Press This Bookmarklet Generates Concerns of Copyright Infringement

Pres This Featured Image

Press This is a bookmarklet tool that was added to WordPress 2.6 in 2008. You can access the tool by browsing to the WordPress backend and select the Tools menu. It acts as a small app that runs in the browser to quickly share content on the web. Press This is in the process of being revamped in preparation for WordPress 4.2.

Press This Location
Press This Location

Because the bookmarklet uses content from the site being shared, it’s easy to infringe on a website’s copyrighted material. Daniel Bachhuber brought up the issue in Github where active development is taking place.

I’m not the best person to comment on this, but it seems like building a tool that automatically scrapes copyrighted materials should have an upfront discussion about said legal implications, and whether this is something we should promote.

To my knowledge, this is the first time the issue has been brought up since its inclusion into core. Stephane Daury, who is one of the project’s primary contributors explains that, the tool goes through great efforts to use values clearly defined by websites.

We also (now) make a greater effort to use values the sites have clearly defined and specified as being what they want their articles and content to be represented as when shared elsewhere, by detecting Open Graph and Twitter Cards tags, etc. This includes representations for thumbnails, embeds, etc.

Although it’s not documented in the conversation on Github, Michael Arestad reached out to Paul Sieminski, Automattic’s general legal counsel, and received word that, from a legal standpoint, Press This is fine. Richard Best of WP and Legal Stuff published a post on the issue and takes a similar stance:

It seems that a person in-the-know in Automattic has commented internally (no doubt in more detail than we see in the public online discussion) that Press This is fine. I agree. I thought it might be of interest to those following this issue to explain why.

The discussion revolves around the notion of ‘authorising’ an action that amounts to copyright infringement or ‘contributing’ to infringement (similar concepts which, in different jurisdictions, are called different things). It explains why there is no such authorisation or contribution here and why, therefore, Press This is fine.

The Press this bookmarklet is a convenient way to share content on the web, but it doesn’t prevent copyright infringement from occurring. Best makes an excellent point when he says that, it’s the end user’s responsibility to make sure they’re not infringing on anyone’s copyright:

It can, of course, also be used to infringe copyright, by copying a full article without permission or copying a full size copyright image without permission but, ultimately, Press This is simply a (pretty handy) tool of convenience. It’s the user’s responsibility to use Press This within the confines of copyright law (or run the risk of being accused of copyright infringement).

While Press This is a tool that makes it easy to share snippets of content on the web, it should not be used to re purpose entire articles or share full-size copyrighted images. As Voltaire once said, “great power comes with great responsibility.”


28 responses to “Press This Bookmarklet Generates Concerns of Copyright Infringement”

  1. Nonsense. We live in a sharing society now. Are people supposed to get written legal permission to share articles on Facebook or Twitter as well? I think not. Rather than looking at sharing as some kind of violation, blog authors need to get with the times and see it as promotion of there work and free traffic to their site. Only an idiot would not want someone to reblog their content.

    • Miroslav’s right.

      The concerns raised aren’t to do with someone using Press This to share their content, or taking a small blurb and then adding their own thoughts on the piece.

      It’s the fact that Press This, could, in theory, make it easy for people to copy whole posts and post it on their own site. Which wouldn’t be sharing, would be straight up stealing someone else’s work.

      However, as the point was made in this piece, it seems to me that this is more about how the USER chooses to use the tool. i.e. I could buy a hammer to hit a nail into the wall, or to hit someone over the head with it… I mean I wouldn’t do the second… although some people can be pretty annoying… but my point is, the hammer’s not to blame for how it ends up being used!

    • Sharing and copying aren’t the same thing. With Press This, one can copy content for republication one one’s own website — it’s not sharing like on social media, where a headline, thumbnail, and description link back to the original content. No one is an idiot for wanting to protect their content. But people are idiots for wanting to steal from others. Sharing is cool, though.

