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Cacheing, Copyright, and the Net

Cacheing is a process in which a web page, and sometimes an entire site, is copied, and placed on another computer on the network. That copy is then presented to a viewer instead of the original. Without this process, the web would simply fall down. The movement of files, for no other purpose than the creation of caches of one sort or another, consumes about one half of all the traffic on Internet. Caching appears to create traffic, but it reduces the overall burden on the network backbone considerably, by using electronic space otherwise unfilled.

Is cacheing lawful? A new copy of a file is created, and that is inherently unlawful. It is an infringement of copyright, save when done with the licence of the copyright holder. It is actionable. Clearly, if it was unlawful entirely, someone might by now have sued someone else, and there is none of the sound and fury which would normally accompany such an action.

Why has nobody sued? The first and most obvious reason is that cacheing is, in general, welcomed. Access is speeded up for everybody, and the general theory of a web page is that though copyright inheres, for businesses it is in the general nature of an advert. I should not complain if someone takes my advert and re-publishes it for me.

Then why should anybody sue?

There are one or two reasons why caching may not be welcomed by the web-site owner

  1. Most web sites make whatever money they do make because people visit the page. More visitors means more money. More caching means less visible visitors.
  2. A site owner may make a mistake on his page, or his page may be time sensitive. We, for example include some figures representing our professional fees. These change from time to time. We would not want to change our prices, only to discover that somebody comes to us on the basis of figures which are out of date.
  3. A site may depend for its advertising upon the number of people visiting the index page. It can quite lawfully refuse a licence for people to visit the other parts of the site save through the front door. The fact that it might take control of this through software does not prevent the page owner having the right to control who visits.

A page can always be marked so as not to be cach'ed. If the owner of the page does object to the process, he can control it electronically. His ability to do that might go as to damages, but does not affect his basic right to control the terms of the licence he grants to visitors to his page.

Important: Please note that our law-bytes are retained for archival purposes only. The law changes, and these notes are often, now, out of date. You must take direct advice on your own personal situation and the law as it currently stands.
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Copyright and Database Rights: David Swarbrick 2012
18 October 2013 232 18 October 2013