(Yes, I was inspired by the success of Bernard Shifman Is A Moron Spammer – who wouldn’t be?)
Last year, I was digging through my search engine results for buymybook and noticed something odd. A site called matcalfox.com was turning up in a lot of the same search results. I didn’t have to dig far to discover that the webmaster, one Matt Vartan, had stolen my META Tags and Page Title wholesale. (Erm, with one minor change. He switched the description from “Books on the Internet by Tim Ireland” to “Books on the Internet by MatCal Fox”…)
As he failed to answer me by email, I brought the issue up on his public guestbook. The exchange is quoted in full below:
[IMPORTANT UPDATE – Following this link to the guestbook is not recommended as it will more than likely crash your computer. Since this page featured on fark.com a large number of people have dropped by the guestbook to wish Matt Vartan well. At last count, it was over 22MB in size, including many unsavoury pictures and what looks to be the complete works of Hans Christian Anderson. There have also been recent reports of a virus implanted in the page. Do not visit this page without full protection.]
Gosh, those META tags at http://www.matcalfox.com/for500y.html look familiar.
Do you mind if I have them back?
USA – Thursday, November 08, 2001 at 06:25:38 (PST)
Unless, you have a copy right (sic) on a particular word, tags stays (sic).
There are no copy rights (sic) on English language.
USA – Saturday, November 24, 2001 at 14:02:49 (PST)
Mat, a unique configuration of words (be they used to create lyrics, a book, or even META Tags) are considered to be copyright protected. You’ve ripped mine off wholesale, word for word, in their entirety. I don’t see much of a grey area here, but thanks for showing everyone how much you care.
UK – Monday, January 07, 2002 at 04:05:22 (PST)
No copyright on the English language?! Perhaps I should release a bestseller under my own name and claim that I sourced the entire thing from the dictionary…
There was no reply to the last entry, but, lo and behold, my Page Title and META Tags were finally removed from the offending page. This has only happened fairly recently, because last time I looked, they were still live in Google’s cache.
I’ve since updated my title and tags anyway (because I now sell more than one book, therefore I’m no longer the ‘world’s smallest bookstore’) so you may be wondering what my beef is.
Well, let’s take a look at the aforementioned guestbook and see what you notice about it:
Yep, that’s right – I appear to be in very good company. Matt Vartan has also stolen the META Tags and Page Title for Amazon.com! (I’d cut and paste the two to compare them here, but you know how touchy some people are about their META Tags…)
So I dig deeper, only to discover that the ever-so-slightly misguided Matt Vartan has swiped META Tags from other sites for no less than a dozen of his own crappy web pages.
The list of offences is way too long to quote in full here (I know how short your attention span is, you loveable web surfers, you) but I will point out the most brazen and/or entertaining of them. Feel free to dig around for the rest.
This search result from Google will show you two side by side. The only change made to the Tags and Title being what now appears to be the trademark injection of the Matcal Fox name in place of any mention of the original code owner. Apart from Amazon, that is. Matt does not fear the wrath of Amazon.
It doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to it either. Not satisfied with describing his guestbook as being the home of the world’s largest bookseller, Matt’s sports page has a woefully misspelled Page Title describing comedy videos, plus a list of keywords from a games site (hints, cheats, help, walkthrough, etc.) with a few movie titles tacked onto the end in high caps. (Well, at least he’s showing some creativity.)
Why he thinks that people searching for out-of-print books would be interested in his ‘Internet’ page is anybody’s guess – especially as it’s made up of one Alta Vista search box and three affiliate links.
What kind of person would fall for this kind of META Tag theft (and, let’s face it, Spam)? Perhaps the same kind of person who looks for employment by searching for movie westerns..
Well, that’s it really. I can’t be bothered digging any deeper because looking at his site makes my head hurt. I don’t really expect you to take any action, either. What can you possibly do to educate a man who is so shameless and so very, very clueless? Just remember him in your prayers, that’s all I ask.
UPDATE 2 – This page made the top result in Google for the search query ‘Matt Vartan’. Justice is done.
(Oh, and the ‘Male image galleries’ result? Nowt to do with me, but funny all the same…)
UPDATE 3 – The Matcalfox guestbook now appears to be all cleaned up, with the tags and titles he ripped off left stubbornly in place (same goes for the rest of the site). The guestbook now features a message from Matt about ‘not giving up’ (he actually quotes from well-known web renegade Winston Churchill of all people). Looks like he’s gonna keep those Amazon META Tags until he gets a letter from their lawyers…
UPDATE 3 – (Nov 02 2004) The Matcalfox website has now disappeared without trace. Matt Vartan himself appears to have left teh Interweb. Probably in a huff, if I’m in any judge.