I’m always interested in a good debate around that meme, and we’ve had several rousing discussions here at rizzn.com on the topic, but this evening before I head off to bed, I’d rather ask the question in the title, since I encountered a very odd sequence of events this evening.
Backstory (Not Relevant to the Question, But Might Be Interesting).
I’ve recently experienced an uptick in my income. The last couple months are the first time I can say I’ve been on the happy side of a sustainable income since I left Mashable, and rather than waste the money on booze or skydives, I figured it might be a good time to invest it.
So I decided to focus on acquiring blogs and content that I thought might make this site more enjoyable. I’ve always had the dream of making rizzn.com something more than just my personal ramblings, and hiring writing staff is out of the fiscal question at this point (I’m not making that much money right now), so acquiring blogs that have similar focuses and recurring traffic as my own and carefully integrating them to the site seems like a sound proposition (particularly since I have some very lucrative and stable ad relationships at the moment).
All that to say – when I saw a listing on Sitepoint this evening, with a current bid of $175, for a blog called TekPop, I thought I might have a good candidate for acquisition.
TekPop is a Splog!
It was pretty evident, though, after a quick perusal of the site that everything there was unorginal content. It was all stolen from Techcrunch, Engadget, Crunchgear, BoyGeniusReports, and a few other lesser known sites.
Depending on your interpretation of the law, this is illegal. At the very least, though, the site was a poor purchase at the Buy-It-Now price of $600. The primary sources of traffic would be search engine traffic. For someone like me who is trying to build a site of value, all the people would come into it, notice that the content is stolen, and assume my entire site operated off stolen traffic.
What’s more, the level of traffic the site received didn’t justify the $600 pricetag. If it were an original content site with the same content focus, you’d do well (in this market) to sell it at half the price.
Furthermore, if I purchase it, I put myself at risk. My name is known in tech circles, and I am pretty sure that if I buy a site that steals most of it’s content from Mike Arrington’s blog network, I’d get a pretty terse email from the man himself. It wouldn’t be my first. The last time I inadvertently posted something originally aired on Techcrunch with improper attribution, it only took a few minutes for him to alert me to it.
So Why Do You Mention It On Your Blog, Mark?
I’m not the blog police, and frankly, it’s not the only splog currently for sale on SitePoint. It is the only one I’ve seen that’s been improperly represented as something other than that, though.
I pointed it out in the comments of the listing that the price is a bit steep for a what is essentially a splog.
About ten minutes later, I got a forum private message from the seller:
Auction spoiling is against Sitepoint’s terms and conditions. I deleted your comment, after I took a screenshot and reported it to support.
Don’t ever leave another comment on my auctions if you still have an account left when support reads their mail.
I quickly responded thusly:
Stealing content is illegal – and the site you have for sale has no original articles.
I know some of the owners of Sitepoint – so I’m not very worried. If I were you, I’d be more worried about whether or not I was going to be sued for attempting to profit from stolen work.
I don’t have anything personal against you, but you’re posting for sale a site that is illegal. I was simply pointing that out – if it’s not true, you should have simply responded honestly instead of making this personal.
I wrote that “I wasn’t worried,” because a couple months ago, I interviewed for but ultimately didn’t take the job as editor for Sitepoint’s blogs.
I, like many of you, was first familiar with Sitepoint because of it’s marketplace, but also because the former Editor in Chief was Josh Catone, formerly of ReadWriteWeb. He ran a tight ship over there, but ultimately Sitepoint is much more than just a blog or just a marketplace – they’re a multi-pronged outfit that benefits primarily from the publishing of printed technical books.
As such, I’d figure they’d at least have some respect for intellectual property.
Color me surprised, though. Before I had even hit send on the above message, in my inbox was the following email from Sitepoint:
A seller on the SitePoint Marketplace has made a complaint about negative comments you posted on her auction.
I am writing to remind you of the SitePoint Marketplace guidelines regarding negative comments:
“Comments should be made only by those who are seriously interested in buying the item for sale. Frivolous comments, even if they are well-intentioned, are discouraged and may be removed by a moderator.
“Negative comments about or criticism of the seller or item for sale are strictly not allowed. This includes accusations of fraud or theft, even if they are well-intentioned (for example, to warn others). If any member has a dispute with a seller, it must be solved privately, and not be referred to publicly in auctions. A member who posts negative comments or accusations about a seller may have their posts removed, or may be banned permanently.”
This message is your first and final warning. Repeated breaches of these guidelines will result in your account being suspended.
Technical Director, sitepoint.com
Incredulous and irritated, I quickly tapped out a reply:
First of all… I was a serious buyer – until I realized that all the content on the site was stolen, mostly from Engadget.