      • Back in 2008, when Press This was introduced, inserting a link and excerpt on your blog *was* sharing on social media. Twitter didn’t display anything but a tinyurl link, and IIRC Facebook either hadn’t implemented link previews yet or they were new.

        The simplest use case for Press This (in its present form) is to click on it without selecting anything, in which case you get a pre-filled post title and link to the source.

        The next simplest use case for Press This is to highlight some text and click it, in which case you also get an excerpt — at which point you’ve got either a complete linkblog post, or the beginnings of a response/commentary piece.

        Sure, you *can* copy an entire article with it, but it’s far from the only or even easiest use for the tool. The fact that the proposed improvements include putting the highlighted text into a blockquote and “if nothing is highlighted, it makes a good guess as to what should be quoted,” the intent seems clear.

  2. While I hate to disagree with someone’s legal counsel, the law is not that clear cut. First and foremost, if you write it, you automatically generate the copyright. It’s yours. Publishing it on the web doesn’t change that to make it free for others to copy, or even link to necessarily if the link includes any sort of preview. Check out Google’s news lawsuits in Europe — all they do is index and provide previews of news sites, and the EU is kicking them for it.

    Second, the functionality of Press This goes further — it isn’t generating a link only, or even indexing, it is lifting whole text (copying, literally) and pasting it into your website. A “preview” would be on different legal status because if the originator deletes or modifies the text, the preview would change, but this function creates a point-in-time copy and puts it on another website. As I said, literally copying. U.S. law is not uniform across the country, but most copyright attorneys feel that up to 10% of the original text is probably fair use by court standards (a few cases here and there, nothing on point, and nothing firm that points to that percentage, but a good rule of thumb), but note that it is still infringement (you’re copying) with a defence (fair use), it doesn’t change that the copyright was initially violated, just that it is allowed.

    Third, Press This has no such 10% size limitation built into it. Just as Napster lost for facilitating copying, and ThePirateBay is getting trounced, there is an argument to be made that Press This is expressly created to facilitate infringement. It has benign uses too, and it does create a link back to the original, which might be a “saving” argument/defence, but again, that would be after the fact.

    While it is likely fine, in that the violated would go after the violaters for the violation, not the tool used to do the violation, particularly as proving it was Press This would be difficult (once pasted, it is just a BlockQuote that I could create on my own anyway), it isn’t the same as saying “no issues”. And as per legal counsel, in fairness they said “likely fine”.

    But, to go back to an original question, should a tool so ripe for abuse, and in fact mostly designed for potential abuse, be part of WordPress core? Allowing it as a plugin is one thing, but facilitating large scale copying is another. It doesn’t take much searching to find stories of bloggers who have had an entire article copied, pasted, credit removed, and the text looking like it was written by the thieving blogger.


    • THANK YOU for speaking some sense. I’ve used Press This as a way to help drive traffic back to a site that I thought had great content, while at the same time using an excerpt of the original author’s post to lend some justification to the points I was trying to make.

      Even doing it the ‘right’ way made me feel a bit like a thief and a hypocrite since I deal with people lifting my photos all the time for Facebook groups. I won’t be using it any longer and I believe that Press This should NOT be built into the core.

  3. I’ve never really looked into Press This before, so I just watched a video at on how this is used. All I can say is wow (definitely a tool to coerce users to abuse copyright content). In my opinion, Press This should be held liable for any copyright infringement, as well the person who uses it. But to say that it’s simply a tool of convenience is ignorant because they know many will use it in questionable ways.

    When used, the link back to the original article is ridiculous because a person can easily delete that. If anything, I’d like to see Press This only allow 10% of the content from a given URL and not have the ability to grab media or images. I’d like to also see it not allow scraping content from a page that has a meta tag “rights” applied.

    As for the graphic for this article (see above), the tagline “Lightning Fast Posting” is another way of saying “Use me, Abuse me instantly”.

