On Blog Etiquette and Content Ownership

It's time for a friendly reminder:

It's not cool to steal content from somebody else's blog to put on your own.

If you're quoting 98% of somebody else's blog post on your own blog, you're pirating their content.

A quick excerpt and a link? Those are awesome. All bloggers, authors aspiring to share their message with the world, love and respect the shout out. Thanks for sending traffic our way. Thanks for telling us that you've enjoyed something we've written, enough to point it out to others.

But there are way too many people out there who take an entire blog post and quote it on their blog. When you do that, you're stealing our content, and you're stealing our traffic.

Tracking the traffic to my blog and to its specific posts, and tracking the comments I receive in response, these are how I measure the value of my blog. This is a strong component of how many bloggers measure the value of their blogs. If you duplicate my content elsewhere, you are impeding my ability to measure. People might visit your site and see only your copy of my words, and not see the copy on my site. That means that I don't see the traffic. People might comment on the copy on your site, and not mine. I won't see those comments. You confuse Google, and you risk search engines ranking both of our sites lower based on the perception of lesser value due to duplicative content.

Stealing content like that is not fair, nor is it right. It doesn't matter if you think we're over reacting; the law is very clear. I own those words, the contents of everything I post; you do not. I get to control what happens to my content, and you do not. Duplicating entire posts goes far beyond "fair use" and is potentially legally actionable.

Perhaps I'm a bit more familiar with copyright law and fair use guidelines, and the importance of ownership of one's writings, because I live with a writer (and I worked in print before I came to the online realm). I don't think I'm that out of the norm, though, and it does bum me out to people not pay attention to the rules.

My recommendation is that if you ever find your content substantively duplicated on another site, file a DMCA take down notice with the site owner. If the site owner ignores you, file a second one with the ISP. The ISP (or upstream) will usually not ignore it, and they will often take the entire site down, if the site owner doesn't comply.

My apologies if you feel that sending a DMCA notification is a draconian measure. I can understand -- I myself have been on the receiving end of baseless DMCA takedown requests -- but this is an actual, legitimate use of the law. These are real copyright violations. And a site owner or content publisher is given an opportunity to rebut the allegation and hold their ground, if they are doing something they feel is defensible.

(BTW, this problem is essentially why I set the RSS feeds for my sites to only show only the first bit of a post, and not every entire post. This is because there were a couple of lame, fake anti-spam blog sites out there that aggregate content from RSS feeds without asking, and were posting entire copies of my posts without my consent. Besides chasing after the sites to knock it off, I modified my RSS feeds to make it less easy to automate content theft.)

My apologies for the off-topic rant. We'll return shortly to our regularly scheduled topics.

Jam Productions

I figured I'd use this space to note for posterity that I've now unsubscribed from emails from Jam Productions for a second time now. If they continue to send me emails after this carefully logged unsubscribe request, whoa boy, sit back and watch the fireworks start to fly.

You Gotta Fight!

"You gotta fight!
For your right!
To connnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnntact!"
-- Beastie Boys (sort of)

Regarding the ongoing saga of E360 versus the Entire Universe, it looks like E360 has put out a press release explaining that they plan to soldier on.

The subheading ("E360 Continues To Fight For Its Rights To Communicate With Its Customers") and a lot of the subsequent exposition make mention of E360's customers and how the world is interfering with their ability to email their customers.

Wait a minute. All the people receiving this mail, they're customers? There has been paid consideration given, in either direction? These people all purchased something from E360 directly?

From what little I can tell, that doesn't seem to be the case. I don't know how E360 compiles their lists, but I can theorize, based on what I've read and what I know about the industry. I do know that people who are mailing direct customers tend not to have to issues sending to Comcast. I also know that others who seem to be in the same space as E360 tend to buy their lists from a co-registration broker or through co-registration partnerships.

Co-registration is basically another term for list selling. A user signs for some free magazine or online content, and the privacy policy or terms and conditions contains a clause that says it's OK for the data collector to sell your data to whomever they want. And that's exactly what happens. Sometimes it's a bit more restrictive, but the vast majority of the time, multiple companies can and do buy these lists and send to them.

Again, I don't know if this is how E360 does it. But everybody I've run into who runs a "big offer engine" seems to do it this way.

In that scenario, if you buy that list, and you mail to it, those people are not your customers. Those recipients don't even know who you are. They don't recognize your mail, they didn't sign up with you directly, and they hit the "this is spam" button every time they see your mail.

I have a theory as to why that is: Because it's spam. And not by my definition alone; every internet service provider I can think of would call this spam, as would most email service providers.