That makes the seller someone trying to profit from stolen content. That’s illegal, at least here in the US. It also makes the site fairly worthless. During my due diligence, I discovered this and saved myself some potential heartache, given I would have otherwise purchased the site. < p>It wasn’t an allegation – it was a point of fact – anyone that browses the site can see that.
As you may or may not know, I am a blogger with a fairly decent sized and influential audience. Would you rather I blog every infraction? I can, if you’d prefer it.
I’m getting that you’d rather protect criminals and threaten do-gooders who point out the obvious.
I await your response.
Meanwhile, Suzanne the seller had already replied to my private message reply.
I pay good money to list my auctions. Know your facts before you run your mouth. Using rss feeds is using syndicated content with attribution back to the original post. If you don’t know what syndicated means, google it. It means it is for distribution. Not a single site has complained about my content because they benefit from all of the backlinks to their sites.
You obviously don’t know anything about rss and I’m telling you again, do not comment on any of my auctions again. You’re obviously an auction spoiler.
Otherwise you would have just contacted me with a question via pm. Don’t contact me again.
Here’s how I responded:
I’m actually, a professional blogger, and have been using RSS in all it’s forms since it’s inception. I know what I’m talking about.
You’re a splogger. Just because you link back to the original article after stealing the entire content of that article doesn’t make what you did legal. You haven’t added any original content or commentary, which generally violates the spirit of fair use.
You get away with it because sploggers are like roaches. You smash one, and find a thousand more. If you make this personal, I can point you out to the editors of Engadget, which I have in my rolodex.
They might want a piece of your auction proceeds, since it’s not just about splogging for you, but profiting from their work.
Or you may get lucky, and they won’t. Who knows?
Want to apologize, or want to escalate this further?
Sure, I Was Terse and Self-Righteous, But I’m Right
Here’s the thing: yeah, in retrospect, I’m just pissing into the wind. Dozens of splogs are bought and sold each day on forums just like Sitepoint. The only reason I responded on that particular one was that at first glance at the description, it looked like a decent purchase.
Had it been priced a bit lower, I might’ve impulse bid on it and then possibly been stuck with the purchase. I was, by definition, a serious buyer (at least when it came to that auction). My concerns were valid.
If Suzanne had a leg to stand on, she could have defended the site’s legality and viability as a commercial property in the comments.
More importantly, though, Sitepoint arguably has a duty to police themselves a bit better. Josh Catone, in his writings at ReadWriteWeb, demonstrated a clear awareness of the meaning of the word. It is certainly hard to imagine that a blog the size of RWW, or Sitepoint for that matter, can exist without at least a passing awareness of the damage sploggers can do to their brand:
“The problem with [splogging]: it’s simply regurgitating your content and thus risking your content being marked as the duplicate content […] its using your work to bring traffic and make revenue for nothing more than a PHP script that reads RSS and outputs it onto a page.”
“Splogs in particular need to be dealt with severely as they are not only creating lots of bogus “desperation” clicks by users simply trying to go somewhere useful, but they are polluting search results. I’m constantly finding splogs that have scrapped one of my pages using cloaking to feed the scrapped content to Google’s bots and then feeding bogus gibberish surrounded by CPC ads to users.“
“If these spammy types of sites that use the labor of others to generate search engine fodder for no purpose other than generating CPC clicks were effectively dealt with, it would not only improve the quality of clicks that advertisers get, but would improve the average CPC payout legitimate publishers see because the garbage sites wouldn’t be deflating the value of clicks.”
I’m Not the First to Say This
As I’m writing this up, I did a bit of searching around, and it appears the common association between Sitepoint and the facilitation of splogs goes back at least three years.
Whether or not you think Sitepoint should better police it’s marketplace is one thing – coming down so harshly on me, someone that they’ve actually been on the phone with and tried to hire before – that’s another thing. This, to me, indicates a willingness to sell their soul rather than do what’s right.
It’s hard to argue that sploggers do anything valuable for the ecosystem of the Internet. They drag down ad values, they take other’s work and try to profit from it, and they create no legitimate engagement amongst the audiences they may accrue.
Given all of these factors, with the added bonus that Sitepoint’s primary income is derived by profiting from original writing, I’d imagine they’d at least respond to an email or review the case rather than tell me within seconds that “it’s my first and last warning,” and I better not say negative things ever again on their marketplace forums.
Am I out of line here? Has my ego run away with me?
Or maybe, just maybe, am I right for once? You tell me. I’m honestly curious what everyone else thinks about this.
UPDATE: Since I posted this blog entry, Suzanne has posted another site for auction, this one centered around scrapbooking. All the content is stolen, as well.