of their listings in another system, then they are losing half of their business model. Ebay doesn't want to be that clearinghouse of information. They want their listings to be their alone, and to be the only ones that can mine their data.

  • I don't think that's entirely accurate either. After all, said customer would still have to buy those products from your competitor... which sounds to me like free advertising for your competitor.

  • I don't see the real big problem here. I mean, if eBay, etc want to stop their site from being indexed in price indexes (which is what I assume this is all about), it seems to me that they're only hurting themselves... the only motive for retail sites to try and block this metabrowsing stuff is if they have a substantial markup on merchandise that smaller ma-and-pop type can easily beat and they don't want the public to know. They only want Joe Blow to know *their* prices and *their* sales.

    Yes, it's fair to say that this doesn't give the average use quite as much freedom, but I blame that partly on the ignorance of said average user.

    I, for one, believe that voluntary price listing sites (ie Pricewatch) will always be around and will always be the best deal for the consumer. Why? Well because the companies that participate are doing so because they *want* the world to know their prices and aren't afraid to challenge each other. I believe it's called capitalism .

    Take me, for example. I recently built a computer that cost me a total of around $3500. Nearly every compontent was bought from a retailer that advertised their products on pricewatch. I would estimate that if I had gone the more "traditional" route and done my own hunt-and-search for retail prices I would have only covered a tiny fraction of the kind of sites listed on pricewatch and thus it's very feasible that I could have paid in excess of $5000 total for the complete system. Most of the components I bought through pricewatch listees cost around 50%-75% of the recommended retail price, which is what most retail stores adhere to.

    This may sound like some kind of blatant Pricewatch plug, so you're free to flame just go ahead and do your research before you do. Hell, even compare pricewatch to some other sites, maybe you could educate me. I'm just stating my experience with e-commerce thus far.
  • I spent over 20years in the grocery business. It is common practice to check the prices of your competitors. You walk into there store and check a few key prices and then put up comparisons in your own store.

    Consumer advocates do the same thing in "real-world walk-in" retail establishments. They walk in and explore the *public* areas of the store. COULD the owners kick these people out? sure they could. In fact I was asked to leave one day while checking prices. Kinda stupid thing to do though don't ya think...

    A retail outlet allows public access. it's the nature of the business. I'm sure it would be difficult for Safeway or Alertsons, etc to go to court and make a case for suing the competitors for trespass when they allow access to the general public.

    IMHO when you put up an e-commerce site, you're opening up a retail outlet with a public area for shopping. The reason e-commerce is whinning is because it's just simply easier and more efficient to compare prices with a computer. I say boo-hoo, and please don't clog the courts with this kind of BS.
  • > But what happens if I am keeping an eye on an
    > specific item and bookmark it so I can jump
    > straight to it? huh?

    That case could be handled as a special case. No Referer is different from a referer to another host outside of ebay.

    Since most clients arn't hacked to allow people to forge referers, that would effectivly make the service useless.

    > there are robots.txt files but they are being
    > ignored,

    As was pointed out numerous times, there are robots.txt, they do NOT stop indexing of most of the site. The main site has no robots.txt (I checked myself even). ALL they stop is indexing of certain dirs.

    Secondly...if they are acting bad...then ban their robot. Redirect anything comming from its IP into lower elbonia. If a robot is acting poorly...then block it. Simple as that.

    > which in all fairness is not right.

    I only partially agree. Look, you either make available for public consumption, or you don't. You either make it world veiwable, or you don't.

    It is a technical impossibility to block "robots" and not users, since the two are the same as far as the protocol is concerned. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

    I look at robots.txt as a nice way to steer robots away from cgis and things that are not condusive to robotic checking. (afterall CGIs and stuff are useless to index usually).

    I look at it as a curtesy to the people running the robot to tell them what they should avoid, rather than as a set of rules for where I don't want them to go (because thats impossible to enforce anyway).

    Bottom line: If you don't want them to go there, you can stop them. You can't stop them AND allow the public at large to browse freely and without authentication. (like logins)

    Seriously, all these people are doing is making it easier for ebay customers and the customers of other sites to shop and auction.
  • > Frankly I agree that if eBay has spent time and
    > money creating a world class brand, it is wrong
    > for anyone who can write a Perl script to be
    > able to steal their customers especially when
    > some of these are paying customers

    Well why?

    IF ebay stuff gets listed on this, then people who bid on it are STILL bidding through ebay and its sellers are STILL profitting.

