Aral Balkan is well-known in the Adobe Flash community as an independent speaker and developer; I first came across him a few years back as a champion of open source Flash. On Friday Balkan was surprised to find that he was apparently a key author at Ulitzer.com, a new online publication from Sys-con media which has been launched with the extravagant claim:
Ulitzer is designed to replace Wikipedia with Its three dimensional live content offerings and dynamic topic structure.
Balkan found that he had an entire sub-domain on Ulitzer devoted to his work, with articles he had written. He had not been consulted about this or offered any payment and was indignant, declaring on Twitter (note the sub-domain has been removed):
WTF is Ulitzer and why am I listed as an author on it? Sys-con, remove me now!!! http://aralbalkan.ulitzer.com
He was not alone; and along with a number of other authors contacted sys-con to have his content removed. Balkan expressed his feelings in a series of tweets using the tag @plagiarismtoday and remarking that:
They’ve never had any respect for authors/speakers. I was once announced as speaking at an event I wasn’t approached about!
Fair enough; and the drama could have ended there, except that Sys-con decided to fight back on its blog.
Sys-Con libels me, calls me a "gay son of a bitch" in article titled "Turkish Fags Who Live in London"
tweeted Balkan in response to an intemperate blog post, letting loose a salvo of tweets expressing his emotions towards the company.
Next up, Sys-con blogged under the heading Turkish Web Designer declares Death on Twitter:
Company representatives contacted the Interpol and Scotland Yard to locate the Turkish Web Designer who is suspected to live in London. Aral Balkan seemed to be organizing a Twitter group who may harm the company representatives according to his Twitter logs.
and going on to recall the attempted assassination of the Pope John Paul II.
All very silly; though in saying that I don’t want to underestimate the impact this kind of outburst can have on individuals – it can be profoundly disturbing. Certainly it is not the way a reputable media company should behave. It strikes me that Sys-con has underestimated the influence of a popular individual armed with Twitter, a blog, and the attention of numerous influential folk at companies including Adobe and Microsoft, which are Sys-con’s advertising clients or potential clients – Sys-con’s site is currently plastered with ads for Microsoft’s Visual Studio.
The episode interests me because at heart it is a battle over intellectual property. One way to look at Ulitzer.com is that it gets free content from others and profits from it – something which Experts Exchange also does, but in that case successfully and openly. That’s worrying for those of us who make a business from selling our content. The episode is causing some bloggers to have second thoughts about the Creative Commons license:
Take a scroll down the right-hand side of this blog and you will see that I have removed the Creative Commons License and reverted to specific copyright protection.
Why? Some rather interesting facts have come to light about a certain publishing house over the last few days. It seems that they are doing nothing short of scraping blogs and recycling content under the auspices of a "publishing portal" labelled with their brand, claiming the original blog authors as their own featured authors as if the content was written specifically for them.
I doubt Sys-con need fear assassins; but it should not under-estimate the power of a community or the importance of reputation.