The Internet Archive, which spiders the Internet to copy Web sites for posterity (unless site owners opt out), is being sued by Colorado resident and Web site owner Suzanne Shell for conversion, civil theft, breach of contract, and violations of the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations act and the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.

Shell’s site states, “IF YOU COPY OR DISTRIBUTE ANYTHING ON THIS WEB SITE, YOU ARE ENTERING INTO A CONTRACT,” at the bottom of the main page, and refers readers to a more detailed copyright notice and agreement. Her suit asserts that the Internet Archive’s programmatic visitation of her site constitutes acceptance of her terms, despite the obvious inability of a Web crawler to understand those terms and the absence of a robots.txt file to warn crawlers away. (Source)

This case brings up a range of issues, including copyright, archiving, contracts (a welcome return to the heady days of courts using words like ‘clickwrap’ and ‘browsewrap’ and smiling at their cleverness) and more. It also has a relatively angry plaintiff who hosts a site called Profane Justice (tragically, profane-justice.org is down at the moment and somehow I can’t find it in the Internet archive?! but Google’s cache has it…), that seems to be something about defending yourself against child abuse allegations. Slashdot’s army has decided she’s an amateur lawyer and a bit of a crank, and who am I to disagree, especially given that the site tells me that “Permission and limited, non-exclusive license to reproduce this website, by any method including but not limited to magnetically, digitally, electronically or hard copy, may be *purchased for $5,000 (five thousand dollars) per printed hard copy page per copy, in advance of printing”. Wow.

John Ottaviani (guest-posting on Eric Goldman’s blog) writes about it in some detail and provides a copy of the first decision (striking out everything except breach of contract). Great Slashdot coverage including a range of fake contracts and disclaimers, which made me laugh.

Personally, I do think (on a broader policy approach) this illustrates the necessity for explicit statutory authorisation of Web archiving in the public interest; a newspaper library (for example) is an invaluable resource precisely because it is comprehensive and ‘content-neutral’ and I’m concerned (as are a lot of librarians, so I’m in good company) that digital archiving (of new material, as opposed to digitisation of print material) is very hit-and-miss.