    ALL this is doing is listing them alongside other auctions and stuff. It lets consumers comparison shop a little more between ebay and other sites.

    It would be like I sent people out to a buch of stores in the area and compiled all their prices and made a listin gfor people so they could goto the store with the lowest price.

    If ebay doesn't like it...why not stop it? Can't they figure out how to make a robots.txt? Then if the robots.txt isn't obeyed, just see where the indexer is comming from and block it at the boarder router...its not that hard.

    Better yet...redirect all pages that have someone outside as a referer. Its not like they are powerless to stop it and they need the courts to help them. Either they just want to be pricks about it, or they are incompetent at running their own systems.

  • If you allow the public free access to your property, it essencially becomes public domain

    No. You are completely wrong, and this muddle-headed thinking amongst geeks is what gives Slashdot a bad name. I can go to a library and read a book. I can't however copy out that same book, and claim it as my own work. I can't even copy it out, put the original author's name on the front, and open my own lending library with it. Please go and learn something about copyright before pontificating about it (and the moderators shoudl be more careful too).

    In practice, an awful lot of what you describe has gone on in the past. This is "Posession is the law", applied to IP rights. In law though, we can't do this. As money gets more and more interested in the Web, we'll find that this gets stamped upon.

  • "I say that unless you use HTTP authentication or another form of validation.. anything you put on a webpage is public-accessible, copyright be damned. It is simply an unreasonable burden to ask otherwise."

    I disagree. You can put stuff on a web page, and still maintain effective copyright.

    Copyright law is about who maintains distribution rights to a piece of IP. If you put an essay or whatever on your website, and have copyright, all you are effectively saying is that 'here, I'm distributing this for no charge, have a copy'. Which is, as you say, anything you put on a webpage is publicly accessible. Duh!

    As a consumer of the IP, you are allowed to make as many copies of the material you want (in your disk cache, mem cache, etc...) provided you do not distribute them to others.

    However, this does _not_ mean that anyone else can redistribute your work, as you are the only person who can distribute it, being the copyright holder. Hence linking to any page on the web should be fine, as you're telling people where publically accessible information is, and they're getting a copy from the originating server, as per the copyright holders wishes. But copying a page on to your site and having it open to the public is not legal, as you are distribuiting material that you have no right to, which would seem logical to me. I can't put New York Times articles on my site as I am not allowed to redistribute them. And I'm certainly not allowed to modify them and redistribute them (like changing the byline to read me :)

    It would leave caching search engines in trouble, but that's what robots.txt is for.

    The other thing, which it is important to note, is that although copyright does protect IP, it does not protect _facts_. So a robot that crawls sites (such as auction sites), _even if it ignores robots.txt_ should be allowed, under existing copyright law, to 'read' the sites, distill whatever facts it wants (such as item prices) from those pages and generate new copyright protected pages with those facts on.

    Seems to me that existing copyright law works fine to me (although IANAL) if its interpreted as its spirit was intended.

    Copyright is good.
  • If things like this get upheld, I think the future of auction searches will be pushed down to the client level.

    That's an insightful remark. It makes you think about the political, legal, and social implications of client vs server side processing.

    We hear a lot of talk about "agents", but most of the turn out to be some kind of advertising system. But an agent that really worked for you (and probably came as part of a product you paid for) could be useful.

    Today, we're seeing things done on the server that ought to be on the client because it's so easy to deploy a product as a web page. For example, shopping carts ought to be local, not on the web site. Clicking on "add to cart" should put the info in a cart on the client, independent of what site you're shopping from. A background task could comparison shop for better prices while you continue to select items. Payment should interact with your home bookkeeping system, with a digitally signed transaction for a fixed number of dollars, not a raw credit card number, going to the merchant site. It's probably too late for this to be the standard for B2C e-commerce, but B2B e-commerce has to work that way so accounting will work.

    Amusing thought: imagine a feature for Gnutilla that found the cheapest price on any music product, using a search job efficiently distributed across all users. (It might also watch for price-fixing patterns on CD prices and report them to the FTC, just to annoy the RIAA).

  • the banner impressions. Many online stores depend on revenue from banners and TroubleClick data to keep their overhead down.
    ( \
  • What you talk about takes time. You don't really have people covering a large area, and the information is not immediately accessible to everyone. On the other hand, I could very easily see someone making a rather large price-comparison resource, that could be global, and would be accessible to anyone with a web browser.

    I think metabrowsing for the lowest price can be nothing but good to the consumer, but I can easily see businesses not liking the liquidity of the market. I could also see businesses going.. well.. out of business from instant price comparisons of everyone, everywhere. There are businesses that stay alive because of their geography, and I can see them being real vulnerable.

