Global Grind Copies Content, Submits it to Google News

Update: Global Grind has now addressed these concerns. Please read the follow up.

Global Grind is a mix between social news site (like Digg) and blog network. According to the Rush Communications website, they fancy themselves as a sort of curator of information, calling Global Grind “the ultimate source for today’s media that matters to the hip-hop community” and “the hotspot linking you to web content that puts you up on things you need to know.”

According to CrunchBase, they have received $7.1 million in funding and Russell Simmons serves as the company’s chairman. Datwon Thomas, the former editor-in-chief at both King and XXL, is the editor-in-chief and COO.

Unfortunately, Global Grind has adopted a deplorable strategy that includes copying content from other publications in full, submitting said content to Google News and placing links to the original content behind frames.

On Mr. Simmons

Before I dive into this topic, I want to say that I have always had a lot of respect for Russell Simmons. Part of this comes from my respect for Sean “Diddy” Combs as Mr. Combs has always spoken of Mr. Simmons with great reverence. Even though I haven’t followed Mr. Simmons closely, I respect the level of success that he has achieved throughout his career.

I would say, as well, that it is also very possible, perhaps even likely, that Mr. Simmons doesn’t know about what I am about to detail and may not even have the technical understanding to have adequately made such choices. After all, Global Grind is but one of his ventures and the day to day operations of it likely fall to other people. So, in summary, this isn’t a criticism of Mr. Simmons personally.

Scraping Content as a Strategy

I don’t confess to know the history of Global Grind in detail. I have been familiar with them for a while, being the author of Bad Boy Blog, but I have never been a regular visit to their site.

I believe I first came across them when they started sending a little bit of traffic to Bad Boy Blog. We had been listed as one of their sources, if I recall, and they started spidering some of our stories. They were republishing our partial text RSS feed. Partial text means that only the first 50 words or so of a story are shown. They would include a link to the post and also some crude scraping of our navigation, for some reason. It usually looked like this. This was fine as it was a partial quote and there was a link to the full story.

But, then, something happened. They shifted their strategy. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but the last post that was displayed in the old format was posted on January 15 of this year. By the time they spidered another story, on February 26, they had adopted new, more aggressive tactics.

In so many words, they stopped displaying just the partial text feed excerpts and, instead, started displaying a full scrape of (most of) the text on the page. The full article, some random code, our navigation, etc. Very crude and unattractive, but the entirety of my writing was there, as you can see on their site. They had begun full fledged content theft.

Why Scraping is Bad

If you’re a web developer or a veteran online writer or editor, you probably know why scraping is wrong. But, just to outline a few of the main reasons here.

My content is my writing and the reason people visit my publication. If someone else is copying my content, it creates confusion and leads to people not visiting my site at all, which makes it less likely that I can continue to create content. Generally speaking, when someone republishes your copyrighted content of a moderate length in full, it is not fair use, it is copyright infringement.

It confuses search engines. Because my content is in two places, search engines can get confused and this can lead to my original article having to compete with the scraped article for traffic. Because Global Grind might have more incoming links overall, they may take precedent over me in the search engine rankings. Less traffic means less reason to write content.

Less traffic also means less revenue, directly impacting my quality of life. In this case, with Global Grind being a for-profit website, Global Grind is directly profiting off of my content and my hard work. It’s like I’m writing for them. The problem is that I am not writing for them.

In short, you write an article on your website or for your publication and someone copies and pastes it on their website. They allow search engines to index your writing and place ads around it. They profit from your work. As crude as their system is, it’s content theft and all of these reasons I cited threaten the long term stability of my publication and that is why this is an unethical and illegal practice. I must defend my content and my work.

What Made Me Take Notice

I didn’t notice that anything had changed until March 10. The night before I had stayed up late watching and recapping the party that Diddy held in honor of the 13th anniversary of the passing of The Notorious B.I.G. This ended up taking hours.

What I woke up to see was my entire article copied in full and featured on their front page as one of their top stories. Every last word. Now, this has happened before, numerous times – with other sites. But, usually, it’s some random forum poster or some very small blog. I was surprised to see it coming from Global Grind, an organization I felt had been playing by the basic rules of this space.

