Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Threatened Over Framing of Website

Dear Rich: Our company acquired some websites. It is all legacy content that we are dismantling. However, an individual has threatened us over a copyright issue relating to our framing of their site at one of these sites. It made me wonder about the validity of the claim since we haven’t actually done anything with the content except wrap it to look like it’s on our site. Is there a copyright or trademark claim for such a treatment? Framing -- the method by which a user views the contents of one website while it is framed by information from another site -- is a gray-ish area in intellectual property law. The issue first "came to a head" about fifteen years ago and experts agree that these types of claims remain complex with the outcomes hard to predict. (That may be why these cases tend to settle without court rulings.) In general, a framer is more likely to be found liable for copyright or trademark infringement if copyrighted material is modified without authorization or if customers are confused about the association between the two sites or the source of a product or service.
What about the case law? Websites that frame the content of other sites were initially perceived as stealing the other site’s content. One court found framing to be a copyright infringement because the process resulted in an unauthorized modification of the linked site. (Futuredontics Inc. v. Applied Anagramic Inc.) In another case, The Washington Post, CNN, and several other news companies sued a website, TotalNews, which framed their news content. Under the terms of a settlement agreement, TotalNews agreed to stop framing and agreed to use text-only links. Inlining and framing are often used together when displaying thumbnails of search engine results. The Ninth Circuit has ruled that such uses are fair use. There's more on the subject in this article and here's a summary of some international rulings.

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