    On a completely unrelated point; companies forcing search engines to pay to index their sites? Are you serious? "Yes, that's right, unless you pay us X dollars, we're going to make ourselves less visible to the customers that pay us." I think blocking metabrowsing is bad, true, but honestly, it's not the end of the world.

  • You can go to the mall or a store that's entirely open to the public, and the owners are still within thier rights to kick you out.

    If you stay at a store for three or four hours run around, bother the salesmen, knock over displays (and most importantly) with no intention of buying anything, you will be asked to leave. Once that's been done you are trespassing.

    A buddy of mine started watching Austin Powers at the video store, almost saw the whole thing, but after an hour and fifteen minutes of doing nothing but look at the monitor with no intention of spending money, he was asked to leave.

    He left, he didn't start yelling about how it was a public place or 'Why do you show movies if you don't want people watching them?'

  • The judge rightfully decreed that eBay's servers are private property, and thus have the right to deny people access at will. The situation is comparable to a company sending people into a shopping mall to gather detailed information about what's sold there, and the mall owners objecting and ordering them off the property. Likewise, eBay has the right to eject people who are determined to be abusing browsing & shopping privliges.

  • Right, which is fine.. that is the stores internal policy, again the comparison can be made to robots.txt. The big difference here is that Walmart could not charge me under the law. In fact, it is probably not legal for them to confiscate my property.

    Of course, the standard IANAL applies here :-)
  • >> IE: a department store, cannot pick out a specific individuals and claim they are trespassing while allowing the rest of the public free access.

    Bullshit. The "bricks and mortar" part of the operation I work for has a "hall of shame" - pictures of about 80 people who have been banned from the store for shoplifting or other disruptive activity. If someone comes in and breaks the law we have every right to tell them not to come back.

    As far as I'm concerned, these people were first politely asked to discontinue their activities. When they did not comply, thats when Ebay got tough with them.

  • >> I have serious doubt that most companies will want to exclude themselves from the only catalogs of the web that make any sense of it.

    You are absolutely correct. Its only companies that are trying to monopolize the market they are in that fear the search engines. Ebay would greatly prefer that you never hear about any other auction company. However, for a small site trying to get off the ground, a popular comparison site is a great boon.

    Everyone talks about rulings such as this one as being against the spirit of the internet - that it should be linked freely. I argue that companies that try to monopolize their particular segment are also against that spirit. The internet should have 1000 bookstores, auction companies, ticket agents etc. Otherwise we'll end up with a tasteless monocorporate Big Brother of an internet with Microsoft controlling everything.

  • The link to this article says "controversy", but the article itself holds that this ruling will be bad for consumers. I'm not so sure. If a business is willing to spend the money on coders, servers, reviewers, etc to design a really good system to help you find what you need, it could be driven out of business when everyone uses it's search and review functions to find out what they want, and then go to to a crawler or shopbot to actually buy the good or service. And notice that by saying that crawling a site is trespassing, sites can decide who to "invite" in, including search engines. On the whole it seems like a good ruling for now. It can, and will be, revisited anyway.
  • I don't think the loss of sites offering meta-browsing (for example, culling stories from a variety of newspapers)is necessarily a big deal. It's always possible to create that capability at the client end browser (although it's possible to screw even that up as well: the lamebrains in Redmond made IE pay attention to robots.txt when crawling a site, which makes it useless for creating personal collections, IMO.) The real loss will be to the generation of databases of data that would be too time-consuming or difficult for an individual to do. Search engines like Google could (theoretically) be barred from sites that didn't want them intruding (although, that capability would seemingly be available already in robots.txt - just set it to "don't index anything.")

    Here's a random, probably impractical, thought: the search engines could agree on what indexing policy ecommerce sites should allow, and boycott those that won't agree. The boycott could take the form of putting a normally-off checkbox next to the search button, saying "check this if you also want to search for sites run by evil corporate bastards." Just a fantasy :-)
  • I guess my point here is where is the transition to illegality?

    If I were EBay's attorney, I'd argue that you were infringing EBay's copyright when you let your friends access your compilation of EBay's information. Interestingly, the article didn't list this as one of the causes of action in the lawsuit. Instead, EBay contended trademark infringement. And even that didn't fly - instead, the judge found some oddball theory of trespass. Of the 3, the last one is shakiest, IMO. Guess I just don't have a legal mind ...
  • It's not really stealing their customers to make info available about what's being sold. Customers still must go to EBay in order to buy. How is spidering EBay auctions different from strolling through your supermarket aisle, noting the prices, and then posting them to a web page?
  • And that, good people, will directly affect anyone who uses the Internet to shop for the lowest available prices. (And if a Web site didn't offer the least expensive book, video or widget, you can bet your bippy it won't want to participate in a price comparison service.)

