First and foremost, copyright law does not apply to words or data, it applies to the human ingenuity that puts them together in a creative manner. Trademark and patent law are different animals, but they do not seem to be an issue here.
The example of "Ice Ice Baby" is more likely to be a trademark than a copyright issue. It's indicative of an artist, but is too short to qualify for copyright protection.
Enough background. IMO, page header data (title and metadata in this context) are not protected under copyright law. Sorry. The keywords list is obviously out, since it's a list of keywords. If the ingredients of a recipe can't be copyrighted, keywords certainly can't be.
This leaves the description and the title.
I'll quote part of the US copyright Act on things that can't
be copyrighted. These limitations also apply to most other countries under the Berne Convention and under the Common law.
Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contentsSource: http://www.copyright...ircs/circ1.html
It's clear from the context that this would also apply to the title of a webpage ("Titles") and the description ("short phrases, and slogans").
So it's not protected. There are a lot of things that surprise people about copyright law, and this is one of them. Another is that if you make a couple of changes to a valid copyrighted work, the copyright doesn't disappear. Copyright is weaker than many copyright holders think, and much stronger than many copyright violators think.
But that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Just because someone is doing well in the SERPs doesn't mean it's because of their metatags! Far from it. By copying their header information, you are far more likely to run afoul of a search engine duplication filter than the law, but I'm not sure that's any better from a business standpoint. It can take years to get a legal ruling and be forced to remove something, but being knocked off the SERPs by a search engine can take minutes.
It's not illegal. It's just not a good idea. Also, and this is a personal observation - it just seems slimy and underhanded, you know? I'm not trying to be insulting, but by definition you can't get ahead of an original by copying them. You have to surpass them. This means unique content of your own. By copying them it just feels like the plan is to leech off of someone else's hard work.
Feel free to learn from their header set up - that's good business. I do a competition analysis on all my clients' competitors myself. But the goal is to beat them, not to try to be
Edited by mcanerin, 17 December 2006 - 11:08 PM.