Duncan writes in to alert us to what must be the mother of all stories of a guy caught doing something questionable online, who then goes to amazingly great lengths -- including publishing private info, blocking users, changing content surreptitiously and (finally) using a bogus DMCA takedown to take down the entire site of the guy who caught him. It's quite a story, so let's start from the beginning.
There's some site called BenchmarkReviews. I'd never heard of it, but apparently it recently published a review of a Herman Miller chair
supposedly written by one Olin Coles, who appears to own the site. Fair enough. However, some folks noticed some... well... oddities about the review, and started discussing them in the "World of Stuart" forums, leading journalist Stuart Campbell
(of World of Stuart fame) to investigate. In looking through the details, it quickly became clear that the "review" text appeared to have copied potentially large segments
from either marketing material or a press release. Some of the sources of the material were found out -- including a Herman Miller product brochure
(pdf) and a furniture store company's product description
. As people commented on the BenchmarkReviews website pointing this out, those comments were swiftly deleted, and the users' IP addresses were banned.
Campbell then sent Coles an email, identifying himself and asking a series of questions about the "review." Instead of replying, Campbell discovered that Coles
posted a note to BenchmarkReview's forums, publicly naming Campbell
, claiming that Campbell was banned from the site for making "anonymous... threats." Campbell says that the forum post displayed his name, email address and phone number, though it appears to only currently show his name and IP address.
Next up, a reader of Campbell's site contacted the furniture store in question, Smart Furniture, who claimed that they had written their own product description
, suggesting that Benchmark Review may have copied it from Smart Furniture (or that Smart Furniture was lying).
Next up? Well, suddenly the text of the original review at Benchmark Review started gradually morphing, with no notice of the changes
. Of course, Campbell had the originals and highlighted the ongoing changes. Oddly, the newly changed review included a whole bunch of ads pointing to Smart Furniture, the company who claimed to have created some of the text that showed up (uncredited) in the review.
That's when things got nasty. Apparently Coles sent a DMCA takedown to Campbell's hosting provider
a company called JustHost. JustHost then totally overreacted, pulled down the entire site and seemed utterly clueless about how to properly handle a DMCA takedown notice and counternotice
. In the end, JustHost would only allow Campbell's site to go back online if he removed the "offending" material. It has been removed, but the original blog post has been reposted elsewhere
, so you can compare it
to what's left.
The DMCA claim is clearly bogus -- and if Campbell decides to pursue it, the DMCA does allow for sanctions against those who knowingly file false DMCA claims. Cambell's post was clearly providing commentary on the review, and highlighting problems with it. The material was quoted in the context of highlighting the problems with the text, and certainly was not used in a manner that infringes. It's difficult to see how much deeper a hole Coles wants to dig himself here. His activities have only served to call that much more attention to the problems of the original "review" (if you can call it that), and filing a bogus DMCA notice to take down the website of the guy who called him on his activities seems only likely to make matters even worse for himself.