Violating Terms of Use by Default


Buried in the Terms of Use of a very interesting and potentially valuable site called Newssift, a just-launched service from the Financial Times that uses semantic-web ideas to help sort through the news:

You may be granted a limited, nonexclusive right to create a hyperlink to Web provided (i) you give FT Search Inc. notice of such link by writing to, (ii) FT Search Inc. confirms in writing that you may establish the link, (iii) you do not remove or obscure the copyright notice or other notices on Web, (iv) such link does not portray Web or any of its products, software, content or services in a false, misleading, derogatory or otherwise defamatory manner, and (v) you immediately discontinue providing a link to Web if so requested by FT Search Inc. You may not use an logo or other proprietary graphic or trademark of to link to the Web without the express written permission of FT Search Inc.


Except as expressly approved by FT Search Inc. in writing, you agree not to reproduce, duplicate, copy, sell, trade, resell or exploit for any commercial purposes, any portion, or use of, or access to, Web.

Just curious: Who got permission for these links?

And since the Web is a giant copying machine, which means that the Newssift results are copied onto my computer screen, am I not exploiting the service "for commercial purposes" if I learn something that serves my own business purposes, e.g. buying shares in a company based on a story they've, um, linked to?

Newssift has a lot to recommend it, but this stuff -- all too common these days -- is ridiculous. The FT lawyers are doing their best to stomp on their own bosses.

UPDATE: See this comment from the company, which says the terms of service were written during the private beta phase and will be updated to reflect the public launch. That actually makes some sense, but did it take a day to figure out? (I ask because I had a call from Newssift shortly after posting this item (more than a day ago from the time of this update), during which I invited the company to explain what it thought it was doing with these restrictions.)


  1. Ahhh hahahahah ha!

    Permission to “link to”.. and a mandatory, positive blurb!

    F u n n y!

  2. I don’t think those clauses are enforceable in court. IANAL, but there is no such thing as “the right to create a hyperlink” in English law, so you cannot grant a license to enjoy a right that doesn’t exist.

    Duplication rights, yes, those might be legally enforceable, technically. It would instantaneously break the current WWW infrastrcuture, but that’s another matter.

  3. This is why companies need to stop hiring lawyers to write these things who lack a fundamental understanding of how the web works. It’s completely ridiculous–particularly coming from a news aggregation service (where the vast majority of the content isn’t even theirs!).

  4. This sort of silliness was common years ago, when the web was new. I’m very surprised to see it popping up now.

  5. this whole thing is hilarious
    Dan, did you get permission to link to them?

    let alone copy, what i assume is verbatim portions of their ToS.

    the irony is thick and juicy.

  6. As others have pointed out- there is a rich irony in a content aggregator telling others that they, in the infamous words of the immortal MC Hammer, “Can’t touch this”

  7. What seems to be the problem? Note that there is no verbiage whatsoever explicitly prohibiting web linking to any content. All it states is that “You may be granted a limited, nonexclusive right to create a hyperlink…”

    I know what you’re getting at, the concept that some sites try to limit who can link to them, but that’s not what this clause does if you read it strictly. It is probably what they were intending however.

  8. ScissorFighter@10

    “Granted” says it all. It is not within their power to grant such a right.

    It goes on to say “you immediately discontinue providing a link to Web if so requested by FT Search Inc.

    Eh.. No.

  9. A link is a fact. You do not need permission (at least in the U.S.) to state a fact. One can contest the fact, but in this case its veracity is easily tested.

  10. If I’ve never visited their site, then I’ve never had to accept their terms of use. End of story.

  11. They can’t actually grant the right to link to their site as they don’t have the right to limit who links to them in the first place.

  12. You do not need permission (at least in the U.S.) to state a fact.

    Incorrect. Ever heard of classified information? There are plenty of facts that, if you state them in public, will get you 20 years in Leavenworth.

    You miss my point. It doesn’t matter if it’s within their power or not to grant the supposed right. The clause does not try to specifically deny a right as it is worded.

  13. “Interestingly enough, Google returns zero results when you search for who’s linking to NewSift”

    It’s pretty common for google to not to include that data in the index for small sites.

    Newssift is a very new site with very little traffic. I work for a company that runs a couple of sites with many times more traffic and inbound links, and google only shows about 100 of our thousands of inbound links for a “link:” search. And those only started showing up recently; we, too, saw no results for a “link:” search for 6-9 months after launching our sites.

    As a more general note, there’s no better way for a company to demonstrate how little it really understands the web, than to try to legally restrict who can and can’t link to you.

    Hell, even if you don’t “get it”, you still want traffic from google — and to get that traffic, you should be BEGGING people to link to your site.

  14. Except as expressly approved by FT Search Inc. in writing, you agree…

    Wait, what? Did I “write” anything in the first place?

  15. “Except as expressly approved by FT Search Inc. in writing, you agree not to … sell … access to Web.”

    So they are going to sue my ISP?

  16. I know there’s some bastages out there that want to use TOS like this to kill simple hyperlinks (and these folks may be some of said bastages), but I suspect most companies simply don’t want their content copied.

    As Merreborn says, they’re demonstrating how little they understand the web regardless of which category they fit into.

    A simple TOS should read — don’t include my content in your content without permission. Don’t open up an iframe and display our articles, don’t put in image tags that have hrefs to our images, and so on.

  17. I encountered a near-identical problem with the image collection known as (which is incidentally linked from here in a 9-17-07 post). The terms of use very strictly prohibited any copying of any images. I wrote to the site admin asking if he was aware that by even browsing the site required copying and suggesting he change the terms to include realistic language, but his only response was to ask me if I were a lawyer.

  18. Hi there, I work at Newssift and want to say thanks for sharing your thoughts/feedback on Newssift and our Terms of Use.

    Your post brought to our attention the fact that the language used within the Terms of Use actually pre-dates our public launch, and was in place when we were conducting private and closed testing of Newssift.

    Now that we’ve launched our beta to the public, we’re working on updating it to reflect this public beta status.

    So thanks for the feedback, and keep it coming!

  19. Maybe this comment by newssift should be re-posted to the boingboing front page instead of being buried way back here. It was a pretty positive response from them.

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