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Can I use the description in my human edited directory, exactly as they appear.
I know this most probably sounds a dumb question when you consider that SE spiders swipe them for use in the engines, but I just wonder what the legal position is here.
In general the SE's use the defence of implied copyright. I guess you can use the same as the defence is not only available to bots.
Of course don't if the site says "do not copy our metatags".
That is not to say that you have any implied permission to use that description for any other purpose, such as to copy it for use on one of your own pages.
Of course, that does not mean that you are clear of the possibility of being sued. There are certainly plenty of people that will at the very least, threaten legal action even when you are in the right.
I know this most probably sounds a dumb question when you consider that SE spiders swipe them for use in the engines
IANAL but in the UK, meta tags and website product information is covered by database right, so you can't just take it and use it. Search engines don't compete in the same arena - unlike your direct competitor who can take your meta tags.