Canadian Bill C-60, which aims to amend the Canadian Copyright Act is generating quite a bit of buzz in the search industry this week. Debate has already been raging on both sides, those a vote isn't set until the end of summer when the House of Commons returns from break.

The bill was created to update existing copyright legislation to address issues like file-sharing and liability issues for Internet Service Providers. The problem is that many around the Web are claiming that the bill will make search engines illegal. There's absolutely no reason to think this. Search engines can exist without keeping and providing an archived version of a Web page. The text creating the uproar read as follows:

"The owner of copyright in a work or other subject-matter is not entitled to any remedy other than an injunction against a provider of information location tools who infringes that copyright by making or caching a reproduction of the work or other subject matter."

All that it says is that you cannot keep a copy of a work that is under copyright. Yes, that makes things inconvenient for search engines, but it doesn't make them impossible. The text would mean that an entity such as a search engine couldn't provide the actual copyrighted data themselves, but it never says that a search engine cannot point someone to a copyrighted material. Think of the card catalog down at your local library. (Yes, I think they still exist...) Someone had to read through all of those books and classify them. The card catalog simply tells you where to find the book based on what you are looking for. A search engine works the same way.

As Andrew Goodman points out in an excellent article at WebProNews, much of the debate is a matter of semantics. Goodman points out that search engines don't actually cache pages, they archive them. Caching is what happens when your local computer or your ISP saves images or files to help speed up surfing. Archiving is what happens when a search engine takes a copy of a web page and saves it in the index. Goodman's argument is that search engines are given the right to index and then link to a web page, not to index and archive a web page.

To put it another way, archiving a page in the way that the bill mentions is sort of like photocopying each and every page of the new Harry Potter book and letting someone read it a page at a time rather than telling them where to buy the book. As you can imagine, that wouldn't go over well with the publishers or the author.

Howard Knopf, a copyright lawyer from Ottawa with that works for Macera & Jarzyna Moffat & Co., expressed some concerns with the wording of the current bill in an article by Jack Kapica of the Globe and Mail. "[If] the provision is intended to shelter the providers of 'information location tools,' it might have the opposite effect and end up being a Trojan Horse. At the very least, it could turn search and archive engine providers into enforcers for alleged copyright owners, some of whom will surely use their notice powers for abusive purposes. Or it may be a wedge for yet another instance of a tariff to be collected by an aggressive copyright collective."

So how does this affect the small business owner? For now, it doesn't. It does throw some potential road blocks in the way of Google, Yahoo! and MSN along with other Canadian search engines, but that's only based on the first round of language in the bill. More than likely, these past few weeks of analysis and debate will end up falling by the way side as the Canadian Parliament works on clarifying the bill's intent. It's certainly an issue worth keeping an eye on though.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
July 21, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Search Engine Caching Once Again Under Fire