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EDMagedson
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Paul Levy and Public Citizen are champions of free speech, especially for consumers, and I appreciate them. I can totally appreciate their line of thinking…but there are perhaps some things that we see at Xcentic, and hear from consumers, that they don’t. I have been doing this now for going on 19 years, and I have always helped and given to consumers who are less fortunate for many years of my life. So, I hope you know my heart is in the right place. Ripoff Report has to balance the interests: one being that of the consumers and the other being that of being a business. Without being in business we can’t be of service for consumers (and all the government agencies and news media that we assist every day). In order to help break those out I will address both perspectives. FROM THE CONSUMER PERSPECTIVE We too have long been dealing with consumers. They write to us every day for all sort of reasons. Why would consumers would NOT like to see their stuff on other competitor websites? Believe it or not, when people find that a competitor has stolen content, consumers have written us asking if we are connected with the competitor site (clearly causing confusion on the part of the consumer) and/or suggesting that it could be copyright infringement. As much as people want to claim that Ripoff Report is controversial, Ripoff Report, as an American company, does have brand loyalty. Consumers choose Ripoff Report for a reason. When another competing website steals a consumer comment from Ripoff Report it robs the consumer from the right to choose where they want the information placed; it robs the consumer from the right to choose the type of forum they want their information displayed; and it robs the consumer the right to choose under what Terms they want such information placed. Some consumers clearly feel that their rights have been violated when their content is placed on a site they had zero intentions of supporting…hence why we receive e-mails letting us know about stolen content on other websites from the consumers themselves. Beyond consumers feeling that their right to choose has been violated, the scraping dilutes the power of the consumer’s complaint. We help consumers by helping businesses help consumers. Not in a gentle way that kisses up to business. Ripoff Report forces businesses to do better because of the unique incentive structure built into Ripoff Report programs. This is a unique configuration of leverage. Other sites scrape complaints and then take them down for money. RipoffReport.com takes complaints, and induces a business to make a pledge to reach back to the consumers that have complained and make things right, and to serve customers properly going forward. Additionally, as part of our Programs, we set up a fast track so that consumers who complain on RipoffReport.com get high priority customer service from the business. A Ripoff Report does not come down, but the business can use it to demonstrate good customer service, policed by Ripoff Report. It is true that the program is expensive. But, we will work with a small business that wants to do better. In the same vein, the effect of scraping is that the other websites simply charge a ransom to hide the complaint WITHOUT demanding better performance from the business. The consumer protection value of Ripoff Report’s program is diluted, because the scrapers warp the incentives. Why take the plunge with the Ripoff Report program? Why make the pledge and pay the fee if the scrapers are simply going to post the same old complaint for ransom, over and over again? Any positive benefit for the business in making the pledge and having the pledge showcased is diluted by multiple scraped reports. FROM THE BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE As mentioned in the beginning, if Ripoff Report’s value and presence online is diluted, it may eventually cease to exist for consumers and others that we help, e.g. government agencies and media. Ripoff Report didn’t start off with the intention of being in business, I did not start it to make money ((if interested, ask me about that sometime))…the costs of the lawsuits is what turned this website into the need for being a business and, over the years, I have learned that our programs really do help consumers and businesses work better together. It is one thing to allow consumers to gripe about businesses but it’s a whole other thing to get businesses to make things right with the consumers. Due to the fact that we are aware that these scrapers take these actions we have been anti-scraping efforts with Google and DMCA notices. Scrapers aren’t our only fight though…we deal with people who file false DMCA notices with Google in an effort to suppress free speech and that is another entirely different ball game that requires careful, yet tedious, work to ensure that we are not filing inaccurate counter-notifications. We have to employ people to do that. The whole system is rather bottlenecked and inefficient. To use it, we need strong copyrights in individual reports. Maybe there