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Can real estate bloggers hold scrapers’ web hosts liable now?

What is scraping? What can you do?

A common practice in the blogging world is for sites to “scrape” your content via your RSS feed, automate all of your words to their site and compete with you in Google and get paid via Google Ads or affiliate ads on their sidebars and in each article. The options for recourse are few and it is time consuming to chase down scrapers by first notifying them directly (if they have a contact page or domain registration that isn’t anonymous), then their web host and so on and so forth. The end outcome is rarely a win as scrapers are anonymous and know what they’re doing.

How the world just changed

Last week, the world changed a bit with Roger Cleveland Golf Company, Inc. v. Prince wherein a Golf club counterfeiter and their webhost were sued not only for their counterfeiting of clubs but (more importantly) for infringement. The South Carolina jury and judge agreed with the charges and awarded $770,750 to the Golf Company.

How are golf clubs related to real estate?

Now what does a Golf Company have to do with a real estate blog? Well, for the first time in American history, a web host company has been found liable for contributory infringement without actual notice that a customer’s site lists fake products for sale.

Lead counsel for Cleveland Golf, Christopher Finnerty said that a web hosting company’s obligation is comparable to a landlord’s. “A landlord doesn’t have the obligation to act as an investigator against his tenants to find out they are doing anything illegal, but once they knew or should have known, they have to act. How is that any different online?”

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So let’s say you have a real estate blog about Dallas real estate and let’s say you’re so savvy that you only offer partial RSS feeds (so they can’t scrape)- there are now ways around that with tools that can scrape sites directly. Let’s say you’ve emailed the website owner and even the webhost but have not seen any response or action taken to protect your intellectual property. Although Google says it has changed its algorithms to punish junk websites like scrapers, it’s not an elimination of scrapers, just a lower ranking.

Your real estate blog is leaking and you don’t feel like you have any recourse, but what if you are blogging about your listings? And what if your client calls you angry that photos of their home with your words are featured on a website full of porn ads? And can that site advertise your listing without your permission? Are the proper disclaimers and brokerage information included? Is your client protected in this scenario? Not likely.

Also in question is a method widely accepted called “reblogging” where content is used from other sites and proper attribution may not be given. This is not scraping, rather a softer method of copy and paste of another blogger’s content for use on another website not owned by said blogger.

So how is this different than counterfeit golf clubs? Other sites are advertising your content as their own, counterfeiting and infringing. Maybe now web hosts will pay attention to alerts against scrapers (why not email a copy of this column with your next scraper complaint?).

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Joe Manausa

    March 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Lani, just send me the name of the attorney who wants volunteers to join in a class-action lawsuit. My Tallahassee real estate blog is being scraped as much as 30 times per article each day. I figured there would be no recourse…

  2. Allison Peacock

    March 21, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    This is SUPER news to my ears just weeks from the launch of my new blog. I detest scraping and have bumped up against it with numerous clients’ sites.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Lani!

  3. Steven Buehler

    March 21, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    WOW. That totally goes against the DMCA, which holds hosting providers and ISPs harmless from liability for the content of their customers. This is very likely to be overturned on appeal. This would require hosting providers and ISPs to start policing–and eventually *controlling*–the content posted by their customers. No one has the time or resources to do that. Kiss your bloggers’ first-amendment rights goodbye if this decision stands. Under the DMCA you might be able to hold the writer liable, but not the ISP.

    • Benn Rosales

      March 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      If you are a vendor who supplies a plug and play web environment then you are at risk, and why we doubt this ruling to be overturned.

      Plug and play environments: ActiveRain, WordPress, Blogger, Squidoo, et al. Also any isp that provides plug and play web properties (fantastico).

      Is it a loophole? We certainly hope so as we are reserved in as many as 4,000 scrapper web properties on a daily basis.

  4. Melissa Zavala

    March 21, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    Lani: I’m scraped quite a bit. But, until I read your post, I didn’t actually know that it had a name. Very and thought-provoking interesting article.

  5. Spencer Barron

    March 24, 2011 at 4:46 am

    I had something like this happen just last week. An agent from another state was copying entire articles from various real estate sites and posting it to his own site. He put a ‘via’ link but used the entire article, copied word for word without even a block quote. As far as I know, that is all sorts of wrong.
    Thankfully, I was able to track him down though even though he had none of his contact information on the site. Got him to at least put it in a block quote and give me proper attribution for the grab. He was also scraping some other sites, much more main stream than mine.

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