10 Years of PT: 2006 – Scraping and Soaring

globe_logo-2Note: This post is part of an ongoing series, you can read the other posts here.

If 2005 was the year that Plagiarism Today began and got its footing, 2006 was the year that the site began to rocket forward. More specifically it was the first year that Plagiarism Today received mentions in mainstream media.

The first was, to put it modestly, less than flattering. Plagiarism Today had covered a then-new service named ESBN.org (later renamed to Numly), which aimed to become as a record keeping service both to prove ownership and maintain metadata about creations. My article was featured in the show notes for This Week in Tech (TWiT), where the panel took ample time to mock this site and dismiss the need for it.

I responded shortly after, both publicly and privately, but it seemed my efforts to explain the need for the site fell on deaf ears.

But, as disheartening as that was, there was a very quick rebound. Just months later in May, I gave assistance to Beth Pariseau, a Boston-area sports blogger who had had her (excellent) work plagiarized. The Boston Globe picked up the story and gave myself and Plagiarism Today a glowing mention.

What had started on a big downbeat quick exploded in a positive way. However, later that month I found myself again facing strong criticism and a poorly-written headline and nearly-as-poorly-written article attracted the attention of Slashdot users, driving a deluge of very critical commenters the site’s way.

The site, then hosted on a small shared-hosting company site, buckled and went offline, even as my email continued to flood with angry comments.

But as the year wound down Plagiarism Today found itself at the center of the Michael Crook story, which earned me a guest post on 10 Zen Monkeys and appearance on the front page of Digg.

That too ended up taking the site offline, but at least this time it wasn’t an angry mob.

Finally, the site was also invited to join a pair of blogging circles, namely 9Rules and Liz Strauss’ Successful and Outstanding Blog.

All in all, it was a roller coaster year for Plagiarism Today and one I still remember very well.

Copyright and Plagiarism in 2006

Bitacle ImageWhen looking at the copyright and plagiarism issues being faced, 2006 was the height of RSS scraping for many.

On that front, Feedburner was attracting a great deal of attention for its efforts to combat the problem, but helping webmasters detect “Uncommon Uses” of their feed and a new startup named Blogwerx Sentinel was attempting to tackle the problem head on by comparing your feed to others.

Meanwhile, another service, Dapper, aimed to make RSS scraping easier than ever by providing simple tools that allowed users to use (and abuse) content in RSS feeds.

But as the technology war raged around RSS scraping, so did the war of words. Many rose up to defend RSS scraping, saying that merely putting your content in an RSS feed meant that you intended for it to be republished all over the Web. While 9 years later that view is fairly fringe, it was very mainstream in 2006 and I even wrote a lengthy (and still-popular) post rebutting many of the claims.

The RSS scraping battle came to a head that year over a Spanish startup named Bitacle, which was engaged in mass scraping and republishing of RSS feeds, adding their own ads around the content. The service spawned protest websites, anti-Bitacle plugins and a backlash that was comparable in many ways to what we’re seeing today with Snip.ly.

The case came to a head when I sent the so-called “DMCA From Hell“, a massive 17-page DMCA notice detailing every page of Bitacle’s that was in violation of Plagiarism Today’s Creative Commons License (there were a lot). It was sent to Google Adsense, which was their advertising partner at the time, prompting the removal of all ads on the site.

Bitacle eventually resorted to name calling and the fight dragged well into 2007. However, the site began experiencing technical difficulties and was eventually closed for good.

But despite all of that, the likely most memorable story from 2006 wasn’t Bitacle or RSS scraping, but DMCA abuse and Michael Crook.

The basic story was that Michael Crook (not to be confused with the photographer of the same name) was a controversial public figure known best for strong and unpopular opinions. He sent a series of DMCA notices to blogs, including 10 Zen Monkies and Boing Boing, demanding removal of a thumbnail of his face that was snapped during an appearance on Fox News.

