Legal Issues for Mashups

John Musser, November 12th, 2007

As you can see in our news archive under the topic “law” there are lots of unresolved questions when it comes to the legal issues around mashups and APIs. In an interesting session at yesterday’s MashupCamp Dublin many of these issues were discussed. Clare Dillon took good notes, here’s a brief summary:

  • What about terms and conditions for mashups? Within website terms and conditions you can write whatever you want but that does not necessarily mean they can be held as binding. Nor can you hide your terms in eight point script because there is a legal duty for you as a provider to make it clear. For example, consumers can argue that certain clauses are illegal because they have been hidden. ote that most jurisdiction have a concept of ‘offer’ but because laws vary by country it might be that someone Russia doesn’t have to comply. This can make it difficult to enforce enforce terms and conditions globally. For mashup developers they need to read the terms and conditions of the APIs and sources they are using in order to make sure they comply as well as forward them appropriately to their users.
  • “Fair use” terms and conditions allow for the use of data to parody but not using it for commercial reasons. Many mashups risk running afoul of this.
  • Trademarks and other protection for your creations. If you had a mashup how could you protect your format? If you had a Yahoo Pipe with steps and you are making money, yet someone comes along and uses exactly the same steps. But Yahoo pipes wants you to do that – you clone an existing one and add to it. Who owns which elements?
  • Who owns a mashup when it is fully hosted on a provider’s platform? In the case of Serena they do not own the idea or IP, this fully resides with the creator. Facebook is a model that uses a double contract. For example, you go to Facebook app when you download that app you are accepting two contracts: one from the application provider to you and one from Facebook that supersedes the other. This allows Facebook to not have to examine the contract of masher or consumer but lets the masher add additional terms.
  • What about slander and defamation? Defamation law is going to be governed in the country where it hits. Particularly if the contract is silent about it. Then you look at where the damage occurs. There are already sites which are blocked, e.g. Universal film downloads that could not be accessed by the UK because it wasn’t licensed for there.

A variety of other issues were touched on ranging from international law to identity verification. While there are precedents for many of these legal questions there are certainly areas where mashups are heading into new legal ground.

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2 Responses to “Legal Issues for Mashups”

November 12th, 2007
at 5:19 pm
Comment by: snyggast

stylehive uses photos from other sites. so does flixter and shopstyle. are they breaking the law?

May 11th, 2010
at 3:37 pm
Comment by: Nikki

I think a simple answer would for a popular mashup to be submitted to the artists involved for their approval. If approved, it could be published with royalties going to the artists. No money for the masher, but recognition in the credits.

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John Musser
Founder, ProgrammableWeb

Adam DuVander
Executive Editor, ProgrammableWeb. Author, Map Scripting 101. Lover, APIs.