This arrangement has radical implications. For example, back in 2002 I invented LibraryLookup, a bookmarklet that noticed when you were visiting an Amazon or Barnes and Noble book page and offered a one-click search for that book in your local library. A few years later, a Firefox extension called Greasemonkey arrived on the scene. It offered two capabilities that, working together, enabled a zero-click LibraryLookup. First, it could call out to a web service. Second, it could modify the DOM based on the response. Putting these two things together, I wrote a script that would notice that you were visiting an Amazon book page, check to see if the book was available at your local library, and if so, insert a paragraph into the DOM that said: “Hey, it’s available at the [YOUR LIBRARY NAME] library!”
Is this kosher? I think so, but it’s a tricky question. At the time I made a short screencast that reflected on questions of ownership and fair use in an environment that’s designed and built to support intermediation and remixing. These questions were still largely hypothetical, though, because Firefox users who had also installed Greasemonkey were a very small number indeed.
The example comes from Phil’s recent essay The Forgotten Edge: Building a Purpose-Centric Web, which makes the case for contextualized browsing as enabled by libraries like jQuery and by infrastructure like that provided by Phil’s company, Kynetx.
In Phil’s next blog item, Claiming My Right to a Purpose-Centric Web: SideWiki, he asserts:
I claim the right to mash-up, remix, annotate, augment, and otherwise modify Web content for my purposes in my browser using any tool I choose and I extend to everyone else that same privilege.
That item grew a long tail of comments. It includes some interesting back-and-forth between Phil Windley and Dave Winer, but I want to focus on this observation from Greg Yardley:
Sites also generally come with a contract attached – some implicit (the view-through), some explicit (the click-through) – and these contracts, done correctly, are generally enforceable.
This whole post mystifies me, because you don’t have the the right to mash-up, remix, annotate, augment, and otherwise modify Web content – it’s not your content.
Earlier in the thread, Jeremy Pickens cited an example of such a contract: Google’s terms of service:
8.2 You should be aware that Content presented to you as part of the Services, including but not limited to advertisements in the Services and sponsored Content within the Services may be protected by intellectual property rights which are owned by the sponsors or advertisers who provide that Content to Google (or by other persons or companies on their behalf). You may not modify, rent, lease, loan, sell, distribute or create derivative works based on this Content (either in whole or in part) unless you have been specifically told that you may do so by Google or by the owners of that Content, in a separate agreement.
In response to Greg Yardley, Phil Rees cites fair use:
Actually we do have those rights.
I believe so too. Sooner or later, that belief will be tested.
There’s a continuum of ways in which I can modify a web page in a browser, ranging from font enlargement to translation to contexual overlays. I wouldn’t draw a line anywhere along that continuum. It seems to me that I’m entitled to view the world through any lens I choose.
This doesn’t only apply to my view of the virtual world, by the way. It will apply to my view of the physical world too. We don’t yet have magic glasses that overlay web prices on shelf items, or web reputations on store signage, but someday we will.
I can’t see how I could be prevented from creating a heads-up display — for realspace or cyberspace — that’s advantageous to me. But I’ve got a hunch that those magic glasses are going to be controversial.
I wonder if it’s going to boil down to magic glasses versus magic projectors. Or, in other words, private versus public augmentation of our experiences of the virtual and real worlds. I can wear my magic glasses, but I can’t necessarily project the view that I’m seeing.