The notices were improper in pretty much every way, most importantly that the copyright in the image would belong to Fox News, not him. This says nothing about the fair use and other issues with the DMCA notices (including being sent to wrong hosts and to hosts outside of the United States).

This sparked a backlash against both Crook and the DMCA itself. Though the issue wouldn’t be resolved until 2007, when Crook would abruptly settled an EFF-backed lawsuit against him, it remains one of the most colorful and best-remembered stories of this site’s history.

Most Popular Post

It’s interesting that, of all of the posts on Plagiarism Today in 2006, the most popular post (looking back over the past 90 days of activity) would be The Myth of Poor Man’s Copyright.

It goes to show that, while RSS scraping issues have fallen by the wayside, the myths and misunderstandings about copyright continue to go strong.

Behind the Scenes

Lorelle Stop Content TheftBehind the scenes, 2006 was just as much of a roller coaster as it was on the site itself.

In late 2005 I had gotten a great job with a construction company and, in the beginning of 2006, the job had me shipped to Key West, where I lived for the first few months of the year handling office matters.

However, that job had abruptly ended in March and I quickly found myself back in New Orleans bouncing from temp job to temp job trying to find stability in a city that was very actively trying to rebuild itself.

In June of 2006, things took a very difficult turn as I was involved in a serious (though not life-threatening) car accident. The accident seriously injured my back and left me under doctor and chiropractor care for almost six months. Even after I was done, my back never felt normal or right and, often times, I would struggle to walk long distances.

The accident and the following impairment would help kick off a series of other health issues that lingered for years.

This accident was compounded by another one in November, but the impact of that one wasn’t so much physical as financial. Our newly-bought vehicle was destroyed and we were thrown into a legal quagmire that would take years to resolve.

But despite the terrible luck, one major career positive did happen in 2006. I was approached by a company named Attributor who brought me on as one of their first (if not the absolute first) consultant. Though it wasn’t a great deal of money and only a few hours at the time (I was doing consulting work after regular work hours), it was the genesis for what would become my consulting business and CopyByte.

More importantly than that though, I made two great friends in 2006, people I still count among my closest and best friends today: Chris Matthieu and Lorelle VanFossen.

Chris had just launched ESBN.org, which I covered in February along with its name change to Numly in March. In addition to being what brought my site to the attention of TWiT (something I haven’t let him forget), meeting him would lead to the creation of the Copyright 2.0 Show and a hopefully life-long friendship with a really awesome guy (who now sports one epic mustache).

Lorelle at the time was working on her own stop content theft campaign. Already a well-respected WordPress guru, she was taking content theft head on and became a great ally to Plagiarism Today. Without her I doubt I would have become nearly as involved in the WordPress community, including a stint hosting the WordPress podcast, speaking at several WordCamps or meeting all of the incredible people I have through WordPress events. She has been an amazing supporter of myself and Plagiarism Today for over 9 years now.

To both of you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your friendship, your love and your support. It meant a great deal to me in 2006 during the tough times and means just as much today.

Bottom Line

When I look back on 2006, I could remember the two back-to-back car accidents, the financial difficulties, the torch-carrying mob from Slashdot and the ridicule on TWiT but it isn’t what comes to mind.

Instead, I remember the friends I made that year, the great coverage in the Boston Globe and the wonderful camaraderie I felt with strangers battling Bitacle and the genesis of my consulting business.

It isn’t really a conscious choice either, it’s just a matter of what lasted and what stuck around. That episode of TWiT is long forgotten, so is that Slashdot appearance and the post that sparked it. I’ve recovered from the car accidents (though that took much longer) and the other difficulties of the year have faded away.

However, the friends I made that year, especially Chris and Lorelle, have lasted nearly a decade. The consulting business would grow to be a full-time job and though Bitacle and Michael Crook have slipped from the Internet’s consciousness, the battles remain fresh in my mind.

While 2006 wasn’t a perfect year, it might not have even been a very good year in some ways, it was a year where the good things stuck around and that is what is most important to me.

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