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Phorm is blatant copyright infringement

Tuesday, 11 March 2008 copyright phorm

Phorm is the much criticized service that’s coming to the UK to provide some ISPs users. I’ve been slightly concerned about it since I found out my ISP was going to deploy it but I’ve now uncovered something that should make all web publishers worry: they’re stealing our ad revenue!

I don’t use advertising on many of my pages. A while ago I accepted that the site wasn’t going to be the next Yahoo or MSN and that it might be nice to respect my users’ and not slop sticky adverts all over the place. But I do have a few pages that get heavy traffic and I therefore use them to cover my hosting and domains with a few select adverts.

This revenue doesn’t cover my time — it wasn’t ever supposed to — but some sites rely on advertising revenue to keep going, either because they use mammoth amounts of bandwidth to host media or they’re somebody’s full time job.

If you’re unfamiliar with Phorm, it’s basically a technology an ISP can buy in to earn advertising revenue from its own clients. They’ve been pulled up several times in the past few weeks with people being highly concerned that their browsing habits would be collected without their permission. My ISP (talk talk) has just today announced that this will be an opt-in service

If you were one of these people relying on advert revenue, what would you think to this snippet from the Phorm FAQ?

What kind of ad units will be delivered to my subscriber, and where will they see them?

The OIX can potentially serve ads to any of the websites your subscriber normally visits in the regular places the website shows ads. The OIX does not show pop-ups or pop-unders.

Emphasis mine. Oh phew, no pop ups… Hang on a minute… They’re replacing publishers’ advert code with their own. They’re making money from my content!

Notice: It looks like I may have jumped the gun. I’m waiting for conformation on how they do the advertising but several people have notified me that publishers also have to opt in to this service and they get a cut of any revenue generated. The rest of this post is here to demonstrate why people should do fact checking before they post things.

There’s another frequently asked question that made me chuckle:

Is what you are doing legal?

Yes. Our technology complies with the Data Protection Act, RIPA and other applicable UK laws.

Well - all apart from copyright, it seems. I don’t mind people using Adblock on this site — I do, after all — but there’s something very different between personal use and commercial use, both in law and morality.

When an ISP pipes a website to your computer, it shouldn’t change anything. What you receive at your end should be exactly what the website’s server sent out. This is clear and fair use. ISPs around the world are also safe from prosecution for delivering this content as it’s deemed the user requested it and merely supplying access to it is not aiding or abetting.

But this site is licensed under a non-commercial license. In that remit you’re allowed to use its content as long as you attribute me (or the relevant author) as the creator of the original work and you’re not making money from it…

I’m going to raise these points with Phorm and ask them for a statement. I’ll also be contacting my ISP as well as BT and Virgin for their stance. But one thing is for sure: if this is allowed to continue and it spreads, the advert-supported web is at severe risk of imploding.