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Closing Off the Internet and Tossing Fair Use Over the Cliff
Saturday, October 18 2008 @ 04:53 PM EDT

After reading about the ACAP system that Copiepresse is pushing to regulate access to content, I decided to take a closer look at the system of selling older articles that were free on the Internet when they first appeared. One company alone, Highbeam, says it provides access to 3,500 publications, like the Chicago Tribune, Harpers, and the Washington Post. They also offer older press releases, in case you have too much money cluttering up your wallet and want to buy to read one. Here's how Highbeam describes itself:
HighBeam is an online library and research tool for individuals, students and small businesses. We collect millions of research articles from published sources and put them all in one place.
Library, to me, means you can read for free forever. This is a paid library. I was researching trying out Google's new system for News whereby it makes older articles available by year, and I was using in particular those from the 1990s. Here's a sample results page. Look at how many on that list are press releases now subscription only, 13 out of 14. The last is an article from 1994 you could have read for free at the time. Actually, you still can find some of the materials for free elsewhere. I'll tell you how to find things like that, now that publishers are trying to close off the Internet.

Here's how: Copy and paste, inside quotation marks, the title to the article you want to find or use any distinctive sentence from the article that way. Most times you can find it. For example, you can read the article about SCO buying Vultus for free on CBR. Or, if you are nuts, you can pay Deseret News $2.95 to read all about it.

$2.95 for a single article. You didn't pay that much for the entire newspaper even in print at the time, did you? If it was online, it would have been free. What are these publishers thinking about the value of their content? And what are they doing to the Internet? Trying to subvert it, I'd say, and force it back in time to a world where content was all locked up and all paid for. You know. Like how it worked before the Internet was invented. The goode olde dayes of publishing.

Let me show you how the paid service Highbeam offers works, using an article from 1999 about Santa Cruz Operation adding Linux support to its Vision2K product, which you can pay to read there or you can read for free here, using the system I found using the system I just described.

Here's what Highbeam will show you for free if you are not a member:

It's a press release. A press release. They want you to pay them (eventually) to read press releases.

Basic membership is free with registration, but basic is basic. Look at the chart. If you want to do more than search, you have to pay. Reading the full articles is a paid offering only. You have to pay to get full access, and once you do, it auto-renews, according to the terms and conditions, and it strictly limits what you can do with the articles you read, and it requires you to do things you may not wish to, like agreeing to terms on linking to Highbeam:

3.2 If you operate a Web site and wish to link to the Service, you must link to the Service's home page unless permission otherwise has been granted in writing by HighBeam Research. You can contact HighBeam Research for this permission using this form. HighBeam Research reserves the right to reject or terminate any links to the Service.
I have no clue what the service costs. You have to sign up to find out, as far as I could tell, and I never sign up for anything that auto-renews with a clause saying the price can change after the initial period to an unknown amount.

Highbeam isn't the only such service, so it's the concept I am addressing, not the particular company. And some may think that a paid collection is superior to a free search engine. To each its own. But think about the effect, should such systems become the norm. Not only is their system designed to make the Internet a paid service, it also adds terms and conditions to what you can do with what you find using their service. What happens to fair use?

Here's what Highbeam says you can't do in and with your research:

3.3 You may search, retrieve, display, download to your area on the HighBeam Service, and print content from the Services solely for your personal use. You may not download electronic copies of our content for any purpose other than those permitted by Fair Use or otherwise by law. You shall make no other use of the content without the express written permission of HighBeam. You will not modify, publish, distribute, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale, translate, create derivative works, or in any way exploit other than as set forth herein, any of the content, tools or technology, in whole or in part, found on the Services. Further, you shall not engage in any systematic downloading or other activity directed towards any of the content, in whole or in part, found on the Services that would create any electronic database or archive containing such content. You shall not make any changes to any content that you are permitted to use under this Agreement, and in particular you will not delete or alter any proprietary rights or attribution notices in any content. You also will not "frame" any of the content, tools or technology on the Services or the Services themselves without the express written permission of HighBeam. You agree that you do not acquire any ownership rights in any downloaded content. You further agree that all rights in the Service and any of the content found on the Service not granted to you under this Agreement are expressly reserved to HighBeam and/or its licensors.

3.4 In searching the Services, you shall not employ any automated search tools, including so called "crawlers," "bots" and "spiders" that programmatically access and extract content in order to repurpose or resell the Services content and tools, nor may you "scrape" and/or reformat any information off the services HTML pages or XML interface, including meta tags, results pages, abstracts, and documents except as permitted by our FAQs without the express written permission of HighBeam. Those seeking more information on permission for systematic access (automated queries, meta-search, etc.) shall go to the FAQ area for each Service.

Personal use only. What's the use of research you can't share? That's not copyright law. They say that they are not restricting fair use. But actually, they are, because you can't fairly use content you can't freely access. Paying first is exactly the opposite of fair use. It wipes it away. Who gave publishers the right to do away with fair use?

How do you like what's happening to the Internet now? Where you pay to read 1999 press releases, which companies released for free at the time, in the hope that as many people as possible would read them, quote from them, and print them.


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