    So what's the problem?

  • I agree 100% with robots.txt and that all spiders should obey it...

    But to me, metabrowsing and spidering for search engines are very very different.

    Search Engines although do spider a site only do it once every few months if that and direct the user to your page to get your content. This is a plus for you.

    Now if a metabrowser spiders your site a few times a day, you are taking bandwidth and processor hits multiple times.. and your content is being used out of context on another site, where they get the use of your content and the viewer and you get squat..

    As I said.. I agree with using robots.txt, but you should be able (as you can) to bar certain unwanted spiders from your site and your content..

    btw. what is ?? (taken to court by MySimon) Their main page is password protected...

  • Is there a law against this? If WalMart wants to sell pencils for $20, shouldn't it be allowed to?

    If WalMart wants to sell pencils for $20, that is their right, but the existing situation is more akin to WalMart suing someone for telling a third party about WalMart's terrible deal on pencils.

  • actually, department stores can and do decide which specific individuals are to be treated as trespassers. these individuals may include, but are not limited to: people taking photos, people eating or drinking in violation of posted signs, people behaving in ways which disturb other customers, people who are suspected of shoplifting, and natalie portman fanatics on a rampage.

    the only way the department store will be "in trouble" is if they are in violation of either common sense or local/state/federal discrimination laws. i agree with you, however, that ebay has ways of making their case a lot more secure. for starters, they could deny access from IP addresses which appear to be browsing large numbers of unrelated auctions and/or have been verified as the addresses of those who are reusing auction info for Nefarious Purposes.

    frankly, i think all of these lawsuits are just a way to get cheap advertising that doesn't look like advertising. it keeps the company's or band's moniker in the public eye/ear just a little bit longer at way less cost than airtime. and it doesn't look like an ad, which means that the unwitting consumer is more likely NOT to gloss it over.
  • Actually people do this all the time, they are usually called brokers or consultants. A broker will usually buy the product from you directly, where as a consultant usually sends the customer directly to you, just like a search engine.
  • yea, the article can >:D
  • I wrote my own robot to crawl ebay and collect data for personal use? Does that make my tool illegal?
  • Actually, shouldn't you *really* put a clause in your EULA that says that your user-agent must properly identify what your browser is... and then kick out the robots?

    Actually, I like that slashdot does the slashdot.xml - don't fight 'em, join 'em! Of course, if you're not making a profit like *cough* *cough* priceline *cough* ebay *cough*, then you're going to want to get all the ad eyeballs you can.

    *Ahem*. Time to take that cough medication.

  • I wonder if eBay is also suing AuctionWatch []?

    Auctionwatch compiles information from eBay, Yahoo, and some other ones I think.
  • So the search engines get moved offshore, out of reach of meddling government.

    More power to us, less to them.
  • Why do companies resort to the law courts the minute a challenge to their business plan appears?

    In the old days, you cut your price, bettered your service or advertised more...

    What next? Ford sueing GM because the new GM Spankit targets the Ford Flubber's market?
  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:09AM (#924993)
    Bah, they already have a solution to this controversy: meta-suing - suing the people who sued you.

    More seriously .. I say if you put a service on the internet, it is world-accessible. There is no way anyone can realistically be expected to see every legal mumbo-jumbo on each and every page they surf. It is an unreasonable burden to place on the viewer as there is no way of determining the validity of the "contract" (you don't even know what country it's in!).

    I say that unless you use HTTP authentication or another form of validation.. anything you put on a webpage is public-accessible, copyright be damned. It is simply an unreasonable burden to ask otherwise.

  • by ethereal ( 13958 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:42AM (#924994) Journal
    If Ebay doesnt want spiders scanning them, aren't they in their right to take legal action?

    If Ebay doesn't want to send traffic to a particular client, they are welcome to blackhole that client. robots.txt is a good convention and I would be unhappy if someone didn't follow it on my site, but still the ultimate responsibility for providing the content lies with the server. I don't see how you can call it copyright infringement if your server provides the information to anyone who asks for it. You were giving it away; they didn't steal it.

