I'm not sure exactly why this came up now, but apparently Wolfram Alpha claims that it's output may be covered by copyright, even though it is a combination of facts, some interpretation and an effective layout. The relevant part of it's Terms and Conditions is this:
Attribution and Licensing
"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. Attribution is something we expect you to give us in exchange for us having provided you with a high-quality free service."
Is every page of results/output really an expression of an idea? Do the facts, interpretation and layout add up to a copyrightable work?
The results may be new and interesting, but it is the service that is of greater value - the results are nice to have, but in and of themselves, they are a collection of facts and information, that could be found in other places. It just happens that they're in the same spot. What put them there? The "computational knowledge engine"! To me, it's like the picture or memory of riding a bike. Sure, that was fun, but I'd rather have the bike and keep riding it. Without it I won't get my exercise and will be without transport.
As to the points raised in the InfoWorld article, I agree that this might lead to much more broad issues. While it may be possible to claim copyright on results, transformations of emails, or other machine generated output, I question the usefulness of this. Machine output tends to exist simply because it is too difficult/time-consuming/repetitive for a person to perform the same job. Again, the service - the availability of the service - is much more important than the results. I might need those results now, but in the next day, week or month I'll need new results.
This all returns to the idea that invention is much easier than innovation. I could reproduce a particular result that mimicked one Wolfram Alpha result. I could create a few different results myself. I cannot create a "computational knowledge engine". That's what I'm after.
Even if the results are copyrightable, enforcing the copyright would be counter-productive. They should want the output/results to be copied, shared, distributed. It's free promotion for Wolfram Alpha. If the output is useful and desired, it will entice more people to use the service. And the service is what can be monetised - it is the scarce resource. Output is comparatively easy, creating it not so much.
My final point relates to the first sentence of the final paragraph of the InfoWorld article: "... these are all questions for the lawyers". No. No way. These may be legal issues, but they are definitely not questions for lawyers. They are questions for the marketing of Wolfram Alpha. They are questions for Wolfram Research executives. They are questions for the public. They are questions for the developers. The legal issues are wholly eclipsed by the decisions facing Wolfram Research as a business.
Copyright or no, the way to monetise anything is to offer a something of value, that includes scarce resources, and outdoes the competition. If people recognise and want the value, and cannot obtain it elsewhere, they will pay for it. Locking it down, not allowing the output/results to be shared, is trying to create artificial scarcity. Sure, attribution is nice, links are nice, but the content is not all there is. Don't undersell yourself, Wolfram Alpha, you're so much more than facts on a page.