Australian startup Oneflare accused of ‘repurposing’ another website for spam

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UPDATE [11/12/13]: The story has now a happy ending. Oneflare has decided to donate back the domain name to its original owners. The original story is below.


If you happen to own domain names, it really does suck when you accidentally forget to renew them. Especially when an Australian startup decides to acquire it for the purposes of using your reputation on Google to promote their new product.

This happened to the Online Journalism Review – a relatively popular website in during the early days of Web 2.0 that covered how old journalism was adapting to new technology – where a Sydney-based startup called Oneflare managed to acquire their domain name when it expired.

According to Nieman Journalism Labs, Oneflare produced a similar-looking website to the actual OJR website – including using the logos of the owners, the University of Southern California Annenberg, and a lot of the old content. The only main differences from the Oneflare version and the actual site was the logo (it was in Comic Sans), and a new post (available from the Internet Archive).

Online Journalism Review — Focusing on the future of digital journalism

Left: the actual OJR website. Right: Oneflare’s version of the OJR website. (Image: Nieman Journalism Labs)

Nieman also posted screenshots of the owner of the OJR.org website that reveal that Oneflare did indeed own the domain – its domain registration details had the name of its CEO, Marcus Lim, and the address of the company. Interestingly enough, Nieman also wrote that the company later on scrubbed out the details with WhoisGuard.

Screenshot of OJR.org under Oneflare (Image: Nieman Journalism Labs)

Screenshot of OJR.org under Oneflare (Image: Nieman Journalism Labs)

Soon after it was publicised, they quickly removed any references of USC Annenberg and the use of old articles from OJR. They also changed their name to the “Online Journal Review” and published five more articles backdated to 2011.

USC Annenberg told Nieman in a statement that they are “taking steps to regain control of Online Journalism Review, after the domain of OJR.org was allowed to lapse earlier this month.” At the time of writing, when we tried to access the OJR.org website, we get an empty directory listing page. This either means that they were successful in getting the domain back, or Oneflare has removed the entire site.

So, why decide to take the name of OJR.org? Well, it might be to get a higher ranking in search engines. Looking at its PageRank, the OJR.org domain has a pretty good 7 out of 10 rating. This is important, because Google uses this to determine the ranking of websites in search queries – through links on the page.

“External links are important for SEO because as far as a search engine is concerned, these are considered an endorsement of your site, increasing your ranking power and making your site more visible,” CTO and co-founder of Oneflare, Adam Dong, wrote in a post for The Sydney Morning Herald’s small business section in October on the topic of getting a “good SEO strategy.”

I should stress that there is nothing wrong in purchasing an old domain and repurposing that. However, as Nieman Journalism Labs notes:

But Lim’s doing far more than reusing a domain name. He’s clearly wrong to pretend that his version of OJR.org is actually the Online Journalism Review. Putting those USC and USC Annenberg logos on the site is clearly intended to mislead, and almost certainly legally actionable should USC want to send a cease and desist. And Lim certainly does not own the copyright of those hundreds of old articles that he’s copied and reprinted whole.

We’ve contacted Oneflare for a response.

H/T @Asher_Wolf