    • “Press This” is a bit of software and can’t be held liable for anything. It is a tool of convenience and yes it can also be used to facilitate the infringement of copyright. But, as someone has said, so too can copy and paste. The tool itself doesn’t ‘coerce’ anyone.

      The real issue – I think – lies in people’s misunderstanding, or lack of knowledge, as to what they can and cannot do with copyright content. If they do know and want to run the risk, that’s their choice. If they don’t know and do something that runs the risk, I’m afraid they’re potentially liable for infringement. That’s just how it is. This sort of tool is really no different to all manner of clipping tools and services that have been around since at least, say, the earlyish 2000s.

      Limiting the percentage one can take to, say, 10% (or any other percentage) would be arbitrary and would defeat entirely legitimate uses such as copying an entire article that is licensed under a Creative Commons licence or released to the public domain under CC0. The same sort of sentiment applies to copying images.

      • Limiting the percentage one can take to, say, 10% (or any other percentage) would be arbitrary and would defeat entirely legitimate uses such as copying an entire article that is licensed under a Creative Commons licence or released to the public domain under CC0.

        I would disagree. If content is licensed, I think the license takes precedence over general copyright, which automatically exists the moment original content is created. The way I understand it, fair use only applies to content which has not been otherwise licensed (or possibly to licenses which include fair use clauses).

  4. Press This is a tool that is used in my business for a related topic news feed. When it is applied to a post, it only copies the link to whatever article it is in reference to, not the content. It functions the same as the Share buttons on many of the articles themselves. Not only that, nine times out of ten it puts the source/author in the link. If anything, it’s creating backlinks to the original content and simply using the repost as a jumping off point. Simply my opinion with no legal basis but as long as content isn’t being ripped, altered, or repurposed, I don’t necessarily see the backlash over information sharing.

  5. Unless it’s changed drastically since I last used it, Press This copies highlighted text (if any) and auto-fills the title and a link to the source. According to the discussion, the new version looks for publisher-provided preview info.

    So the only way it goes beyond Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V is in setting up the citation info. If that’s liable for infringement, Apple and Microsoft are in serious trouble.

  6. I like the counter arguments that tend to fall into two camps.

    First, it’s “on the user”, i.e. WP shouldn’t be liable if someone abuses the tool. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Napster had a legitimate tool for other use (P2P transfers), totally on the users to decide how to use it, right? Not so said the courts. Similar to the hammer example — hammers are used for legitimate purposes in the main, but if you were a hammer manufacturer, and you made one end like a tomahawk to make it easier to kill someone but it had no “hammer-related use”, chances are you might be an accomplice-before-the-fact (criminal) or contributorially negligent (civil). Guns may kill people, as the slogan goes, but it doesn’t mean you have no liability if you hand out loaded guns to toddlers in a playground.

    Second, it’s like copy/paste or other tools available. The real question is the purpose of the tool — to copy text from another site and put it in yours. On the face of it, it’s wrong. It violates copyright. It may be a defense to say “I had permission” if you did, but it isn’t a defense to say “well I could have copied it other ways too, it just happens I used Press This”. Anymore than you could say, “Oh, well, I killed someone with a bomb I bought from Jack, but Jack has no responsibility because I could have shot or stabbed the person instead”. Yep, you COULD have used copy and paste (Ctrl-c/ctrl-v) but that doesn’t change the fact that you chose a tool that made your illegal activity easier. If you build the tool, you have some responsibility for how it is used if the use is a direct foreseeable consequence of the design (i.e. Napster, ThePirateBay, etc.)

    Ultimately, I don’t anyone is saying the user isn’t primarily responsible. They obviously are, even if we don’t start with that premise as we all should, or express it openly in our posts. The real question most of us were talking about was what comes after that, i.e. “what does this mean for WordPress?”

