How (and why) I closed down a spammer’s web site

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I was going to leave this to rest quietly, but the people involved (Mr Nataraj Sasid and Mr Vimal Raj) have accused me publicly (on LinkedIn) of hacking into their site. Not wanting to wash my dirty clothes in public, I decided to write a post here in case people are interested in the details.

For the last year at least, Nataraj Sasid of Equire Technologies (I have blogged about him before here) has been putting up frequent one-line posts on publishing-related discussion forums on LinkedIn, advertising their company’s blog. This in itself is frowned upon in the LinkedIn community. But it gets worse: on close inspection of one of the posts, I thought I had read the text somewhere before. So I googled that text and sure enough it was a copy of another blog post, with no attribution given. I mentioned this to Mr Sasid and advised him that this was unethical, and illegal, but he continued the practice. I let him know again many times, in public LinkedIn forums, and in private communications, but to no avail. Thinking he was a “rogue” operator who might cause legal problems for his company, after months of frustration I contacted the CEO of the company through their web site and alerted them. It stopped for a while, then continued as before.

By way of curiosity, I decided to take a look at how many of the posts were original and how many were plagiarized. I have to say I got carried away and it became a game of Googling a sentence and finding the original. In some cases the names of the original authors appeared in the text copied, in some they didn’t. Well, I wasn’t prepared for the statistics! Of 110 posts, 9 were original, and the rest were copied from a total of 38 different blog sites (with all the formatting tell-tale signs of cutting and pasting from a browser).

So blog posts were being blatantly plagiarized, with full knowledge of company personnel. At this point I decided to play the “policeman” and alerted two of the original posters who were surprised. The other 36 don’t know to this day! The two said victims separately contacted WordPress who were hosting the site. Within hours WordPress pulled down the site for violation of terms. So this is what you see when you go to the site now. 🙂

If you are really interested, here is a google spreadsheet with the gory details. The link in the first column does not work for obvious reasons. If anyone is interested in the original site, I have taken a full backup before it was taken down. 😉

So, have I been mean, unreasonable, vindictive? No. I tried to be reasonable for months. Did the culprits deserve what they got? Yes, at some point we have to pay the price for misusing our freedom. The result is hundreds fewer annoying posts on LinkedIn, and perhaps a lesson to others.

I am inviting Mr Sasid and Raj to comment and to correct any errors in this post.

Category: Life, Justice, India | Tags:

10 comments on “How (and why) I closed down a spammer’s web site

  1. A friend noticed that I *am* washing my dirty clothes in public. I suppose I meant not on LinkedIn in an unrelated forum!

  2. A senior member of EquireTech contacted me and asked me to remove their logo I had used as an icon for this post, claiming the matter is a personal one between me and Nataraj. I have removed the logo, but do not agree it is a personal matter. The blog was running for a year or so with the company logo in the banner, so it was a company site.

  3. Kudos! Great work. Hope this deters others as well.
  4. Your work of detection is certainly appreciated! To avoid misunderstanding, I believe when you raised this matter in a LinkedIn discussion, people did not object, even though they may have felt that it was even better to pursue the matter elsewhere. But it goes without saying that all this does not make your revelations any the less important!
  5. Thanks for your comments Bessel. 🙂

  6. To be fair, Kaveh didn’t really close it down.. WordPress did. Because they got complaints from more than a few of the folks that had been plagerized, (which are the only folks who CAN complain) because doing that kind of copyright violation is a gross violation of wordpress’s terms of service. (and I might have tattled to er that is “notified” a few of the people that had been ripped off myself.

    You see I’m a manager in one of the LI groups where this was happening. I can’t exactly call Nataraj a ‘contributing’ or otherwise ‘valued’ member of the e-reader/e-book group there (for example he has never participated that I recall in a single discussion, and every discussion he started was just promotional links (almost never in the ‘promotions’ area where they belong) for his company’s blog. And as far as I can determine, he’s never even bothered to reply to comments on his postings.

    At the same time my wife is an author, so plagiarism is a subject that is close to the heart (and wallet) and not something I take lightly. So when I looked at a few of his postings are started to question the source (because the voice was very different from posting to posting, and in some cases the viewpoint just didn’t seem right to be something coming from his company. About the time I realized he was ripping off Adobe, I started notifying blog holders and reading up on WordPress’s terms of service.

    If they had not plagiarized, then nothing any of us could have said would have brought down their blog. So really, they have themselves to blame, because sooner or later someone they stole from was going to notice and complain, and once that happened, since 90% of the content was stolen, wordpress really could respond in only one way once they found their terms of services so completely violated.

    That a senior manager would call this a ‘personal matter’ really shows to me that they just don’t get it. (the same with some of Nataraj’s comments where he attempted to defend what he was doing on their blog.)

    Seriously, am I the only person that would think twice (no, make that about five times) before doing business with a company that has demonstrated some 100 times in their own blog that they apparently have zero respect for copyright? Especially when doing business with them means you would be giving them full access to the full text of a book or other IP? If they will so readily copy content they have no right to –just to have content for a blog– what assurance do I have that I won’t suddenly find my book published under a different title/author? (And not see a cent in royalties for it??)

  7. So it’s all a matter of cooperating and being watchful. I believe that you, Chuck, and Kaveh cooperated in showing up the practice in this instance. I also firmly believe that there are plenty of people who object to intellectual property infringement. We should continue taking action when it is perpetrated, but unfortunately, the first step is to educate people. To my dismay, one recent posting on LinkedIn held that once you post anything on the web, it’s free for anybody to use. This is quite clearly erroneous (LI, for instance, has a (c) line, and gives firm guidelines on do’s and dont’s), but it has to be pointed out to users.
  8. To be really fair, Chuck, if it was not for me, the site would still be up and LinkedIn would be full of the old spams. No one had seen these copied posts till I documented them and shared with you and a couple of others, and the site was first taken down by WordPress almost immediately after the first affected person complained. It went up temporarily, then down again permanently.

  9. Kaveh,this is such interesting read!
    But must say you are crazy (in a nice way, of course!)
  10. i am proud of craziness, as you well know, Blanca. 🙂