are people you know at Google that we don’t or have access to information that we have yet to be provided or learn. However, many tech bloggers have discussed how the process is a mess. For example see http://voxindie.org/googles-blogger-dmca-takedown-procedures-a-hot-mess/ and https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!msg/webmasters/lpQt0Qs6044/bXpaYukxewMJ (this one really paints the story of the kind of frustration we feel well). Some of these websites stealing our content went so far as to copy and paste our Terms of Service which included OUR CONTACT INFORMATION. No wonder consumers get confused! So while I can respect your position, scraping IS a really big deal to us. It’s not just some wayside argument. You mentioned that other companies in the industry, such as Yelp and Glassdoor, have similar fights. This may very well be true and I trust your knowledge as you certainly are in a position to interact with them more frequently. At the same time, while Xcentric has been around for longer than any of them, Yelp is a public traded company with a net worth of $550M (2015) and Glassdoor, while private, has been said to have raised $160M between 2007 and 2015. While consumer commentary is the glue that places our entities on similar playing fields, Xcentric operates by a completely different business model. Simply put, Ripoff Report is not afforded the same resources. Of course, Xcentric is always open to learning how other similarly situated businesses combat these same issues (because we would always love better and more efficient ways of doing things) but we don’t suppose they are just handing that information out and likely have proprietary systems. We will update you with our progress in assignment / license language that will #1 explicitly allow the consumer to post and repost their own story to their own hearts content, but #2 still allow us the most effective and aggressive options against scrapers. We NEVER intended to stop authors from telling their own story. There is no harm in making improvements. Again, I’m grateful and thankful for Paul Levy’s consumer advocacy. We are both passionate and stubborn about that. Thanks you for this forum, I feel better sharing and being heard.
Ripoff Report actually agrees that consumers should have the ability to voice their grievances elsewhere, in addition to Ripoff Report, if they so choose. In that principle we agree with Mr. Levy, Public Citizen, EFF, and the Berkman Center. Mr. Levy has a valid academic concern, but there are practical problems for a business website. Some websites start up by scraping and stealing our content, and then simply take money to hide or otherwise remove complaints from the internet. Imitation is flattery, scraping is piracy. We need strong copyright weapons against those pirate attacks. We require an exclusive license so we can go after content scraping pirates. We have never enforced a copyright claim against an author who retells their story in other places. Nor do we intend to do that. We want consumers to tell their story to each other and have the voice to inform others about the market. We would love for consumers to use Ripoff Report exclusively, but we do not want to prohibit their ability to voice their grievances on other forums. Even so, taking Mr. Levy’s academic concerns to heart, we are working on a new click box agreement that will state that the user assigns the copyright to Ripoff Report and simultaneously receives a license back. We are open to any other language that will protect Authors who also use other forums and we welcome input from Public Citizen, EFF, and Berkman Center, for whose unflagging support for free speech we are grateful. A few closing comments: Mr. Levy overemphasizes the browsewrap issue in the Goren case. Goren lost because he abused copyright law. The browsewrap doesn’t come into that, it’s not really part of the appeal. Mr. Levy also was not completely fair to Ripoff Report programs, the Corporate Advocacy Program (CAP), and the VIP Arbitration Program. Ripoff Report’s CAP program: a business must promise to serve consumers better, submit to on-site inspection by a third party, and take care of past and future complaints, including reaching out by email to everyone who posted Ripoff Reports, or they get kicked out of the program. We do publicize that commitment with priority, but Complaints are not removed. It is not fair to mischaracterize the program as complaints “buried in an ocean of praise.” But, to be fair, CAP is expensive, so Mr. Levy isn’t completely wrong. Ripoff Report’s VIP Arbitration: if there are false statements in a Ripoff Report, aggrieved parties are welcome to challenge the false statements and allow a neutral and professional arbitrator review the documents. It’s better (and less expensive at $2,000) than filing a lawsuit to use VIP arbitration. As long as you can prove that the statements are false, you can vindicate the record. If you can’t, don’t bother to pay $2,000 because true statements and opinions stay posted. Don’t Let them Get Away With It, Ed Magedson Ripoff Report
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Jun 13, 2016