    Republishing that information might be a little iffier; it depends on whether the collection of information as republished is significantly different. You can't copyright a collection of facts (IIRC) but you can copyright the organization/presentation of those facts.

  • Doesn't Apple's Sherlock 2 program do basically the same thing? It can give you a listing of any eBay auction sorted by whatever you want in Apple's own little interface. I assume they get this by crawling eBay's site, and there arn't any of eBay's adds displayed while you're doing it.

    If this fails the appeal, would Apple have to remove this feature as well?

    I doubt they would want to do that. Maybe some big money muscle could turn this thing around easier.
  • by AtariDatacenter ( 31657 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:39AM (#924996)
    I personally use a metabrowsing robot [] to search eBay to see if the things *I* want are on there. Twice a day, the robot goes out (during off-peak times), does searches that I would normally have to do on eBay by hand, and then tells me the number of hits. Handy as hell when you've got a large number of different items you want to track.

    But, if the Bidder's Edge metabrowsing is held illegal, then using a personal robot agent to go out and collect and summarize information is illegal. This will be an even greater loss to all of us in the future.

  • by Spasemunki ( 63473 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:12AM (#924997) Homepage
    That's what it seems like to me; the web is inherantly non-hierarchical. Unless they put security in front of something and block retrieving their data (like a web mailbox) than it really doesn't seem logical that they should declare publicly available documents off-limit to certain types of lookers. I'd like to know by what piece of logic they say spiders are tresspassing, and people who browser but don't buy aren't.

    "Sweet creeping zombie Jesus!"
  • by kootch ( 81702 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:14AM (#924998) Homepage

    we always seem to be saying that if you don't like something, do something about it (and suing is not considering doing something about it).

    the infrastructure and technology are in place to actually fix most problems or dispute most problems such as these.

    if a site does not want to be linked, then I think they have a right, through the use of robot.txt, to prevent crawling of their site. but at the same time, I think that unrestricted linking is necessary.

    the fact is that the web grows and sites prosper from being open. allowing others to link to their site increases their brandname and draws more traffic to their products. but if they choose to be a standalone entity, that is also their choice.

    if I remember correctly, there was a great article a while back on how the internet was growing in a bowtie like shape. also, most internet developers and marketers recognize the fact that being open leads to more users and longer amount of time. trapping users in your site doesn't amount to more time, it leads to more people leaving.

    let ebay win this battle. the smarter companies will continue to be open.
  • by webword ( 82711 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:16AM (#924999) Homepage
    Courts don't understand Metcalf's Law of networks. Most people don't get it. They don't understand how eBay's actions harm the entire web. It is sad actually.

    John S. Rhodes Usability Vortal []
  • by frankie ( 91710 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @08:40AM (#925000) Journal
    It is definitely not stupid for eBay to block outside spiders. Here's an example that shows why.

    I want to upgrade a 3 year old tower that requires very non-standard RAM. Ordering direct from a vendor [] or manufacturer [] would cost about $200. Searches on meta-store engines [] didn't do much better. When I checked most auction sites [] and meta-auction engines [], I got zero hits. The sellers just aren't there.

    But at eBay, I find a half-dozen new listings of them every goddam week, selling around $130. All of the other sites put together can't touch eBay's volume of sellers.

    So what would eBay have to gain from allowing meta engines to spider them? Nothing! They dominate the auction market. If you really want to find something at the lowest price, you have to include eBay in your search. And if you already have to go to eBay, why bother with the meta engines or the other smaller auction sites at all?

    Simple ruthless competition. Remind you of any monopoly that we know?
  • by JordoCrouse ( 178999 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @07:31AM (#925001) Homepage Journal
    I believe that most stores still have an unoffical policy of "running out" price checkers. I have heard (but I have not seen) that some price checkers go complete James Bond with spy cameras and disguises and everything to avoid being ousted.

    "The man with the golden price gun"??
    "Live and let me have 10% off the competitors"?
    "For your sale prices only"?
    "In Sam Walton's secret service"?

    (Ok, thats probably enough of that).

    But anyway, that sounds like a damn cool job to me!!!
  • The original article is guilty of scaremongering.
    The thrust of the order -- if upheld by a higher court -- will be to provide legal cover to every e-commerce site with a mind to block out price comparison sites or shop bots attempting to access its pages.
    So what's the big deal? If online shop A refused to let shop-bot B see its prices, then A's products will simply not be listed on site B. People who go there for price comparisons will never choose to buy from A since it won't even be listed. Who's the loser here?

