My Sys-Con Nightmare
A tale of intellectual property, identity, libel, and online bullying.
A little history
It all started at the end of March, 2009, when I discovered that I was listed as an author on a site called Ulitzer (http://ulitzer.com)*. They had used my name as a subdomain on their site (aralbalkan.ulitzer.com; this has since been removed) and the site presented a photo of me, stating that I had been an author with them for several years. They had also scraped my blog posts and were reproducing them on the site under a different license to the one that I had published them under.
Beyond simply using my content without permission, they had misappropriated my identity by stating that I was one of their authors. And I wasn't the only one. To this day, David Heinemeier Hansson (http://davidheinemeierhansson.ulitzer.com/) is a Ulitzer author (he's apparently been writing for them since November 24, 2005), as is – quite ironically, I may add – Matt Cutts (http://mattcutts.ulitzer.com/), head of Google's webspam team, who has apparently been a "Ulitzer author since September 3, 2008".
Other prominent Ulitzer authors include Tim O'Reilly (@timoreilly, http://timoreilly.ulitzer.com/), Jeremy Allaire (@jerBrightcove, http://jeremyallaire.ulitzer.com/), Dion Almaer (@dalmaer, http://dionalmaer.ulitzer.com/), and Michael Arrington (http://michaelarrington.ulitzer.com), among many, many, others. Needless to say, I can only assume that many of these authors don't have a clue that their identities are being misappropriated and that their content is being used without permission.
Understandably, I was unhappy about this situation since I had not heard of Ulitzer, much less given them permission to use my identity or reproduce the articles on my blog. So I called them out on it. I tweeted about it and also called them up to have my likeness and content removed from their site. They removed the page but I also received a rude phone call from their CEO, Fuat Kircaali, the details of which are documented here.
Shortly thereafter, they published the first of their libelous articles about me, titled (in Turkish), "Turkish Fags Who Live in London: Aral Balkan" in which they called me a "homosexual son of a bitch". The details of that article are documented here.
Following that first article, they published another article, titled "Turkish Web Designer Declares Death on Twitter" in which they stated that I was "said to be organizing an underground group to kill or bodily harm the company representatives according to his Twitter logs" and continued to compare me to the Turkish assassin who "shot and wounded Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981". The details of that article are documented here.
A mini-uproar, some media coverage, interesting revelations, and the eventual lull
At about this time, myself and others in the community started taking a deeper look at Sys-Con to understand just what was going on. And the things that were discovered were troubling indeed.
Several of their staff writers and editors appeared to be fictitious. One, Salvatore Genovese, was actually British supermodel David Gandy. Another, Kym Jones, editor of Ulitzer Content Network, was the photo for "Woman with red hair" on Wikipedia. They've since changed several of the pictures to use royalty free images form iStockPhoto (this is against iStockPhoto's terms and conditions). The details of these findings are documented here.
Although there was a mini-uproar on Twitter initially (and thank you all again for your support, I can't say it enough!), it was rather fleeting and soon things died down and we all went back to business as usual. (At this time I looked into the feasibility of taking legal action and realized that it would be far outside my budget. I am looking into it again now.)
Sys-Con strikes back
Fast-forward to July 14th, 2009, when I got a Google Alert on a new Sys-Con article, penned by a certain Yeshim Deniz from Sys-Con, titled "Social Media Marketing Turkish Style" http://internetvideo.sys-con.com/node/1017038; URL now removed by Sys-Con, see a high-resolution screenshot of the original article (2.2MB). That article matter-of-factly stated that Sys-Con had been attacked several months ago by "a Turkish blogger … who declared 'cihad'[sic] against SYS-CON". It went on to state (about me): "this man's religious, ethnic, cultural, and national background fits into FBI's profile definition of the modern day terrorist". The post featured a picture of Mehmet Ali Ağca, the Turkish assassin that shot the Pope and linked to an entry by Sys-Con CEO Fuat Kircaali, titled "Social Media Terrorists" – http://socialmedia.ulitzer.com/node/976306. The details of this article are documented here.
The first article was quickly followed up by a second one, titled Adobe's User Community, Turkish Spammers and Internet Terrorists: Turks and the Country of Turkey Should Be Blocked From the International Internet User Community – http://internetvideo.sys-con.com/node/1028923; URL now removed by Sys-Con, see a high-resolution screenshot of the original article (1.7MB) – in which they reiterated the libelous comments regarding me from the previous article. The details of this article are also documented here.
Following these articles, Sys-Con published a number of other articles, targeting me specifically:
Update (July 31, 2009): It appears that Sys-Con has now removed these articles from their system as they're coming up as 404s. I've added the screenshots of them I had captured (they did this last time too so I prepared) below if you want to read the original articles.
