What is the legality of apps like Instapaper?


Just wondering if applications like Instapaper are legal and if so how?

I've read around a bit and it seems that because the data is being sent by the bookmarklet from the users machine to Instapaper, rather than Instapaper getting a URL and then scrapping the site, that gets around things. If this is the case, how do they get around the images?

Does anyone know where the line in the sand here is?


asked Nov 8 '11 at 05:34
Vdh Ant
146 points
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  • Doesn't Google effectively do this by caching webpages? – Joel B 12 years ago
  • While the bookmarklet works this way, many other methods only provide the URL to Instapaper and the content is scraped by the Instapaper.com servers. And whats entertaining, is the Instapaper API Terms (http://www.instapaper.com/api/terms) explicitly ban scraping of the Instapaper site itself. – Ryan Watkins 12 years ago

3 Answers


I'd think of it like a printer, or a Print-to-PDF option, or even time-shifting content like TiVo. And as far as I know, sharing shares a link to the original content, not to an instapaper-archived version (someone who uses Instapaper more correct me if I'm wrong).

I am not a lawyer, but I suspect use of Instapaper qualifies as fair use under copyright law in the same way printing does. Archiving a copy of freely-available content for personal use:

  • isn't done for any commercial purpose
  • makes use of content freely available to the public (as opposed to movies you have to purchase to view)
  • doesn't harm the commercial value of the work

Further, Instapaper offers publishers the option to opt out: http://www.instapaper.com/publishers The reality is that copyright law is a mess, and the only way to be certain use of content you haven't created yourself is legal is to use it within the bounds of a license or to have it tested by law suit.

answered Nov 8 '11 at 06:53
Jay Neely
6,050 points
  • Thanks for the feedback... Do you think it makes a different if they where scrapping the content vs the method they use (taking the copy from the client)? Also where do images fall - would it be ok for them to reference the images on the original source or to take a copy? – Vdh Ant 12 years ago
  • Again, you should really consult a lawyer with experience in online copyright. I'm pretty sure what they're doing *is* scraping; they're parsing page content and storing a local copy for the user. They are doing it at a user's request, rather than in advance, but even if they were doing it on their own initiative, that wouldn't make them any different from what Google does for search indexing, cacheing, and previewing. Images are governed by the same copyright law as text. So long as Instapaper is just offering a service to make a personal archive of free content, I think that's Fair Use. – Jay Neely 12 years ago


I think all of us involved in the content space need to answer this one. Most of the tools are used by the user to improve their experience of the original source content.

The commercial oil that makes all this work is financial gain for publishers. All the services have to show publishers a route to increased revenue from wider and deeper distribution. In that way the copyright question becomes secondary. Google faced exactly this debate when it launched Google News and News International withdrew their content.

answered Nov 12 '11 at 04:20
Jon Slinn
16 points
  • So I am curious as to why you keep changing my words Ross? I could understand if the site rules said no sites are to be mentioned but that is not the case and I am a legitimate user of services like S2R, Instapaper, Read Later, klip and yes clipDO .... – Jon Slinn 12 years ago
  • You are not "user" of clipDO. – Ross 12 years ago
  • Mentioning it have noting to do with the question. Please read FAQ again. – Ross 12 years ago
  • From FAQ "Be careful, because the community frowns on overt self-promotion and tends to vote it down and flag it as spam...However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers." – Ross 12 years ago
  • That is the exact reason I give. You claim you are user of some product but the truth is that you are owner of that product. – Ross 12 years ago


A lawyer will most likely be happy to research it with you on your clock and then will just give you a text book safe "don't do it" answer. If your case is interpretative and not tested in court then they don't know any better than you do. The biggest difference here is a piece of software is a tool a user uses for their own benefit or if they use it to benefit from other people's content. If it's a tool used by an individual, then you're clear. If you scrape pages and republish the content you may have a problem.

answered Nov 9 '11 at 09:00
120 points
  • The idea would be that they use it as a tool for their own benefit. – Vdh Ant 12 years ago

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