    Same thing later in the article:

    Imagine a future in which certain Web sites, backed by the power of the law, can control which services can search them. It's hardly beyond the pale to conceive of a situation where the big Web sites would first demand payments from search engines before they allow their pages to wind up on any index.
    So some sites might now play? WHO CARES?! They're the ones who won't get referrals from AlataVista and co. For the rest of us, there's plenty of other content to be had.

    The simple fact is that comparison bots, search engines and the like are providing a free service to the commerce sites, in the form of customer referrals. If some sites want to cut off their own noses, then let 'em.


  • by patreides ( 210724 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:23AM (#925003)
    Although not much sense. How can you trespass into a server that accepts anonymous connections via port 80 anyway? I agree there is some kind of claim here, but ebay should have had a harder time backing it up in the courtroom than calling it trespassing.

    And do the implications of this apply only to competing sites that want to outdo each other (since they're more likely to go to court), or also to more intermediate sites like cnet?

    Of course these companies could just hire some interns, monkeys, high school community service volunteers, etc. to go to a bunch of sites, find out the prices, and update the site every few hours or days.
  • by Patricia M. Stanton ( 212332 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:19AM (#925004)
    I'm well aware the consistent Slashdot stance against big business or corporations of any kind, but at the risk of flames, I must say I agree with Ebay et al.

    If I remember it correctly, most large websites had a .txt file that they would post on their servers and these .txt files would determine whether or not a spider bot was allowed to scan and access files on the site. Perhaps a case can be made if there were no such .txt, but I'm definitely sure that a large site like Ebay would have one, making it a clear case of copyright violation. Personally, this Bidders Edge site reminds me of the napster site: it bases its business distributing the copyrighted works of other established firms without permission.

    I realize that freedom is important, but should the internet be allowed to kill courtesy of any sorts? If Ebay doesnt want spiders scanning them, aren't they in their right to take legal action? After all, Ebay isn't a faceless corporation: big surprise, it is made up of people like you and me... only these people worked their way to a profitable business. Asking for a little professionalism isnt trying to control the market, its just protecting one's rights.

    Freedom of speech is important, yes, but remember that freedom can be revoked when it threatens and infringes on the rights of others.
  • eBay is being stupid. They want to sell a service. So why are they shutting down people who sell their service?

    Pretend that I am a vacuum cleaner salesman. Also pretend that Linus Torvalds is telling his friends that they can buy vacuum cleaners from me. He doesn't have my permission to tell his friends.

    What's rational:

    1) Let Linus alone, because his friends are buying my vacuum cleaners


    2) Sue the hell out of Linus, because he's passing out stacks of MY BUSINESS CARDS THAT I SPENT A LONG TIME DESIGNING DAMMIT!

    As I said, eBay is being stupid.
  • by arodrig6 ( 22052 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:47AM (#925006) Homepage
    Imagine a future in which certain Web sites, backed by the power of the law, can control which services can search them.

    It exists today - its called hosts.deny.

    NO ONE has a right to search your website. If you make it accessible then they can, but every server admin has the right to arbitrarily deny connections. If I want I can stopper everything from * or * or even *.uk. We don't need a law to enforce this, it exists at present.

  • If things like this get upheld, I think the future of auction searches will be pushed down to the client level - imagine an applet doing the search, or something as simple as many frames opening up with searches from each auction site. All of those come from the client so there could be no claims of the server tresspassing...

    You could even develop a simple standalone app that had plugins for various sites you wanted to do price searches on, and let the users download the plugins. The great part (and this is where the money comes in) is that if it became popular to use, you could actually blackmail the various auction sites into paying you to cache some search results on your own server that the plugins would go to first, so they get less traffic!

    Then you're right back where we are now, but E-Bay is paying you for the same searches they are currently trying to stop.
  • by akey ( 29718 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:24AM (#925008)
    I say that unless you use HTTP authentication or another form of validation.. anything you put on a webpage is public-accessible, copyright be damned. It is simply an unreasonable burden to ask otherwise.

    Absolutely agree. HTML is designed for linking, and in general, if you've placed something up without placing a robots.txt in the same directory, it should be fair game for indexing.

    Also, technical solutions already exist, and if used properly are more effective and less costly than litigation. Simply require that there be a valid "Referrer:" header before serving up the information -- sure, the indexer can easily provide a fake header, but anyone who tries to follow the link from an outside site is simply SOL. It's sufficient to serve a static page stating that those links will be accessible only from within the site.

    Of course, the lawyers won't like any solution that cuts them out of the picture.