    For me, there are two issues:

    a. On a legal basis, there is an admittedly weak argument to say that WordPress by including Press This would attract any liability for someone using it to pirate. While it’s not zero chance, it’s probably not that high. We can dance on the head of a pin as we have, but it’s likely hypothetical.

    b. On an ethical and far more practical basis, there is a much stronger argument in my opinion to say “You’ve created a tool that facilitates millions of people to create and post original online content on the web” (that is by its nature copyrighted unless released otherwise) yet at the same time “You’ve created another tool within that tool that undermines the entire community’s ability to control their content and protect it from poachers”.

    Sure, anyone could use a plug-in instead, and people wouldn’t likely rise up in revolution to block it, but should such a potentially-community-harming tool really be part of the core?


    • What about fair use? Entirely legal with proper credits. Permission is nice, but not required.

      Also, like it or not, there are political and corporate interests that corrupt the fair administration of justice and rule enforcement. viz., copyright, trademark and patent.

      Judges are human and corruptible despite what the justice system in which they sit may say. They, like everyone in office, have their own political agendas, viz., Chief Buffoon John Roberts (only surpassed in stupidity by the idiot who proffered him). Ditto any rulemaking body.

      People today have no ethics, no moral conscious and a poor sense of fairness. If they are hurt, it is a “criminal offense”; when the pain is external, “who cares?” A higher authority will get the final judgment.

      Misuse in no way puts the responsibility on the maker of goods. Such is the assinine example of giving a loaded gun to children. The passer assumes full risk and liability. Control is beyond the manufacturer (and the purveyor). Caution: prosecutors can’t follow this simple logic.

      Whenever the government is involved, the system is corrupt, the results are skewed, and, at least for the US, failure is absolutely guaranteed–no matter which outcome you are seeking.

      If you create and you show your creation, expect to be imitated, copied, cloned and slighted. It is the nature humans, not merely a Word Press plugin problem. In the end, chances are someone already thought of it or did it. The credit will go to the one who gets recognized and notarized. e.g., Edison, who didn’t invent the electric light bulb. Columbus is another also-ran.

      A truly creative person doesn’t worry about theft; most of what he does is above and beyond. Doubtful he is concerned with the drivel here. Fawners always cry to the authorities, even when they deserve nothing. ©2015

  7. hey Jeff / All
    I was honestly wondering if this “Press This” functionality actually doesn’t really impact on SEO / Google ranking.

    Isn’t re-publishing / copy>paste articles actually a “good way to have Google hate your site”?

    thanks for your time!

  8. Press This encourages and promotes copyright infringement. It doesn’t just copy text but also images. This content is rightfully the property of the content creator, not some scraper who wants to get free content for their site. It is a shady app and should NOT be included with WordPress.

  9. I’m surprised there are still people who think they can wander round
    the internet helping themselves to whatever they want. The internet
    is not a law free zone. Each country has its own copyright laws and
    they easy enough to look up online. I’m in the UK where we have the
    Designs and Patents Act 1988

    Most uses of the Press This tool are likley to be illegal in the UK
    and for every problem there is a solution. A previous poster said we
    now live in a “Sharing Society”, well in that case, I would like to
    share the following link:-

    Its called an N001. Its an ” IPEC ” Court form. For anyone in the UK
    has had their work stolen and the thief declines to pay, simply fill
    in the form, not forgetting to put the amount of money you would
    like in the “Value ” section. Post it to:-

    Chancery Chambers,
    The Rolls Building,
    7 Rolls Building,
    Fetter Lane,
    EC4A 1NL

    A few weeks later you will have the joy of meeting your thief in
    court and listening to him or her trying to explain to the judge
    that because THEY wanted it, it was fair use. A few weeks later, if
    they havent “shared” thier bank account, you can send the very nice
    Sherriff round to collect your payment you. The Sherriff loves to
    share too ;o)

    For anyone who has downloaded “Press this”, are you really sure you
    can afford to press it ? It just might work out to be the most
    expensive tool on the internet !


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