stealing URLs

This is a sketch of one of the items I want to bring to the discussion in our panel on appropriation at MiT5 later this week. I’d love feedback on this and insights about what’s going on!

I blog at jilltxt.net. When I bought the domain, I was automatically offered the option of buying all the other URLs that start with jilltxt ñ jilltxt.com, jilltxt.org and so on. I declined. A couple of months ago, I started receiving emails from readers of my blog who had typed in the wrong URL (with a .org instead of a .net) and, expecting to see my blog, were presented with something completely different: an extremist middle-eastern blog called Samson Blinded, a companion site to a book by the same name. Odd as it was to see the blog with its generally hateful and racist writings under a URL almost my own, I didnít pay much attention. Who cares, I thought, nobody is likely to mistake it for my blog. Nothing in the content has anything to do with the URL or with my blog or identity ñ all they have stolen (if stealing it is) is the first part of the domain name.

Researching this paper, though, I became curious as to why they had bought a domain so close to my own. Why appropriate a domain name that has nothing to do with the topic you are writing about? It had to somehow improve their Google rank, I figured, perhaps theyíre banking on a few people linking to their site while intending to link to mine. Still the profit from this fairly unlikely event seemed so low, and indeed, searching several different search engines for links to jilltxt.org gave no results. So next I did a search for a line of content on their blog to see whether there were other copies of it online. Google didnít find the jilltxt.org copy at all, but it found a number of others. One was at craphound.org. Craphound.com is the website of Cory Doctorow, a well-known science fiction writer, influential speaker on copyright and free access, and contributor to Boing Boing, the second most popular blog in the world, acccording to Technorati. So at least I was in good company.

Where most blogs have a link to an ìAboutî page, Samson Blinded has a link titled ìBanned by Googleî. Apparently Google refused to accept AdSense ads for the site because of ëunacceptable content,í ëadvocating against a group,í and ësensitive content.íî Samson Blindedís authors continue: ìYahoo/ Overture restricted our ads to a few odd keywords. Amazon deleted all reviews to stop the discussion. Russian ad provider Begun rejected our ads as ëextremist.í Many other sites and conventional media outlets refused our ads. China blocked our site.î This is clearly a site that, finding conventional means blocked, has chosen to use unconventional means to reach an audience. Putting copies of their blog on domains that are very close to established but completely unrelated blogs is apparently one of their strategies.

Is this theft? Not in any strict sense of the word. Nothing has been taken from me, or from Cory Doctorow. It is quite clear, however, that this group would never have published a copy of their blog on jilltxt.org or on craphound.org if there werenít already established blogs at sites with almost those URLs. After all, neither of those URLs is a particularly obvious combination of words, and neither has any semantic connection to the blog Samson Blinded.

24. April 2007 by Jill
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