Topix.net service policy: Hypocrisy in action

Written by Adrian Holovaty on February 11, 2004

First, I was intrigued by Topix.net, an automated site whose robots screen-scrape thousands of American news sites and categorize the content for easy browsing by topic. It is innovative and useful, and the folks who put it together, alumni of the Open Directory Project, really know their stuff.

But I happened upon the site's Terms of Service and was appalled by its hypocrisy and cheekiness. It left such a bad taste in my mouth that I can't bring myself to say anything else nice about the service.

Let's take a look at the "Use of the Service" section of that page.

You may only display the content of the Service for your own personal use (i.e., non-commercial use) and may not otherwise copy, reproduce, alter, modify, create derivative works, or publicly display any content.

Note: Topix.net copies, reproduces and publicly displays content from more than 3,000 other Web sites.

For example, you may not do any of the following: use the Service to sell a product or service; use the Service to increase traffic to your Web site for commercial reasons, such as advertising sales;

Note: Topix.net displays advertising on almost every page of its site. One might say it uses other sites' content to increase traffic to its Web site for commercial reasons, such as advertising sales.

take the results from the Service and reformat and display them, or mirror any portion of the results on your Web site; or use the Service as part of a "meta-search" offering.

Note: Topix.net takes headlines and paragraphs from news sites and reformats and displays them -- often verbatim. It might be seen as a "meta-search" offering.

You also agree that you will not use any robot, spider, other automated device, or manual process to monitor or copy any content from the Service.

Note: Topix.net's fundamental operation is predicated on using robots/spiders to monitor and copy content from outside sites.

From point three on the same page: "The results that appear from Topix.net's indices are indexed by Topix.net's automated machinery and computers".

From point seven on the same page: "Topix.net's indices consist of information that has been identified, indexed and compiled through an automated process with no advance review by human beings."

I admire the Topix.net proprietors for their gall. But their hypocrisy is undeniably crass.

Comments

Posted by kpaul on February 11, 2004 at 9:20 p.m.:

do as i say, not as i do...

Posted by Bill Seitz on February 13, 2004 at 10:55 a.m.:

How different is this from Google?

Posted by Terry Steichen on February 15, 2004 at 7:27 p.m.:

What Topix is doing is creating a categorization for the aggregated news collection. So they are creating a kind of content of their own and they want to ensure people understand that.

I don't think that, in and of itself, is problematical.

(However, many of the sites they use for content sources have similar restrictions, which Topix appears to be ignoring. So maybe that's the hypocrisy.)

Posted by Winnie the Poo on March 11, 2004 at 4:04 a.m.:

Good point! BUT so what, many others do the same... and what if we break all their rules? How are they going to police it?

Posted by AZ on March 12, 2004 at 4:57 p.m.:

Don't forget to check out news.google.com. I'm quite addicted to this service. While I haven't checked in a while, I don't recall having any problems with their TOS.

-AZ

Posted by JP on March 19, 2004 at 3:30 p.m.:

They're really only hurting themselves with this. I'll continue to use stories I find on Topix to link to. But instead of linking to the Topix version, I'll link directly to the source (which is what we were doing anyway). They should be doing the opposite--promote people to link to their site instead of the source site. I think it's funny.

Posted by LA Photog' on August 25, 2006 at 7:22 p.m.:

I have mixed feelings on Topix's "service". I work full time as a celebrity/press photographer in Los Angeles, and I came upon this page while looking for information on Topix's questionable practices. I learned about Topix by searching Google for my name and photo credit. Sure enough, I found almost 140 photos of mine in their photo section. My credit was of course listed underneath, and the photos appeared to be in a seperate section, but linked to various stories. In my view, they were using my photos beside articles that were "stolen/borrowed/scraped/aggregated" from other sites.

When a photo of mine is used online on other news sites, they pay for it. Magazines and web sites both pay per run, and they can't run it multiple times without paying again for each use. It's how I make a living! When contacted about the use of my photos, they promptly removed them all, and I haven't seen them use anymore since. However, they have yet to pay for the photos they already used. At this point, it appears they never had intentions of paying for the photos they use. It sometimes takes a while to get paid after a photo runs, so I'm hoping Topix does the right thing, and compensates me for the use of my photos. If not, then I expect other photographers to request removal of their images as well. I don't have a problem with sites linking to articles with my photos in them, or even copying the article verbatim (with credit given and a linkback) along with the image, as long as that image has been paid for on the site where it ran.

On the news side of things, this is difficult game to call. On one hand, you have news providers with RSS feeds on their sites, which make it easy for people to consolidate articles via a local program on their computer, or via a web application like Google's news reader (which I love). On the other hand, the news sites say, "Hey, even though we provide you with an easy way to consolidate our articles into one spot, you can't do that!" Some articles on Topix link back to the originating site, which is the way it should be, but articles with a "t" next to them, were scraped and stay on Topix's site. That, I don't like. I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know if it's "illegal" or not, but it's certainly shifty! It will also be interesting to see how this whole "paying for eyeballs" thing pans out (speaking of the NY Times paying Topix to draw in readers). I'll be watching the Topix debate very closely :-)

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