  • by BinxBolling ( 121740 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @08:08AM (#925009)
    So what's the big deal? If online shop A refused to let shop-bot B see its prices, then A's products will simply not be listed on site B. People who go there for price comparisons will never choose to buy from A since it won't even be listed. Who's the loser here?

    Think long term, from eBay's perspective. Right now, they're the best known internet auction site, by a wide margin. If someone wants to buy or sell via an auction mechanism, there's a good chance they'll go to eBay.

    But what happens if comparison sites like Bidder's Edge become popular? Then people go to Bidder's Edge first when they're looking to buy something, dramatically increasing the likelihood that they'll end up somewhere other than eBay - on a comparison shopping site, eBay won't stand out nearly so much as it does in, say, popular media. So yeah, while having their auctions listed on Bidder's Edge may provide eBay with some short-term benefit, in the long term, it diminishes the value of eBay's name recognition.

    So what eBay wants to do is to kill sites like Bidder's Edge before they get off the ground. How to do that? By keeping their own listings out of Bidder's Edge. Since eBay is by far the biggest and best-known online auction house, being unable to list eBay acutions dramatically decreases the usefulness of Bidder's Edge. So people won't go there, and the site never develops a following.

  • by dltallan ( 184197 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @09:30AM (#925010)
    slycer wrote: "But the last time I checked, it was fully legal to shop around for the best price. In fact, AFAIK it is legal to pay someone to shop for the best price for you. And lastly, if I was inclined to take notes on prices in different stores and make them publicly available, could I be charged?"

    It's also legal for stores to refuse entry to people. If the stores don't want to be price checked, and they know that a particular person is a price checker, they can refuse that person entry into the store. And if that person enters after being told that he/she was not welcome, they can charge him/her with tresspassing. That's the parallel the judge has made. eBay told a specific individual (a corporate entity in this case) that they were not welcome on eBay's property (the computers). They entered anyway and were charged with tresspassing.

    This reminds me of a saying common in the early days of the [Use]Net, "Freedom of the press belongs to them as owns one". It was all about the rights of systems administrators and the owners of networked computers to control absolutely the use that was made of their processors and storage space. No one has a right, the philosophy held, to propogation of their articles. It was a privilege and a favour extended by systems administrators, who would devote some of their valuable processor time and storage space to the public good by propogating the articles. And if they said "no" to you or to your article: tough beans, it's their computer.

    It seems to me that eBay is making the same sort of argument. People don't have a "right", they say, to use the servers that belong to eBay. It is a privilege that they make generally available and can revoke at will. If you disagree with eBay, you are in the position of saying that at some point privately owned computers become "public property" in that the owners do not have final say over what they are used for and how. Where is the line drawn?

    It also reminds me of the legal controversy over "deep linking", with some companies (for example, Ticketmaster, named in the article) protesting those who would link deep into their site, rather than to their home page. This would allow those following the link to bypass all of the upper level ads and get right to the material they wanted. They claimed that these links were a violation of their property rights, too.

    Myself, I'd draw the line somewhere betwen the two positions. Much as I support the free flow of information around the Internet, I find myself forced to agree with eBay that their computers belong to them and they should be allowed to refuse entry to whomsoever they want. I don't buy the argument that once something is available on the Internet it must be available to everybody. I think Exranets and password protected sites are OK.

    On the other hand, I'd disagree with Ticketmaster. They don't have the right to control the links on someone else's pages on someone else's server. That's someone else's property.

    YMMV, of course.

  • by scribblej ( 195445 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @07:07AM (#925011)
    Okay, but your department store analogy doesn't quite hold up. A better way to put it (in this case, not inthe case of search engines) would be if you ran a department store, and your competitor from across the street sent over a crew of guys with cameras to document everything you've got in the store, which they then publish as products being available in their own catalog.

    I'd call that unacceptable business practice.

  • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:18AM (#925012)
    OK, suppose I write an auction-page spider for my computer that watches all the different auction sites I pay attention to. It searches for a good price on, say, CPUs. All I have done is automate my clicking through all the little links. Is that illegal? If so, how is it different thatn me clicking the links? I see the ads, but there's junkbuster, etc.

    OK, now I give the program to my friends, because they like it. What's changed? Now I distribute it free off my web page. Is it still OK? What about the fact that I get ad revenue on my page from the people downloading it? What if I had just sold it to my friends to begin with (only a few people...maybe 5 or 10)? So now what if I convert it to a web search engine that people can use to freely search auction sites? Now I'm getting more add revenue, but so what? What if I sell the program or the service?

