Wayback provides web history

DAVID CANTON - For the London Free Press - August 27, 2005 Read this on Canoe

Ever wonder how the Internet has changed? Instead of wondering, you can see for yourself with the Wayback Machine -- unless a recent lawsuit is successful.

The Wayback Machine (www.waybackmachine.org) is a free website that allows you to search for old web pages. It keeps historical copies of websites all the way back to 1996.

The Wayback Machine collection includes 10 billion pages -- about 100 terabytes of data. Consider the U.S. Library of Congress has about 10 terabytes of data.

One terabyte is about as big as 1,000 copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The Wayback Machine, which receives 200 queries a second, was created by Bertrand Russell, a computer scientist from California. He compares his site to a huge library that can be available to everyone.

In a recent interview, he said: "The web is more inclusive than a book library. The wonder of the web is that it is the people's voice. Only a few people can write for the London Times or the BBC, but everyone can write for the web."

While the Wayback Machine seems like an incredible resource, it is not without problems. Lawyers have recognized the benefit of the Wayback Machine to find evidence of information that might not otherwise be available.

In a recent trademark lawsuit in the U.S., the defence used the Wayback Machine to look up old versions of the plaintiff's web pages to show prior use of a trademark.

The plaintiff had asked the Wayback Machine to block access to its old web pages, but someone on the defence realized if they kept trying fast enough, the Wayback Machine would eventually allow access.

The company is now suing the Wayback Machine, claiming the copies of its website are a copyright infringement. They also claim the defence lawyer's rapid queries of the Wayback Machine were a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

If the lawsuit is successful, it could have serious implications far beyond the Wayback Machine. Search engines use similar search and cache mechanisms to copy and store information and could be affected by such a ruling.

The Wayback Machine may have a valid defence to any copyright infringement claims. The fact it is a registered member of the American Library Association may shield it from copyright laws as most libraries have copyright exemptions.

Although the Internet provides people with a wealth of information, the information is not static. The Internet is always changing with information being moved, changed or deleted.

Let's hope the action against the Wayback Machine fails, or at worst, that it finds fault only for not removing pages when requested.