“Phantom” Strikes Back: tech site Smarthouse caught plagiarising again

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4Square Media, the publishers of technology news websites Smarthouse and ChannelNews, is at it again. TechGeek has found instances where its owner David Richards has plagiarised content from several tech publications including TechRadar; and newspapers The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald and the UK’s Daily Mail.

It came to my attention after when a story, titled Nokia Turns On Microsoft After Win 8 Smartphone Failure, had noticeable typography differences – namely the first paragraph after the lead was in Verdana, and the rest was in Arial.

Despite some minor changes by Richards, we managed to find that his article had lifted most of its text from an article written on TechRadar.

Smarthouse Copy Nokia Windows Phone

TechGeek has found several other articles by Richards that he has lifted from other publications. My personal favourite has to be a story titled Foxtel To Benefit From Premier League Ban, where Richards manages to pilfer text from not only TechRadar, but also from The Australian. He even leaves in the alt-tag of the “Digital Pass $1 for first 28 Days” image.

Last time I checked, Smarthouse doesn’t paywall its content.

Smarthouse Copy Foxtel

One story, titled Woolworths Release Dick Smith From Upside Obligation As Master Costs Blow Out, largely had text from the Sydney Morning Herald – though rearranged so Dick Smith was at the top of the article instead of Masters. It also copied mostly word-for-word a Dick Smith press release announcing the removal of obligations, with a slight change to the first paragraph of the press release.

CLARIFICATION (31/7/13): Press releases and ASX announcements are not under copyright.

ChannelNews Copy Dick Smith

Meanwhile, another story titled Apple iPhone5 “Hated”, New Research Shows had content lifted from the UK’s Daily Mail tabloid newspaper; with Richards adding some ‘local’ perspective in the story, including reporting that Telstra stores were relegating the iPhone 5 at the back of the store and this wonderful titbit:

Apple Australia does not hold press conferences, nor does it reply to questions about the poor quality of their products. What they do is issue press releases, but deny journalists the right to question issues in the press releases.

Smarthouse Copy iPhone Hatred

We also found two stories written by Richards for Smarthouse and ChannelNews that had paragraphs taken from US tech site Electronista – Samsung To Launch New Galaxy 3 Tablets In OZ Next Week (original) and New Google Chrome OS As Search Company Pushes Sales Of Chromebook In OZ (original).

Smarthouse Copy Samsung TabletsChannelNews Copy Chrome OS

We asked both TechRadar’s parent company Future Publishing and Electronista if 4Square Media had permission to use the content on the site. In a one-line answer, Executive Publisher and Editor for Electronista Monish K Bhatia confirmed that Richards did not have permission and they have known about “such copyright infringement”.

“We don’t have a deal with them and I gave (sic) reached out to them in the past about such copyright infringement,” Bhatia said.

Future Publishing said they were reviewing the case.

“We are reviewing the case according to standard Future Publishing procedures,” said a spokesperson.

Smarthouse has a history of being accused of plagiarism. In 2008, the ABC’s Media Watch programme found instances where Smarthouse and sister site Smarthouse News lifted content from other websites such as TWICE and the UK’s Telegraph and published it under Richards’ byline.

Richards claimed that a hacker posted the content, telling Media Watch, “We believe that a former employee who had access to our content engine has changed bylines, dates on stories and posted stories without our knowledge in an effort to discredit us.”

His response saw the programme’s then-host Jonathan Holmes to award Richards the “Phantom of the Internet” award.

In 2010, Smarthouse was accused by IDG – publishers of PC World – of lifting content from a review of Medion’s Akoya PC. Richards came on the attack, threatening a defamation lawsuit against IDG unless it apologised for the claims.

“I believe that your claims to IT Journo are defamatory based on current copyright laws in Australia and as such I demand an apology,” Richards wrote in an email to IDG, which was acquired by industry website IT Journo.

IDG, however, refused to back down from the claims. Davy Adams, the managing director for IDG Australia, wrote back to Richards, “Given that you have confirmed that you are doing what was covered in the IT Journo article, you might find winning a defamation case a bit of a slog. Your time and effort would probably be better spent writing good original content.”

I should stress that Richards does do his own original work. Smarthouse recently published an “exclusive” story that claimed that Acer Australia was undergoing mass sackings after a massive profit loss and internal infighting.

It should also be noted that Acer Australia has called the claims made by Richards as “false and libellous”.