Would You Buy Software From A Scraper?

Write a blog that's well-trafficked enough, and you'll draw scrapers lie flies to roadkill. Every time we get a link from a big site — a BoingBoing or TechCrunch or something — I'm amazed how multiple identical pingbacks from scraper blogs pop up within a few hours, automatically generated as the scraper sites copy and republish the entire original posts with their links to us. Following the backlink leads to some junk site — designed to carry ads, or in a misguided effort to improve somebody's search engine position by link farming. Usually there's no easy remedy — the scraper's site has an anonymously registered domain, and may be hosted offshore.

This is not such a case.

Recently I noticed a series of very familiar pingbacks — very familiar because they appeared identical to pingbacks I'd already gotten from Kevin Underhill at the top-notch you-got-your-humor-in-my-law site Lowering the Bar.

I decided to investigate. Here's what I found.

1. The scraper site is calltothebar.com.

2. The scraper site copies the entirely of posts from Lowering the Bar, SCOTUSblog, Bitter Lawyer, LawComix, and occasionally others. Here's a printout of a page in case they take it down.

3. The scraper site copies the entire posts, links and all, and runs them with the (false and misleading) byline "by kszafarsk," with a link to the actual author site at the bottom. The scraper site has a header at top with what appears to be category or subject area links ("Attorney Humor | Politics | Professors Point of View | Law Practice Resources | Legal Careers") but are actually not hyperlinked.

4. The scraper site has tags that appear randomly generated from the text of the scraped posts. For instance, for both bot-weirdness and extra douchebag points, when the scraper site lifted Bitter Lawyer's entire very personal post "I Had To Put My Dog Down," it printed it with the tag "Down."

5. The scraper site does not allow comments and adds no commentary whatsoever to the posts it copies.

6. The site has one prominent advertisement for a software product called "EncoreSuite," linked to the site for that product, which in turn links to the company that makes it, KM Sciences, Inc.

7. A WHOIS search reveals that calltothebar.com was registered by — wait for it — KM Sciences, Inc..

I wrote to KM Sciences last Thursday, sending the email to their sales and tech support addresses as well as the administrative and technical contact they listed when they registered calltothebar.com. I followed up when I didn't hear from them. Still no response.

So: it appears that software company KM Science is promoting itself — albeit extremely ineffectually (the calltothebar.com site had 22 hits today) — by stealing other people's work and slapping it on a shitty little site running one of their ads. Whoever is doing it lacks the slightest freaking clue of how to cover their tracks. Now, if I were representing them, I'd say the abject failure to exercise discretion about this shows lack of mental capacity to form bad intent, but here the scraping is just too painfully obvious to be defensible. Or maybe KM Sciences hired some marketeer who is doing all that, and utterly failed to supervise them — remember, when you outsource your marketing, you outsource your ethics and your reputation.

Either way, ask yourself this: would you install software these people coded on your computer?

The Never-Blue Lizard People Do Not Recognize Human Copyright "Laws"

When I wrote this post advocating for a non-partisan approach to defending thuggishly threatened speech, I was happy when people started to link to it, because I believe its message sincerely and forcefully.

I was happy, that is, until I noticed that a large number of the links were coming from scrapers — sites that simply copy an entire post verbatim, with or without attribution.

Take conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' site InfoWars, which scraped my post wholesale, though it at least preserved original links and attributed it with a link. That's clearly not fair use. I tried writing InfoWars Editor Kurt Nimmo, politely requesting that they transform the post into a reasonably limited quotation and a link, so as to respect both my intellectual property rights and good blogging etiquette. I never got a response. Perhaps that's understandable. Folks at InfoWars are busy. Day by day, they are the tip of the spear, seeking the irrefutable proof that Lizard People faked the "Moon Landing" to create the illusion of a genuine space program, whilst actually preventing humanity from encountering That Which We Are Not Meant To Know. This month they are very busy fact-checking this so-called private space mission, which is actually being filmed on a sound stage in Burbank. If you look carefully you'll see a number of the participants were washouts from second-string reality shows. And InfoWars is this close to a blockbuster story about how local craft services people have been delivering a suspicious amount of live bugs to the soundstage. So they're busy — too busy to create original content, too busy to refrain from thievery, too busy to respond to emails.

I considered sending them a DMCA notice, but I may hold off just a bit. My wife has informed me that I have reached my quarterly quota of unbalanced people I may antagonize. She's concerned that I might get snatched off the street and stuffed into some sort of Patriot's Terrarium or something.

I also got scraped by a blogger named Chris Roubis, whose blog falls into the general classificaion of "sites with advertisements about how fluoridation threatens babies" or "sites with post categories involving the terms 'UFO' and 'Chemtrails.'" As much as I like attention, this seemed like something of a disappointing comedown, venue-wise. InfoWars is heavily trafficked, and has higher-class advertisements advocating use of colloidal silver, not posts about babies, who after all are not independently productive members of society. [Interesting Fact: Lizard People, who are naturally green, are genetically incapable of turning blue, whatever disguise or glamour they are wearing. Therefore widespread use of colloidal silver is an excellent method of identifying Lizard People. This is also why it is imperative that someone fund a live-action Smurfs movie.] Anyway, I left a comment at Chris Roubis' site, but a week later it's still in moderation. He's busy too, I'm sure. So is Radio Justin, who also scraped me shamelessly. I tried listening to Radio Justin to see if he's hold a symposium explaining his principled reasons for ripping off my content and not answering my complaint about it, but after a while a got sort of depressed by the weepy Donna Summer tributes and tuned out.

Anyway, I guess I should be happy. Silence and stonewalling, ultimately, are preferable to enraged, vaguely threatening, and semi-literate justifications, which is what I got the last time I complained about a scraper. Counting blessings!