In any case, I did what I always do in this sort of instance. I contacted the person in charge. To my surprise and disappointment, this person was the same person who posted my article in the first place – Datwon Thomas. To be clear, I am not wishing to paint Mr. Thomas in an unfavorable light. Our correspondence about this matter has been pleasant.

I contacted him on March 10 and requested that he truncate the quote so as to not quote more than one quarter of the work, while maintaining a direct link to the full article. I did not hear back from him, but saw that the article had been edited to bring it in line with the guidelines I had proposed. You can see it on their site.

You may notice that the page on Global Grind says that it received 14,384 views. But, I did not receive those views. In fact, from March 10 through today, I have received a grand total of 112 visits with globalgrind.com as a referrer and not all of those were to that story.

When I noticed the article had been edited, I also dug deeper and looked at other stories they had indexed. That is when I noticed the scraping.

Lack of Action

Once again, I e-mailed Mr. Thomas. I thanked him for editing that article, but brought his attention to the scraping practice that Global Grind was utilizing. I included examples as well as an article that explained why RSS scraping was not OK. Even though they appear to be simply scraping the page itself, not our RSS feed, some of the same principles apply. I urged him to change the practice.

He responded on April 4, the day I e-mailed, and I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of the details of the e-mail or the full text. But, he said that he was going to consult with a colleague to tackle “this current issue” and he wanted to get on the phone the next day to discuss how we could help each other.

I responded the next day and said that I didn’t believe it was necessary to get on the phone, but that the main thing is that the scraping stops. On my site, especially, but I said that it would be a good idea to abandon the practice totally.

He responded, not really addressing that concern directly, but saying that I shouldn’t hesitate to contact him in the future. I responded back, thanking him and asking that he let me know as soon as the full, scraped articles were removed. I reiterated that I was fine with quoting excerpts, but full articles were not acceptable and, if it meant opting out of Global Grind entirely, to ensure they were removed, then that would be what I had to do – even if I’d prefer to remain in their index with partial quotes. That was April 5.

It is now April 26. To date, I have not heard back from Mr. Thomas and no action has been taken. The articles remain on the site, listed under the Bad Boy Blog profile.

Why I Am Writing This

These practices are unethical and outrageous. For an organization with the amount of attention that Global Grind has received, the amount of funding they have received and the legitimate people associated with it, like Mr. Simmons, it is unacceptable for them to engage in these activities.

It’s not just myself that they are stealing content from. Though that is bad enough. It’s not just publications of my size. Though that too would be bad enough. It’s major publications, as well. Everyone from the New York Daily News (copy, original), the Boston Globe (copy, original) and Slate (copy, original) to MTV (copy, original), BET (copy, original) and Spin (copy, original).

I made them aware of it and, 3 weeks later, it’s like I never e-mailed. If you know me, you know writing this post isn’t my style. But, if I’m pushed to the point of needing to make people aware of a larger issue, I’ll do so. Publishers should defend themselves from these types of tactics.

If you find yourself in this position, where your work is being republished and the person doing so doesn’t fix the issue, you should file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice. This is what I expect I’ll be doing shortly. The first time you do it, it can take a moment to figure out. But, once you’ve done it that first time, it’s pretty quick from that point forward. Plagiarism Today can help.

Why Are They in Google News?

Here’s another question: when is Google News going to step up, draw in the reigns and stop degrading their service by adding these sorts of outlets? You could make the case for Global Grind’s tactics being a borderline splog (or spam blog). Yet, they are listed in Google News. How did I come to realize this?

Well, for Bad Boy Blog, I subscribe to Google News feeds about the label, it’s artists and related topics. This article popped into my feedreader on Saturday. The funny thing about this article is that it used to look like this (link will work until the Google cache clears itself out). Yeah, more scraping. But, after I tweeted about it, they changed it to remove the repeated text. They still quote the whole article, but at least there is a more visible link now.

So, no, Google News should not be listing scrapers. But that’s not even the only issue. The article is poorly written, bottom of the barrel linkbait. “Diddy is known for creating stars and ruining them, too.” He’s known for that? Is that right? “Perfect examples” are Biggie and Shyne? Blaming Mr. Combs for Biggie’s tragic death is repulsive. Shyne brought a gun to a club and shot it. The article is poorly written, badly researched and irresponsible.