- July 15th: "Aral Balkan's Twitter 'Cihad'" – http://www.sys-con.com/node/1035252; URL now removed by Sys-Con, see a high-resolution screenshot of the original article (1.7MB). In this post, they appropriate a tweet from Ted Patrick to me, displaying a complete lack of understanding of how Twitter works. The article states that I have engaged in "borderline criminal Twitter activities against SYS-CON Media"
- July 16th: "Aral Balkan Continues His 'Cihad' on Wikipedia" – http://air.ulitzer.com/node/1038383; URL now removed by Sys-Con, see a high-resolution screenshot of the original article (1.65MB). in which I am accused of faking a Wikipedia entry for Sys-Con. A cursory glance at the history for that page is enough to reveal that I had nothing to do with it (I learned about its existence via Sys-Con's "article"). On this post they also use, without permission, a photo of me taken by my friend Pete Barr-Watson. Pete has since issued them with a cease and desist.
- July 17th: "Another Day in Aral Balkan's Turkish 'Cihad'" – http://openwebdeveloper.sys-con.com/node/1039556; URL now removed by Sys-Con; see a high-resolution screenshot of the original article (1.9MB). In this article, they call me "the Turkish spammer Aral Balkan" and reiterate that "Turks and the entire country of Turkey should be blocked from the International Internet community" and follow it up with "the entire country of Turkey should be blocked from the Internet and its citizens should not be allowed in Europe until they learn the meaning of being a civilized nation." The article also reprints a comment that they received that bears my name. Needless to say, I never left them a comment.
Finally (as of this post), they posted an article on July 24th titled "Turkish Spammer Uses British Tech Website in His 'Internet' Cihad" – http://cloudcomputing.sys-con.com/node/1047589; URL now removed by Sys-Con, see a high-resolution screenshot of the original article (1.95MB). It appears from the article that Sys-Con discovered the piece that The Register ran on Ulitzer and that Sys-Con is "in the process of filing a $100m law suit against Cade Metz personally and The Register for their involvement with these 'social media terrorists' and for untruthful reporting." The article also calls Wikipedia's moderators "morons" who "make Hitler look like a hobbyist". (Their response to Pete's cease and desist was to repost the same photo in this new article.)
(Needless to say, I have screenshots of all of these articles safely backed up in case Sys-Con decides to remove any of the articles as they have done in the past. Update: And they did remove them on July 31st; you can find the screenshots, above.)
Not taking it lying down
Some of you have suggested that I simply ignore Sys-Con and hope that it goes away. I seriously appreciate the time you guys have taken to offer me advice on this – and know that I have seriously considered your council. A wiser man than I may even have taken it and I hope you realize that your support means more than you can imagine.
I am not, however, going to take this lying down.
I am not the first person Sys-Con have attacked like this – they also very publicly attacked Jame Ervin, calling her (among other things) a "bitch" as documented here – but I would like to make sure that I am the last. This is an opportunity for us to say "no" to Sys-Con once and for all and to make them understand that we will not put up with online bullying.
I do not have, nor have I ever had a "cihad", jihad, or any other "*had" with Sys-Con but what I have had is enough of their bullying.
So what can we do? Well, several things.
For one thing, you can vote with your dollars and get others to do the same. Sys-Con relies on several sources of funding to continue functioning. These include:
- Ad revenue from its web sites
- Sponsors and ticket sales for its events
Ad revenue: or, how Sys-Con spams Google with duplicate content
In order to get ad revenue, Sys-Con and Ulitzer scrape the RSS feeds of authors (sometimes without their permission or knowledge) and then display this content alongside a deluge of advertising from their sponsors.
They also have multiple copies of this content across a wide range of subdomains. This is known as duplicate content and is against Google's terms and conditions.
To see and example of this, check out the following versions of their latest libelous attack towards me: http://dotnet.sys-con.com/node/1047589, http://ajax.sys-con.com/node/1047589, http://cloudcomputing.sys-con.com/?q=node/1047589, http://eclipse.sys-con.com/?q=node/1047589, etc. To see the full list, substitute the following subdomain names: flex, openweb, iphone, java, linux, opensource, oracle, powerbuilder, search, soa, virtualization, web20, etc. (Those are just the ones from their main navigation; the full list of subdomains can be found on http://www.ulitzer.com/?q=topics).
Update: I now know the full extend of the duplicate content on Sys-Con.com: they publish 437 copies of every article on the Sys-Con.com domain. Another 437 copies are published on the Ulitzer.com domain for a total of 872 copies of every article.
And it's not just the sys-con.com domain either. All those subdomains, and all that duplicate content, also exist on the Ulitzer.com domain. So, for example, check out http://dotnet.ulitzer.com/node/1047589, http://ajax.ulitzer.com/node/1047589, etc. (You get the idea.)
Update: Google has now delisted the Ulitzer.com domain from their search results. The Sys-Con.com domain is still being indexed and appearing in search results.
