I am curious about the future of media and am exploring this by participating in it, by publishing a hyperlocal news sites and involving myself in online communities. I’ve tried to create something new and unique with Fitzroyalty and the ongoing interest in it suggests that people find it useful and entertaining. I find it rewarding to publish my site, and I appreciate all the feedback I receive and all the friends and contacts I have made in the Melbourne social media / citizen journalism scene.
I’m not trying to build a commercial business that has a brand to market and protect, but I do take my reputation seriously. I monitor the net for discussions about my site and respond to comments and critiques when appropriate. While doing this I recently found a (supposedly satirical) fake or spoof version of Fitzroyalty on WordPress.com.
The bitter tone of the fake site implies that it has been created as an attempt at satire, although its parody is inconsistent and it collapses into mimicry. I have no problem with satire, but malicious mimicry does not equal parody.
The idiom ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ does not seem correct in this context. I would have thought that anyone who wanted to publish their own site would use their time and effort to create something original, rather than make a mediocre copy of someone else’s site.
Of the thousands of sites in Australia published as a hobby by individuals like me, why has mine received this response? Is Fitzroyalty sufficiently important or influential to warrant such vindictive behaviour? I don’t think so. What motivates someone to do something like this?
The potential for confusion concerns me: the fake site may be mistakenly confused with my work by some readers because it uses the same name. Its poor grammar (including numerous incorrect apostrophes), inconsistent metadata and blatant theft of images from other sites, such as Facehunter and the Age newspaper, are contrary to my efforts to maintain high standards in relation to copyright and other forms of publishing practice. I have written often to complain when my content has been stolen or unlawfully repressed by others.
I read the WordPress.com terms of service and determined that the fake site was in breach for two reasons; first that it deliberately misrepresented itself as my site and second that it featured stolen content. I emailed WordPress.com to explain the situation and to ask for the site to be renamed or removed.
I made a formal DMCA application, as this is the surest way to get the attention of publishers like WordPress or Youtube, where I won my DMCA case again Formula 1 Management earlier this year. WordPress.com responded by informing me that only copyright owners can make a copyright complaint, so I commented on Facehunter and emailed the editor of the Age to inform them that their content appears to have been republished without acknowledgement or approval on the fake site. Neither has replied.
WordPress.com did not seem very interested in upholding their own values in relation to the fake site being misleading, despite their terms of service stating that its contributors must declare that:
your blog is not named in a manner that misleads your readers into thinking that you are another person or company. For example, your blog’s URL or name is not the name of a person other than yourself or company other than your own[.]
WordPress.com indicated that they would not remove the site but would ask its publisher to make it clear that they are not associated with me. However, they have set no deadline for this to occur.
While I love using WordPress.org software, I am extremely disappointed by the indifferent attitude of the WordPress.com staff. Their professionalism and ability to uphold their organisational values are challenged by this situation, and their response has been inadequate, particularly when compared to the prompt response I received from Youtube in dealing with a different copyright and intellectual property matter earlier this year.
I have chosen to speak about this situation to inform my readers that the fake site is not authorised by me and its content is not legitimate or authentic. I am interested in what other people think about this unusual situation, how they feel about the ethics of publishing and the responsibility of WordPress.com to uphold its terms of service.
I don’t want the fake site to be deleted because it attacks me. I want its name changed so there is no potential for misrepresentation or confusion. Call it ‘ihatefitzroyalty’ for all I care. It should be deleted because it violates the WordPress.com terms of service. It’s not about censorship. Its about ethics and transparency.
Update 24 November 2009: when I published this story I also emailed my original complaint to WordPress.com again, hoping it would be seen by a different person who could interpret their terms of service better, and this seems to have worked. The fake site has been suspended. Thank you, whoever you are, for your response.