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TechCrunch Commits "Identify Theft" [UPDATED]

BY Micah L. Sifry | Sunday, December 23 2007

Three days ago, on December 20th, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch posted an announcement on his blog. "Who Will Be the First Tech President?" he asked, and he invited his readers to help him decide which candidates they should endorse as their "Tech President" with an online vote on the site.

I sent him an email (full text below) objecting to the overlap in names and asking Arrington to call his primary "something different from the 'Tech President' primary" and to refer to his overall project "as something other than 'Who Will Be the First Tech President.'"

The next morning, a mutual friend got us in touch with his co-editor Erick Schonfeld. After I forwarded him the same email that I had sent Arrington, Schonfeld wrote back to say that he would talk to Arrington and asking if we had a copyright or trademark. I replied, "TechPresident is copyright 2007, Personal Democracy Forum, which is the parent entity. We have a Creative Commons attribution-noncommercial-no derivative license on our content."

That was midday Friday. We were going to wait a couple of days, figuring that it was the holidays and it was reasonable to give Arrington and crew a few days to respond. But yesterday, we saw a new post by Arrington, titled "Tech President Endorsement on Local Fox Affiliate," trumpeting Arrington's appearance on a TV program pitching his online primary and anticipated endorsement. (Ironically, one topic of the conversation was identity theft.)

Enough. No more benefit of the doubt. Not only are TechCrunch's actions a violation of our copyright, it is an abuse of our name and reputation to claim that they are organizing a "Tech President Endorsement."

We here at TechPresident are covering the presidential election very closely, reporting on and rating how the campaigns are using the web, and doing so in an explicitly nonpartisan way. A claim by any entity, especially a site as widely read as TechCrunch, to be endorsing any candidate as the "Tech President" candidate would be a violation of our purpose and could damage the trust that we have built up with campaign staffers as well as the press as a fair and impartial guide.

Arrington is clearly ignoring the fact that we own the name Tech President. He can no more describe what he is doing as a "Tech President endorsement" as we could announce that we are preparing a "Tech Crunch endorsement." This is plain and simple an infringement of our copyright, and an abuse of our name and reputation. (And it's all the more curious given that he's named his other properties things like CrunchGear, CrunchBoard, etc. Surely he could use CrunchElection or CrunchPrimary.)

I take no pleasure from having to make this charge. Frankly, when it comes to the issues, we agree with many of the concerns that Arrington is trying to raise, such as net neutrality and the digital divide. I'd much rather be aligning our forces. But this is identity theft and it's wrong. [UPDATE: On second thought, I take back the use of that term, which I solely meant as a metaphor, and I apologize for its use.]

[UPDATE 2:] I'm hearing from various friends asking what is to be done. Our main goal here is to make clear that what TechCrunch is doing is in no way associated with TechPresident. A simple correction or addendum to that effect by Arrington on his blog would go a long way to resolving this.]

Here's the full text of the email I sent Arrington Thursday:

I'm writing about your post " Who Will be the First Tech President" and your call on your readers to help pick the first "Tech President."

It's great that you're working to get the candidates to address technology issues more seriously. Our community needs to keep injecting these questions into the national debate in as many ways as possible.

I'm writing, though, to hopefully correct what I assume to be a simple oversight on your part.

TechPresident is a group blog that covers how the candidates are using the web, and how the web is using them. We launched in February of this year. (You covered us early on, in fact.) We've been featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times and a host of other outlets; we were named one of Time magazine's top 10 best websites of 2007; and we won this year's Knight-Batten Innovation in Journalism Award.

In May of this year, at the fourth annual Personal Democracy Forum, keynoted by Larry Schmidt, Tom Friedman, and Larry Lessig (among others), we issued a challenge to the candidates titled " Who Will Be America's First Tech President?" Since then, we've graded the candidates on their tech policy positions, which we've also written up in our biweekly column for The Politico. And we've launched a major collaboration with the New York Times editorial board, MSNBC.com and 50 leading political blogs to involve the web community in a new online video presidential forum called 10Questions.com.

In short, we're all over this topic.

That said, it's a big web and we can understand if you were not aware of any of this. We have two simple requests. First, that you acknowledge techPresident.com and the work we've been doing to get the presidential campaigns to be more internet-savvy.

Our second request is that you call your primary something different from the "Tech President" primary and refer to your overall project as something other than "Who Will Be the First Tech President."

If we had launched something called the "TechCrunch Primary" and issued a call for "Who Will Be the First TechCrunch President" I'm sure you would have responded the same way.

The truth is, we don't particularly like to have to pick this bone with you and would much rather be behaving cooperatively in pursuit of larger common goals--like a White House and a Washington that better understands the digital age and its challenges. Indeed, all our work--from our conference and our column to our sites--is focused on building bridges and understanding between the political and technology communities.

So, I'm hoping this can be resolved amicably and perhaps we can even talk about ways to combine our forces.

Sincerely,

Micah Sifry
Editor
techPresident.com

I sent this email to Arrington on Thursday, December 20, at 7:41pm EST. I still have not heard back from him.

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