David A. Wheeler's Blog

Sat, 23 Jun 2007

ISPs Inserting Ads Into Your Pages: Unlawful Modifications (Copyright Violation)

Here’s a nasty trick. Apparantly some shady Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are inserting advertizements into other people’s web pages without their permission.

I believe these are usually illegal modifications. Whoever creates a work automatically has a copyright on that work. (If you’re doing work for someone else, or if you sell the copyright, they have the copyright.) Anyone who releases a public web page obviously grants others the right to copy that work to view it, but unless otherwise stated, you don’t have the right to modify the work. U.S. law also has “fair use” provisions that let you quote another work without being sued, and so on, but those can’t possibly be stretched into letting someone insert ads. The copyright owner can release works permitting such actions (that’s how Free-libre / open source software works), but they have to give that permission… you can’t just unilaterally modify it. What really angers me is that they might insert stuff I am morally opposed to, and sullying my reputation.

If you run a website, here’s a sample letter that you can send to inform these ISPs that what they’re doing is wrong.

Dear (name here),

I am concerned that you appear to be violating copyright laws,
by unlawfully modifying and then redistributing copyrighted works
of mine and many others.

In particular, your "terms of service" say... (quote them, if you can).

My website, (www.dwheeler.com), distributes many copyrighted works
at no charge, but I do _NOT_ give the right to modify many of
those works.  Many other websites do the same.  (Some can add:
In addition, I have ads on my site; by adding your own ads, you are
diluting the value of MY ads and in essence stealing from me.)

Please stop modifying my web pages immediately.  It is my hope that
this was just a misunderstanding, and that we can settle this amicably.

Thank you very much.

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