I ate at Solarino restaurant in the city earlier this year and posted a review about it. Recently my hosting service has been saying that Fitzroyalty was causing excessive load on their servers. In trying to find the cause, I discovered that the Solarino website contained pages with frames that embedded external reviews, including my review and those from several commercial sites including the Age Epicure section. This constitutes a possible cause of my hosting problems, a breach of my copyright and is an example of extremely poor web design. Embedding external pages in frames is wrong.

solarino1 another content theft public relations failure case study

A screen capture of the Solarino website made on 17 June 2009 showing the embedded Fitzroyalty review

I called the restaurant on Wednesday 17 June and spoke to one of the owners, Dale. He knew nothing about it and immediately agreed to call the web designer to remove my review. He thought it could be fixed that day. 24 hours later he had recieved no response from the company responsible, wacl3, and had not called me back to confirm, so I called him again to find out that no progress had been made.

Dale was apologetic when I explained again about the hosting problem and he also seemed concerned about the copyright implications. I remained diplomatic as my aim was to get my content removed ASAP, but I made it clear there could be legal implications if the situation was not fixed quickly.

solarino2 another content theft public relations failure case study

A screen capture of the Solarino website made on 17 June 2009 showing the embedded Age Epicure review

I then used the comment form on the wacl3 site to directly demand the removal of my content. At 11pm on Thursday 18 June I received an email from wacl3 agreeing to remove my review and apologising for the inconvenience. I checked the site again at midday on Friday 19 June and my review had been removed, but I was astounded to see all the other commercial site reviews still there. They deserve to get sued.

Apart from the incompetence of the web design company, what astonished me was Dale’s professed ignorance about (and in my opinion his implicit indifference to) the public relations importance of his website. He admitted to not knowing what content his own website contained or how it was being managed. For a business owner, this is a fundamental failure of risk management that could have significant legal and financial consequences.

The ‘out of sight out of mind’ approach that has businesses outsource work like this to contractors demonstrates that the business does not understand how to manage its brand and reputation, or how marketing strategies can be ruined by idiotic contractors.

Despite offers of free drinks and meals from Dale to compensate for this,  I will not be returning to his restaurant. Given that the other reviews are still embedded in his site, I’m not sure that he’s learned anything from the situation and nothing could make me trust a business like this again.

I wish there was an easy way to make people understand copyright and ethical publishing practices. I’d rather write about pleasurable activities than spend my time using the strongest weapon I have, public embarrassment, to defend the intellectual integrity and non-commercial nature of my work.

another content theft public relations failure case study

9 thoughts on “another content theft public relations failure case study

  • 20 June 2009 at 9:06 am

    it’s a disgrace the lack of common sense and the rife apathy amoungst some people. I’m heading straight to the site to let him know that you’re not the only one that feels strongly about this.

    • 20 June 2009 at 12:00 pm

      Thanks David for alerting me to this example. I find it bizarre that experienced journalists who must know better continue to think they can steal and get away with it. Even more bizarre is the way they think they can tell lies to cover it up and be believed. Name and shame!

  • 20 June 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Surely they are merely applying the longstanding ‘ethical’ approach which has been the norm in print journalism, especially the mass circulation variety, for the last hundred years.
    Why wouldn’t they believe ‘they can tell lies to cover it up and be believed.’?
    It works nearly all the time……I can see why you get so tetchy though.

    • 20 June 2009 at 1:31 pm

      What these thieves have not realised yet is that social media consumers and producers view a lot of content and will quickly discover theft. We also point out theft to each other and have the means to inflict significant damage to offending companies, brands and individuals. In previous decades they got away with it more; now they’ll get what they deserve.

  • 20 June 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Putting something in a frame is a tricky area. They are changing the context of the review but facebook links do that as well. As do google image searches.

    • 20 June 2009 at 1:54 pm

      I’ll defer to someone with more technical knowledge on this but as I understand it these scenarios are fundamentally different. Google searches are generated dynamically and the context makes it clear that the content is owned by other parties. The context of the Solarino site suggested that the review publishers had consented to having their reviews embedded in frames and we had not.

  • 21 June 2009 at 12:37 am

    I can understand the frustration about increased server loads, but I am completely lost on the copyright issue. Why is it a breach of copyright? Under your Creative Commons licence you allow your work to be freely distributed as long as it is attributed to you, which in this case it is. Do you feel their use breaches the ‘non-commercial’ requirement of your CCL?

    I agree it’s a very ugly website, but viz copyright, how does it differ from a link? Or a pop-up window? Or indeed, the photocopied reviews that restaurants regularly post in their (physical) windows? Do you feel they would be a breach of your copyright too? Is it really a breach of legal copyright or is it more a feeling of ‘ethical’ copyright?

    I’m not intending to undermine your claim, but as you say internet copyright is very difficult and this post (for me) makes the issues murkier.

    • 21 June 2009 at 12:43 am

      1 – embeding the entire static URL post or page from my site in their site made it look like like they had permission to do so when they did not. Embedding is not an acceptable form of attribution as it does not make it clear to a site user that they are effectively visiting an external source, as that source has been embedded in the offending site.

      2 – embedding the entire page including my sidebar took far more content than the review.

      3 – the embedding caused additional load on my server. Basically part of what looked like their site was being hosted (and paid for) by me.

      4 – the site is for a restaurant, a for profit business, therefore the site is commercial. My CC license only allows non-commercial use of my text and images so they could not use the content based on the license terms as their site is commercial.

      5 – to legally use any of my content in their commercial site they are legally required to ask permission. They did not.

      6 – scanned images of newspaper reviews also breach copyright unless restaurants ask for and receive permission from the newpaper to reproduce them online.

      7 – the responsible thing to do is to quote briefly from online reviews then provide a link to the complete review.

      8 – sticking a page cut from a newspaper in a restaurant window is not a form of reproduction so it has no copyright implications. A photocopy of a review is however a reproduction and technically does have copyright implications. Unless multiple copies were being given away and this encouraged people to not buy the newspaper the publisher would be unlikely to have a problem with it.

      9 – the legal and ethical onus is always on the publisher to abide by copyright law.


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