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.

9 thoughts on “stealing URLs

  1. Gro

    Interesting hijacking of adresses, normally extremist blogs leave
    comments on other peoples blogs with links to their own. Thats how
    they make themselves known. The most horrific example was “Fjordman” with his anti-islamic
    crusade. He was wisiting almost every norwegian blog
    that i read for a while. A Bad Man.

  2. Anders

    I think it could be called theft. At least in an Norwegian court, you could argue that Jilltxt or Jill/txt is your trade mark, as you have blogged under this title for so many years. I do not believe Norid would allow anyone else to register jilltxt.no, and if they did, you could protest it.

  3. Jill

    Oh. You might be right, Anders, I hadn’t thought of that. I don’t think it’d be worth it to actually do anything about it though. Hm, and last time I heard someone tried that, it didn’t work:

    The toywar was a legal battle between the Internet toy retailer eToys.com and etoy for the domain name etoy.com. eToys sued etoy for having a similar domain name to their own. They accused etoy of unfair competition, trademark dilution and terrorist activity[citation needed] among other things, eventually getting an injunction temporarily shutting down the etoy website. (Wikipedia)

  4. Alan

    It seems more common than we ever might guess. Lift up almost any rock, and a bunch of roaches come scurrying out. This would be a great research project to document these near-miss URL opportunists.

    My new doctor has patient forms on their web site. How cool! But I mistyped the URL, adding an extra “e” and got a site that has covered in AdSense, as well as links that seemed like they were from Dr ______’s site, but led to other link farm pages.

    Of course there was whitehouse.com 😉

  5. Anja

    Anders makes a good point re: trade marks (or brands). I work for a webdesign company and when we create a whole new site for a client with a new domain, we usually recommend they buy the most apparent typo domains as well.
    First, because their customers might only have a vague memory of how their brand or product are spelled (picking up ULRs via word-of-mouth is not always easy – would this be jilltxt or jilltext, for example?). Second, because smaller vendors of anything are always happy to share a piece of the cake through traffic diverted from large brand-name sites. Third, because vendors who sell items related to large brands tend to grab any domains loosely related to the branded URL that’s already been taken (or reclaimed) by the holder of the trade mark.

    So, Jill, seems you / your site made it to the ranks of C**e, N**e, A***e …

  6. Ali

    I believe, although I may be wrong, that this has been tested in the UK recently with regards to applications from recently qualified doctors for positions in hospitals, and I fear with university applications, which take individuals to sites that are not what they claim to be (this is particularly a problem with the .uk appendage to some addresses. Under UK law this counts as deception and is therefore not legal.

    Of course this then opens up issues of how you police the web, and what you do about it. You’d have to prove that what had been done had caused you or a third party to suffer in some way. At the very least it might mean that there needs to be a readjustment of web addresses to a single appendage or you have to own them all….

  7. Hamdi

    You can look on it in a positive way. Perhaps someone who are looking for Samson Blinded stumbles upon your blog 🙂

  8. Jill

    Oh, I like that option, Hamdi!

  9. […] Repeating, appropriating, blogging – my talk at MiT5 [jill/txt] Jill Walker’s powerpoint slides (via Slideshow) from her MIT5 talk “Repeating, Appropriating, Blogging”. Some provoactive ideas about the problematics of originality in a digital age. [More here.] (tags: mit5 blog originiality digitalculture) […]

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