E360: EPIC FAIL CONTINUES

E360 (who is also fighting Spamhaus in court) just saw their lawsuit against Comcast laughed out of court.

The judge in this case really seems to be savvy on the issues involved.

Third sentence in: "Some, perhaps even a majority of people in this country, would call [E360] a spammer." He goes on to be clear that he gets it about spam filtering, and that the judiciary even uses spam filters. In a footnote, he question E360's claims of denial-of-service attacking, saying basically that if a receiving site blocking a sender makes their stuff fall over, then their stuff is might be poorly designed.

Ultimately, the court dismisses all claims brought by E360 on the basis that Comcast isn't doing anything that indicates they are acting outside of good faith.

Read it all here. (h/t to Mickey Chandler of SpamSuite)

The One Goes To Eleven

Over on her blog, Laura Atkins of Word to the Wise shares eleven timely tips on dealing with ISPs when you're blocked.

A lot of it is common sense, but then again ... I know that a lot of people need common sense training.

Promoting Transparency

I just received an email. It was sent an email list that I signed up for, in person, last week, at a wine tasting in my neighborhood here in Chicago. It was very much a desired email. I can't wait to go back to that wine store (once I'm over this cold) and stock up. I don't know much about wine, but I'm having fun learning, and this email got me excited.

Geek that I am, I took a look at the headers. I looked up the source IP address in WHOIS and found that it is registered to "ORCS Web, Inc.," a random web host. That's odd. It's not clearly registered to an ESP. Then I looked at the return path and click redirect domains. They both use a semi-generic "mail" domain. When I look that up in WHOIS, I find that it's registered to "Domains by Proxy, Inc." Meaning that the owner of the domain desires to hide their true business name.

Is this transparency? Is this ESP standing up and making it clear and obvious that they're the responsible party for this piece of mail?

The thing is, this isn't spam. I signed up for this. But the lack of transparency here is confusing, and I don't see a good reason for it. If you're a legitimate company, why isn't your domain actually registered to you? Why are you sitting in somebody else's IP space?

I know who the ESP in question is, cause it's obviously discernible for somebody like me, by looking at other bits of the data. But that's not the point; I'm a power user. Obfuscation isn't something I fall for easily. Even though I can see past it, you're still making me wonder why you would do it to begin with.

Is it meant to fool less savvy recipients, less savvy email administrators? Why would a legitimate list owner, or a legitimate email service provider, work that way?

Heck, let me ask a simpler question: What legitimate company doing business on the internet would want to hide behind Domains-by-Proxy? What kind of businesses do you think of, when you think of ones that might not want to be easily traceable? What domain owner, what proprietor of an online store, what professional business, would want to hide their business information?

I wonder.

Mourning the Loss of DearAOL.com

Wow, how time flies. It's been more than a year since DearAOL.com fell off the face of the internet.

Remember what that was? It was an astroturf site (i.e. a fake grass roots community movement) trying to strike fear in the hearts of us mere mortals about how the end of email was nigh. Goodmail would rule the land, they said. You wouldn't be able to deliver email to AOL without paying a fee, they said. Join with us to put pressure on AOL, else email breaks forever for everyone.

Complete balogna, those of us in the email industry said. Turns out, common sense prevailed. They were wrong. Goodmail is used by some, but in my reckoning, the vast majority of people, organizations, companies I know of sending to their mailing lists, are sending to AOL just fine, without having to pay a cent to AOL or Goodmail.

The few that struggle? It's because they have issues with list hygiene, engagement, or permission. I knew for a fact back then that MoveOn had significant list hygiene and permission issues. (I am not up to date on them currently; so I'm not speaking to current status. I just don't know.) But back then, they had problems with forged subscriptions and list sharing, the kind of problematic stuff that gets you blocked, no matter what year it is, and no matter what the email landscape looks like.

And they partnered with the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). EFF does some good things, but they just do not get it about spam. Their desired solutions to the spam problem seem to involve giving spammers hugs and let end recipients sort it all out on their own. This scales horribly and means you'd be receiving with hundreds (or more) pieces of spam every day to deal with on your own. EFF co-founder John Gilmore, famously ran an open relaying mail server for many years, personally allowing his own resources to repeatedly be used as a public annoyance vector and spam delivery mechanism. He's not exactly known for exemplifying thought leadership on the abuse prevention front, or for being knowledgeable on the best practices required for managing a mailing list.

Enough about that. On a more interesting note, AOL's postmaster team has recently started up a blog. It's recommended reading if you work in email delivery or spam fighting; it offers up free insight into how one of the biggest receiving domains on earth works. I've bookmarked it, and you should, too.