    I guess my point here is where is the transition to illegality? In trdaitional trespassing law, it is when I step onto the property without permission. But ebay gave me permission to use the site. Where did I lose it? (If we allow that I did lose it when I began running a large commercial web site...)

  • by trance9 ( 10504 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:09AM (#925013) Homepage Journal
    You guys might not like this, but I think the reasonable answer is that "robots.txt" should be obeyed. robots.txt is the file you can put on your website telling spiders which areas they should or should not access.

    If you put up a robots.txt that forbids spidering your site, and someone spiders it, I think you are well within your rights to claim that that amounts to copyright infringement: a use of your work which you did not authorize (not even implicitly).

    But you're a hypocrit and should get no help from the courts, in my opinion, if you allow search engines into your sites (open robots.txt) but you somehow claim your competitor is infringing your copyright when they index you with a metabrowser.

    If you don't want to be metabrowsed then you ought to accept that you can't be spidered by search engines either--all or nothing, you ought not to pick and choose who can or cannot spider you.
  • by Ralph Wiggam ( 22354 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:38AM (#925014) Homepage
    I used to work at an Office Depot that was about a block away from an Office Max. There wasn't anything secret about our secret shoppers. The Office Max people would wave at us when we wrote down their prices and we would say "hi" when they came to our place. It's a good comparison but I think it's a little off. Ebay wasn't pissed that they had high prices, they don't even set the prices of the items sold there. They just didn't want to share the market with anyone. If you wanted to look up a web auction, they wanted you to go to, and Ebay only. Bidder's Edge was allowing people to find auction sites they had never heard of, and Ebay (with it's huge mindshare) didn't like it.

  • by FascDot Killed My Pr ( 24021 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:14AM (#925015)
    "The judge didn't buy eBay's argument that Bidder's Edge was guilty of trademark infringement. He instead focused on the claim that Bidder's Edge's searches essentially constituted a form of trespassing on eBay's property. "

    And the funny part is, if I shot this judge, *I* would go to jail.

    Has he never heard of "secret shoppers"? These are people that go into a store pretending to shop but instead write down prices. Then they go back to the original store and advice pricing policy. How is that different?

    Better yet, how about I visit Office Max, Office Depot, etc and write down their prices for Palm Pilots. Then I compile all this info and put it on a website. Tresspass? You moron!
  • by Carnage4Life ( 106069 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:28AM (#925016) Homepage Journal
    Here's eBay's robot.txt

    Available at [] and []

    It seems they disallow all indexing of any sort on their search site but there is no robots.txt for the main site [] or on the eBay pages sites [].

    Frankly I agree that if eBay has spent time and money creating a world class brand, it is wrong for anyone who can write a Perl script to be able to steal their customers especially when some of these are paying customers (people pay eBay to have their auctions highlighted and so on).

  • by slycer ( 161341 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:13AM (#925017) Homepage
    The article mentions that the courts are trying to force "old world rules" onto the internet, and that is part of why this happened.

    But the last time I checked, it was fully legal to shop around for the best price. In fact, AFAIK it is legal to pay someone to shop for the best price for you. And lastly, if I was inclined to take notes on prices in different stores and make them publicly available, could I be charged?

    This is wierd if you ask me, don't the judges realize that search engines are doing more or less the same thing?

    OTOH, there was a post above that mentioned the robots.txt file - and I must say I agree with that, anything searching a site should be obeying that file. This is akin to a store keeping it's records locked up, or knowing about an upcoming sale and not broadcasting it the week before.
  • by davonds ( 196851 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2000 @06:54AM (#925018)
    Your missing several points, first is the concept of public domain. If you allow the public free access to your property, it essencially becomes public domain. IE: a department store, cannot pick out a specific individuals and claim they are trespassing while allowing the rest of the public free access. The same applies to the internet, if you allow free public access to your site, you can't pick out a specific individual, such as a metabrowser, and claim they are trespassing, where everyone else is free to go. The court was clearly wrong on this point. If ebay required membership to browse their website, then they would have a case, but they don't. The second point, and Yahoo seemed to ignore this also in their article, is that metabrowsers are a form of advertisement, in many cases free advertisement. Unfortunately the article doesn't go into ebay's motivations for the suit, but it is self destructive for a company to try to prevent users from finding their products. As to your copyright argument, the only copyright infringement I can see is the short quotations that search engines show to identify the site. Admittedly, they should request permission to use the quotes, and "robots.txt" qualifies as implied consent.

The trouble with money is it costs too much!