Mind you, I am not saying that everything Google News indexes needs to be written by someone who takes their writing seriously. But, at least let’s try. Let’s not list gossip sites and scrapers so openly. In the interest of keeping this post on the main issue, I’m not going to get into Global Grind embracing and encouraging gossip and profiting from it, even while Mr. Simmons’ openly condemns Media Take Out, a large and well known (crazy) gossip site. He called them the “most hateful people on [the] planet.” I told him that while I respected him and agreed with his general sentiment, his own venture encourages and capitalizes on gossip reporting.

Double Standards

I want to contrast this with an issue that popped up in the tech community last year. Digg launched the DiggBar. Digg began to frame content and exit links from the site. They rolled out a URL shortener automatically tied to all submissions that, when used, framed the content, as well. The bar included features that tied to Digg, such as the ability to Digg the story.

There was a lot of outrage from this. Joshua Topolsky of mega blog Engadget, David Murphy of PCWorld and Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration explained why it was bad for web publishers at the time. In short, it was confusing and it messed with your search engine results. Shortly thereafter, Digg made some changes to the DiggBar that essentially fixed it and they made it so that you had to be logged in to Digg and have it enabled to actually see it. And then it was fine and the outrage died down.

But, Global Grind does most of these same things now. In fact, they might be worse. I am not sure if Digg ever removed every direct link to the given article, but that is what Global Grind does. Try to find a direct link on this article, for example. You can’t. They all go through their top bar (view the bar).

Now, Digg recently killed the DiggBar with founder Kevin Rose saying that it was “bad for the internet.” Global Grind still does it. Now, put that aside because the framing bothers a lot of people, but I really don’t care all that much about it. That’s not what this article is about.

But, imagine for a second that Digg had done what Global Grind is doing. Everything with the top bar, plus scraping the articles in full and displaying them on their site and requiring two clicks to even make it to the article itself, top bar or not. Can you imagine what the response to that would have been like? They probably would have been sued. But, Digg would not cross that line because they know what would happen. They will always limit themselves to short excerpts.

But, for some reason, Global Grind is getting away with this. I can only guess that this is because it isn’t visited by the same audience, the tech savvy, tech sensitive audience that Digg receives. This is good and bad as that audience can be  fickle (I say this as a member of it). But, as a hip-hop fan for 13 plus years and the author of an established hip-hop centric blog, the hip-hop community, the audience they target, can be a lot different.

What Global Grind Should Do

This is all easily fixable. Here is what Global Grind should do. Stop the scraping. Adopt Digg’s model for content display. Quote excerpts only. Keep the bar, if you want, but add a direct link somewhere. Finally, truncate all old content that was scraped in full.

The reality is that they are sitting on a legal minefield right now, just asking to be threatened or sued. They may be operating under the model of “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than get permission,” but that is a flawed model that can bite you back, badly.

Making these changes won’t just be good legal and ethical sense, but they will be good for business. If they wish to continue to grow the social news aspects of their site – i.e. people submitting, voting and commenting on their stories – they will be far better served with publishers being their friends, as opposed to combatants. This can lead to other opportunities and more people adding the “Grind” button onto their pages.

My intent in writing this isn’t malicious – it’s only to help point this issue out so it can be solved. I have nothing against Global Grind, outside of the issues expressed here, or any of their people. I just want them to be a responsible player. I hope that they get these issues fixed, so that they don’t hamper the future of the service.

Patrick O'Keefe

Managing online communities since 2000, I publish a collective of websites known as the iFroggy Network. I wrote the book Managing Online Forums and, as a public speaker, have presented for organizations like CNN, institutions like Australian National University and conferences like SXSW. More about me.

9 Comments

Dede

about 4 years ago

I have been saying this for years. This is not new but it has to stop.

Reply

Liz

about 4 years ago

I wrote about the randomness/bootleggness of Global Grind a few years ago on my blog. They have a history of not knowing what they're doing. They moved to scraping about a year ago or more (before SXSW09) and yet nobody raised a fuss. I think part of it has to do with the fact that nobody cares. People raised hell when Digg introduced the Digg bar that was in effect, scraping. But when GG goes and does it, nobody cares. Perhaps this is because the "victims" in this case don't know any better. Really, they're mostly a bunch of urban gossip bloggers who might even be tricked into thinking it's great to be on a site by Russell Simmons. Less than a year ago Russell himself or someone in leadership was touting their stats as being the top gossip blog (not sure what metric they were using here), and they were happy because they felt like they were also ethically correct in their "reporting" of news about celebs. However, as someone on Twitter mentioned, of course you will be the top gossip blog if you scrape the traffic of the top 2nd-10th ranking gossip blogs. I stopped caring about this a while ago though. It seems as though if you have dissenting opinions about Global Grind, people want to call you "haters." I just wish they'd finally get someone who really understands tech on their team.

