Public Information Research, Inc., the nonprofit public charity behind www.google-watch.org and www.scroogle.org, has been running a Google proxy for more than two years. On January 3, 2005 we released the source code for our proxy. Our review of the legal situation has convinced us that we are covered by "fair use" under the Copyright Act.
This step that we have taken has implications for all search engines. These engines crawl the public web without asking permission, and cache and reproduce the content without asking permission, and then use this information as a carrier for ads that generate private profit. We are convinced that if citizens scrape Google and strip the ads, and make the scraped results available as a nonprofit public service, that this is legal. This is especially the case if there are public policy concerns behind the scraping.
Google Watch has been the most prominent critic of Google’s outrageous privacy policies for more than two years. This is why we started the proxy, and it’s why we continue the proxy. We invite Google to serve us with a cease and desist letter as a first step toward resolving this issue. So far, we have yet to hear from Google’s lawyers. By releasing the source code for our proxy, we’re trying to escalate the issue.
If it can be established that what we’re doing is legal — or at least sufficiently legal so that Google is not eager to challenge us — then this will begin to restore a public-interest balance to the web that has been declining ever since big money got behind the dot-coms.
There is the additional problem of whether anyone who scrapes Google can avoid getting blocked by Google. We experienced this when Google blocked Scroogle in December, 2003. We moved to a different server and continued as before, because Google could no longer find us. In our opinion, it’s legal for Google to block whomever they want, even while it’s also legal for us to scrape them if we can.