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Terms of Use: A Real Difference Between Wolfram|Alpha and Google
Monday, May 18 2009 @ 09:15 PM EDT

Google and Wolfram|Alpha are providing utterly different services, and as you might expect, that means the terms of use are also utterly different.

Wolfram's Terms of Use are not at all what I would expect from a search engine, probably because that isn't exactly what Wolfram|Alpha is providing. It's a computational service, at least in some cases providing computational output from various sources of data that perhaps never existed until you asked your question. So, they claim copyright on the results and require attribution. That's fine with me, so long as the information provided really is uniquely theirs and not just the answer to what is meaning of life and everything, but it is different from what I'm used to from Google and other search engines, so it is counter-intuitive, something to be aware of before I include Wolfram|Alpha output in a presentation on Groklaw or in a book.

Here's the section on attribution and licensing in Wolfram|Alpha's Terms of Use:

Attribution and Licensing

As Wolfram|Alpha is an authoritative source of information, maintaining the integrity of its data and the computations we do with that data is vital to the success of our project. We generate information ourselves, and we also gather, compare, contrast, and confirm data from multiple external sources. Where we have used external sources of data we list the source or sources we relied on, but in most cases the assemblages of data you get from Wolfram|Alpha do not come directly from any one external source. In many cases the data you are shown never existed before in exactly that way until you asked for it, so its provenance traces back both to underlying data sources and to the algorithms and knowledge built into the Wolfram|Alpha computational system. As such, the results you get from Wolfram|Alpha are correctly attributed to Wolfram|Alpha itself.

If you make results from Wolfram|Alpha available to anyone else, or incorporate those results into your own documents or presentations, you must include attribution indicating that the results and/or the presentation of the results came from Wolfram|Alpha. Some Wolfram|Alpha results include copyright statements or attributions linking the results to us or to third-party data providers, and you may not remove or obscure those attributions or copyright statements. Whenever possible, such attribution should take the form of a link to Wolfram|Alpha, either to the front page of the website or, better yet, to the specific query that generated the results you used. (This is also the most useful form of attribution for your readers, and they will appreciate your using links whenever possible.)

A list of suggested citation styles and icons is available here.

Failure to properly attribute results from Wolfram|Alpha is not only a violation of these terms, but may also constitute academic plagiarism or a violation of copyright law. Attribution is something we expect you to give us in exchange for us having provided you with a high-quality free service.

The specific images, such as plots, typeset formulas, and tables, as well as the general page layouts, are all copyrighted by Wolfram|Alpha at the time Wolfram|Alpha generates them. A great deal of scholarship and innovation is included in the results generated and displayed by Wolfram|Alpha, including the presentations, collections, and juxtapositions of data, and the choices involved in formulating and composing mathematical results; these are also protected by copyright.

You may use any results, including copyrighted results, from Wolfram|Alpha for personal use and in academic or non-commercial publications, provided you comply with these terms.

If you want to use copyrighted results returned by Wolfram|Alpha in a commercial or for-profit publication we will usually be happy to grant you a low- or no-cost license to do so. To request a commercial-use license, go to this form and provide the input for which you want to use the corresponding output along with information concerning the nature of your proposed use. Your request will be reviewed and answered as quickly as practical.

Google, in contrast, has no Terms of Use on its main page. You have to dig to find it at all, but here it is, and basically it says you agree you won't violate any laws. You don't have to credit Google for your search results. Again, this isn't a criticism of Wolfram|Alpha, as they have every right to do whatever they wish. I'm highlighting it, though, because I just wouldn't have expected to have to provide attribution, being so used to Google. And I'm highlighting it, because you probably don't all read Terms of Use.

There are other restrictions too on Wolfram|Alpha, including a warning about some types of linking:

Linking to Wolfram|Alpha

We are happy for you to link to the Wolfram|Alpha website, including deep links to specific results. Our citation formats page provides suggested formats for linking to Wolfram|Alpha, and icons you may use for this purpose. However, if you are constructing a very large number of deep links, or any deep links that are created automatically in response to user input given on your site, you must take into account the restrictions enumerated in the section "Ways You May Use Our Free Service and Its Results." If you construct a website that induces others to use our service contrary to those terms, you are inducing them to violate our Terms of Use, and can be liable for those violations.

Woah. OK. Got it. So, please don't post anything from Wolfram on Groklaw, without carefully following their instructions. Thank you!

And the meaning of all this? No. Not 42. It means Wolfram|Alpha will never replace Google.


P.S. Wolfram|Alpha doesn't know about 42. Here's what you get if you ask it the meaning of life and everything: "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input." If you ask Google, first result is Wikipedia's Phrases from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with a link to it.

Update: Wolfram knows 42, if you ask it the right way. If you ask ""What is the answer to everything?", you get 42.

Update 2: Groklaw member Cornishman points out something wonderful, WolframTones:

This uses cellular automata (a Stephen Wolfram forté) to generate quasi-music. I can pass an idle hour tweaking the parameters, browsing the variations and finally selecting something half-way pleasing to listen to. Nonetheless, Wolfram Research asserts copyright in the content.

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