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Patrick

about 4 years ago

Thank you for your comments, Dede and Liz. Liz, thank you for the detailed comment. You make some great points. I was not aware that they have been doing full text scraping for more than a year. Before March of this year, the posts I had seen on their site were partial text, including my own, but I never really looked that deeply, either. It wasn't until they started doing it to my site that I took a deeper look around. Like you, I am surprised at how Global Grind is getting away with this and I agree that it has to do with the audience. But, I'm trying to change that with this post and I appreciate your help in doing so. The mentality of criticism = haters has to stop. It's insanity that leads to one being surrounded by yesmen or yeswomen. Thanks again, Patrick

Reply

TJ

about 4 years ago

Patrick-- Thank you SO much for writing this post. This has been a problem frustrating me and many bloggers for a long time. I noticed mid-last year that Global Grind had taken up the practice of scraping content, but even earlier, I noticed their business model changed from including users all around the web to wanting to monopolize the web -- whether it was ethical or not. Content from my website appears on their website in full. The "original story" link goes to a profile page. It is close to impossible to get to the original story with all of the hoops you have to go through. And for a casual reader, why bother? If the content is in front of your eyes in full, why go to the original story? It confuses the readers greatly -- and greatly pisses me off, especially when they get to claim credit for an interview I spent hours transcribing or an exclusive story I broke. I contacted Global Grind three different times. All emails were ignored. I made all reasonable attempts to have this resolved civilly, but now it's time to file a DMCA. That's my only chose. I hope that this post starts to get the ball moving at Global Grind. It's such a shame that they used to have a respectable product, but now they're just as shady, just as manipulative, just as dirt dredging, sensationalizing, and corrupt as the next 'all about getting paid' gossip rag. Mediatakeout part 2 if you ask me.

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Stacey

about 4 years ago

Great article. I hope things change but I doubt they will. I've contacted them several times after an entire interview was lifted from my website and I've received no response to date. It's insane how a company, backed by someone like Russell Simmons, could be so corrupt. If someone contacts you to have their original content removed, there should be no hesitation in removing it.

Reply

Tiffany

about 4 years ago

I've seen global grind take content from my blog then again other bloggers do the same thing, so if they want global grind to stop bloggers should learn to link where they get their information from.

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Patrick

about 4 years ago

Thank you for the comments, TJ, Stacey and Tiffany. TJ, my pleasure. I am glad that it resonated with you. You make good points and those points are the problem. The difficulty to reach the source link, etc. I understand your frustration about the time you invested in that interview. If you need any help filing the DMCA notice, please do not hesitate to ask me or visit http://www.plagiarismtoday.com. The author of that site is a genius and such a great resource, always willing to help. Stacey, thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it. I believe that they can change and that drawing attention to this post will help that happen. I would encourage you to consider covering it with you audience at Neon Limelight. As with TJ, if you need any help filing a DMCA notice, please don't hesitate to ask or visit http://www.plagiarismtoday.com. Tiffany, please note that there is a great difference between responsible quoting and citation and complete content theft. Plenty of writers, online and off, practice the former. Quoting and citing sources is a part of reporting and all publications do it. If you limit yourself to a short excerpt (1/5 or 1/6 of the content, at most, for any article of reasonable length) and provide a visible link to the full article, you're fine. If you completely copy the article, you're not. And that goes for Global Grind, The New York Times or a random blogger. Thanks again. Patrick

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Manny Faces

about 4 years ago

Fantastically well written. As owner and operator of a hip hop-centric blog myself, I completely agree with all points raised. While I also have other, philosophical differences with the overall editorial direction of Global Grind, the "scraping" issue is one that has particularly irked me on several occasions.

Reply

Patrick

about 4 years ago

Thanks for the comment, Manny Faces. I really appreciate it.

Reply

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