Dark day for the Blackpages

2600 is a group of Australians "interested in computer security". One of its functions has been the creation -- by some of its members -- and hosting of the Blackpages (http://blackpages.2600.org.au). To use the Blackpages directory, users type in a phone number and the application retrieves the name and address of the number based on information from Telstra's 1999-2000 White Pages database.

According to a statement on the 2600 site, the decision to close the site was based on the findings by a Federal Court ruling between Telstra and Desktop Marketing Systems (DtMS) on 25 May 2001. One of the products produced by DtMS is the CD Phone Directory, which contains a list of the name, address and telephone numbers of every telephone subscriber in Australia. Utilising the Telstra telephone directories, the White Pages and Yellow Pages, the Phone Directory provided convenient ways for customers (typically marketing firms) to obtain the addresses or telephone numbers of persons or firms across Australia. However, Justice Finkelstein in his ruling said Telstra has the copyright in the White Pages directories and Yellow Pages directories, and as a result DtMS had "infringed that copyright".

Fearing that similar action may be brought against it by the telco, 2600 spokesperson Grant Bayley said it was a safer option to pull the plug on the service. "We have no time, resources or desire to deal with legal action, and therefore are turning the database off to avoid any likelihood of it," Bayley said. "After all, we're just a group of people with a big hard drive, the public number database and a bit too much spare time."

As for the future of the Blackpages, Bayley was not too confident of it returning. "Not unless we receive an undertaking from Telstra Corporation or Pacific Access [a fully owned subsidiary which operates the White Pages and Yellow Pages] that they will not pursue legal action now or in the future contingent upon Blackpages remaining substantially the same as it is now (non-profit, free of advertising, free for use to visitors of the site). I doubt that will happen, though."

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Howard Dahdah

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