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5/19/2009
08:10 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Wolfram|Alpha Claims Authorship Rights For Machines

While many observers have noted that Wolfram|Alpha is not like Google, the distinction between the two services is perhaps most apparent in their Terms of Service.

While many observers have noted that Wolfram|Alpha is not like Google, the distinction between the two services is perhaps most apparent in their Terms of Service.Google's Terms of Service don't demand much other than lawful behavior. Wolfram|Alpha on the other hand makes some rather surprising demands, as noted in a discussion on Groklaw.

"The free Wolfram|Alpha service is available for ad hoc, personal, non-commercial use only," Wolfram Research's Terms of Use state.

While Wolfram Research makes some allowance for occasional professional use and posting Wolfram|Alpha results in blogs, anyone using the service regularly in a professional capacity has to seek a license.

Wolfram Research also demands that users attribute results produced by using Wolfram|Alpha to the company.

"Failure to properly attribute results from Wolfram|Alpha is not only a violation of these terms, but may also constitute academic plagiarism or a violation of copyright law," the Terms of Use state. "Attribution is something we expect you to give us in exchange for us having provided you with a high-quality free service."

That's a puzzling claim given that Wolfram|Alpha is supposed to compute factual answers and facts cannot be copyrighted.

What's more, plagiarism applies to copying another author's work without attribution, but Wolfram|Alpha is a set of machines that perform calculations.

It's as if Microsoft asserted that data generated through the use of Excel and not attributed to the company's software represents plagiarism or a violation of copyright law.

While Wolfram Research may be intending its Terms of Use for academic publications, where rigorous citation standards are appropriate, the company's instance on so many restrictions guarantees that Wolfram|Alpha will remain a niche research tool.

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