So the question is, why is Sys-Con
and Ulitzer still being indexed on Google? I've reported them to Google for duplicate content using Google's spam reporting page.
By its own terms and conditions, Google should stop indexing the Sys-Con.com domain
and Ulitzer. Once this happens, this should have a very real effect on their ad revenue also.
Beyond simply indexing Sys-Con
and Ulitzer, Google also places Sys-Con and Ulitzer "articles" on Google News. If you do a search on Google News for my name, you get (as of this date) all the libelous articles Sys-Con has written about me in their second wave of attacks. Although a recent ruling stated that Google is not liable for defamation in search results, it also stated that Google "has a responsibility to block or take down content if it is notified with a legitimate complaint about libelous material".
I have already reported the libelous Sys-Con articles to Google News and urged them to not syndicate articles from Sys-Con and Ulitzer and you can do so also by using the Google News Report an Issue form.
Update: Google has removed the libelous Sys-Con articles from Google News. Sys-Con articles in general, however, are still being syndicated on Google News.
Who supports Sys-Con?
Sys-Con has numerous sponsors that support it and help keep it in business.
Current advertisers on Sys-Con's web site include IBM, Unisys, Sun, and Microsoft. I know first-hand that Microsoft was made aware of Sys-Con's practices but appear to have kept sponsoring them regardless as their ads are still appearing on Sys-Con's web site.
Update: A representative from IBM informed me in the comments that IBM is looking into their relationship with Sys-Con.
Google should also be made aware that Sys-Con is running Google Ads on its pages (on the duplicated content mentioned above).
Sys-Con also organizes a number of conferences, including First Annual Government IT Conference & Expo (GovITExpo.sys-con.com), Cloud Computing Expo (cloudcomputingexpo.com), Virtualization Conference + Expo (virtualizationconference.com), Cloud Computing Bootcamp (cloudbootcamp.sys-con.com), SOA in the Cloud, Ajax in the Cloud, and Cloud Computing Conference & Expo Europe. (You can find the latest full list at http://events.sys-con.com/).
One way of telling Sys-Con that you don't appreciate their behavior is to not support their events and telling your friends not to either. Do you have a friend who might be speaking at one of their events? If you tell them what you know about Sys-Con, they may just reconsider.
Sys-Con also gets support from sponsors for the events that they organize. Yahoo!, for example, is a platinum sponsor of Sys-Con's Cloud Computing Expo.
If you're unhappy that these companies (for example Yahoo!) are sponsoring Sys-Con, you can always contact your friends who work there and let them know. A tweet or two to the right people goes a long way in raising awareness these days.
A summary: what can you do
To summarize, I'm being bullied by Sys-Con because I spoke out against my content and identity being misused. I've been attacked time and time again with libelous articles that appear to be part of a systemic attempt at character assassination. This whole Sys-Con affair is the last thing I need right now. It's a huge distraction from work and a generally nasty affair to have to deal with. However, I am not going to take this bullying lying down. It's time to say "no" to Sys-Con.
What can you do? Here are some suggestions:
- Tell everyone you know about what Sys-Con is doing (but don't link to them so as not to give them Google Juice). If tweeting, leave out the http:// bit so that your URL is not automatically made into a link.
- Sys-Con feeds upon the work of authors and speakers to live. If all authors had their content removed from Sys-Con and Ulitzer, they would not have pages to put ads on. So go through their list of authors and notify the ones you know. If they are unaware that they're listed there, they will most likely want themselves removed. Update: I've created a single list of all Sys-Con's Ulitzer authors. More information and the full list are in this post. The original list of authors is at http://www.ulitzer.com/?q=authors. You can ask for your Ulitzer/Sys-Con author page to be removed by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Contact their advertisers and tell them what you think of their association with Sys-Con.
- If you know any speakers speaking at Sys-Con events, make sure they know the kind of company they are associating themselves with. Do the same with anyone you know who is thinking of attending one of their events. Raise awareness about their events at your place of work.
- Make sure Google knows that Sys-Con/Ulitzer is spamming Google with tons of duplicate content. Report them on Google's spam page for posting duplicate content. According to their terms and conditions, Google should stop indexing Sys-Con/Ulitzer. See this comment for a template you can use when reporting them.
- Make sure Google News knows that they are syndicating libelous articles from Sys-Con. Use the Google News Report an Issue form to report the following articles: http://internetvideo.sys-con.com/node/1017038, http://internetvideo.sys-con.com/node/1028923, http://www.sys-con.com/node/1035252, http://air.ulitzer.com/node/1038383, http://openwebdeveloper.sys-con.com/node/1039556, and http://cloudcomputing.sys-con.com/node/1047589
Thank you all so much for your support.
* Please note that I am not linking to any Sys-Con sites in this article on purpose so as not to give them any of my Google juice.
Freddy Kruger picture courtesy of Double Feature Podcast (Creative Commons Attribution License).