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An open letter to Jason Calacanis

4:38 pm

Dear Jason Calacanis,

Stop stealing our users’ content. Your Q&A website, Mahalo Answers, is hijacking content from our Q&A site, Fluther.

We get it. You need to create doppelganger Twitter accounts to bolster your user base and create content. Perhaps some Twitter users are fine with the fact that their tweets are being co-opted by you to drive traffic. But we won’t allow you to strip out the attribution to our users simply to pad your own corpus of questions.

UPDATE 6.2.09:

Thank you for all for your responses.

As we continue to hone in on the issue, there has been a lot of discussion about “can you copyright a tweet” — albeit partly because we framed part of our argument that way.

For us though, that’s not the interesting issue — this issue is more about attribution.

Ultimately, we don’t care if questions on Fluther are reposted other places (we’re quite happy with the quality of responses here compared to other places). The central issue for us, though, is the fact that the attribution was stripped out to make it seem as if the content was being generated somewhere else. It’s less about copyright infringement and more about proper citation and plagiarism.

We know that content on Fluther is going to turn up other places — and we welcome that. But the only difference between plagiarism and sampling in a read/write culture is attribution — and that’s what was missing: a tiny twitter link does not attribution make.

We’re happy that Jason has responded to us (thank you). We look forward to Mahalo either attributing or removing the questions.

Meanwhile, we think we can do a better job with attribution in the tweetfeed and rss as well. We’ll be looking to change that in the coming days.

Andrew & Ben

—————–
Here’s one example (of quite a few):

Our question, asked by rexpresso, http://www.fluther.com/disc/45600/where-can-i-buy-mp3-that-can-be-used-for-commercial/ generated this tweet to our Twitter account. Our twitterfeed posts a tweet for every single question, including a link back to our site (just like RSS), as is required by our Terms of Service.

Now, look at: http://www.mahalo.com/answers/music/where-can-i-buy-mp3-that-can-be-used-for-commercial-purposes. You are making an exact copy of this question, categorizing it in your system, stripping out the attribution link (as required by our terms) and hosting in on Mahalo Answers.

In your response to our cease and desist email, you say “our users can answer questions from the public timeline on Twitter…” [1]

That’s fine. Your users can answer our questions. But that’s entirely different than you repurposing our tweet on your site and stripping out the links to the original question in order to make it seem like one of your users asked it.

You also say “we don’t feel you can copyright a publicly asked question.” [1] To this, we respond with the Twitter Terms of Service:

1. We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide to the Twitter service. Your profile and materials uploaded remain yours.

That means that all those tweets posted by us are, in fact, copyrighted by us and may not be repackaged and hosted by you against our will. Why not just scrape Fluther.com directly for question titles and ask them on your site under an assumed name? (Hint: don’t do that, either)

We know many Web 2.0 companies wrestle with murky legal waters, and we’re all doing our best by using good judgment, intuition and honor.

Except you.

This is not a murky case. This is not like hosting a link to an illegal bittorrent, which may require some legal nuance. This is one company publicly infringing upon the rights of another company and their users, and we find it appalling that you’re standing behind this deplorable practice.

So please, put an end to this.

Ben Finkel & Andrew McClain
Fluther.com Co-Founders

For a full list of lifted content, see http://www.mahalo.com/member/fluther

[1] Letter from Jason Calacanis
From: Jason McCabe Calacanis
Date: Fri, May 29, 2009 at 3:35 PM
Subject: Re: Stop hijacking our content
To: Ben Finkel

Thanks for the email.

We don’t autoscrape questions, but our users can answer questions from the public timeline on Twitter… those publicly asked questions can be answered by anyone, anywhere at any time based on fair use (ie including on twitter or a person’s blog).

In other words, we don’t feel you can copyright a publicly asked questions.

However, I respect your right to disagree with my position.

All the Best, jason
—————
XXXXXX@Calacanis.com | Mobile: XXX-XXX-XXXX
http://www.calacanis.com | http://www.mahalo.com
Executive Assistant: XXXX@calacanis.com

From: Ben Finkel
Date: Fri, 29 May 2009 14:34:31 –0700
To:
Subject: Stop hijacking our content
Dear Mr. Calacanis,

I’m writing this letter to inform you that your Q&A website, Maholo Answers, is hijacking content from our Q&A website, Fluther.com. Apparently you’re scraping content from Twitter, including our questions, and reposting them as yours without attribution or links back to our website (a clear breech of our terms of service).

Please delete all content associated with the user “fluther” and cease and desist this practice immediately.

Ben Finkel
Fluther.com Co-Founder & CEO


Tap the collective.

http://www.fluther.com