The Straw, the Camel

The Straw, the Camel

The amount of time I’ve devoted to Rumorgate—the Bikerumor plagiarism flap—in the last two weeks is a travesty. Had Bikerumor’s Tyler Benedict simply done what everyone else does in this circumstance—say, “Wow, I’m really sorry. I really screwed up. That shouldn’t have happened. What can I do to make you whole? How about I send you a check?”—this would have been over the day it started. And you, dear reader, would have been none the wiser.

Instead, Tyler plead that he was only human, that it was just a mistake, that Bike Rumor gets ripped off all the time (like that makes it okay). That was my first sign that Tyler didn’t give a damn about me or my colleagues.

I wanted this over and done quickly, but with each new email from Tyler (I refused to take his phone calls and had to tell him to stop texting me), Tyler managed to say something else that made the situation worse, that further exposed his self-interest and disregard for the rest of us. The turning point for me came when Tyler announced he would make a $1000 donation to People for Bikes in my name, a move he made without consulting me.

Selene Yeager, once she realized I hadn’t had a “Khumbaya moment,” tweeted, “It’s like stealing your bike & when caught saying. ‘My bad! But I gave it to World Bicycle Relief so we’re good.'”

It put me in the uncomfortable position of writing to People for Bikes’ Executive Director Tim Blumenthal. While we have met, I can’t claim to know Tim well, but I’ve been following his career for more than 20 years and am a big fan of all he has done for cycling. I wrote to let him know how embarrassed I was that his organization was being drawn into a conflict to which he wasn’t party. Even though I’d had nothing to do with the decision—Tyler hadn’t even consulted me—I apologized to him. How could I not?

It was at that point that I began receiving emails, Facebook messages, texts and phone calls from people all making the same request.

‘Dude, you gotta send him a cease and desist letter, if not file a lawsuit. You’ve got a responsibility.’

So why me? Well, the thing here is that I own my copyright. For my colleagues like James Huang at Bike Radar and Cyclingnews, and Caley Fretz at Velo, their photos and articles are works-for-hire; their publishers own the copyright and big publishing companies don’t warm up a $400-an-hour lawyer for plagiarism. Sure, Tyler has stolen from other sites where the writer owned the copyright, but for reasons that only they can answer, they didn’t act. And so now the entire phalanx of pro journalists is looking at me to put my finger in the dyke, because we all have a reasonable belief that if I don’t do this, it will just keep happening.

There are times when I’m slightly amazed that all people want to talk about is Rumorgate. There were questions at my recent reading at Velo Hangar (I always do a Q&A following my reading). Yesterday, I was in the Bay Area to attend the launch of a new company called Zwift (which you’ll probably know a good deal more about by the time you read this); there were questions in the van on the way from the airport from Bicycle Retailer and Industry News editor Lynette Carpiet. Then more from other colleagues at dinner. While I’d had enough, I have to respect others just wanted to be caught up. It reminded me of when the Deuce was in the hospital. Everyone wanted to hear the story from the horse’s mouth, even if telling how the surgeon wanting to filet my kid gave me a panic attack.

What finally helped all this snap into focus was talking to Slowtwitch’s Dan Empfield, a man for whom I have immense respect. On our way back to our hotel rooms, as my voice turned raspy from all the talk, I openly wondered why people were caring this time; it’s not like I’m sexier than James. He stopped me and said, “You’re the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

I’m not a guy to draw a line in the sand. Nor am I one to issue ultimatums. I respect that there are manufacturers who don’t really care how Tyler and his crew do their jobs, so long as they get exposure for their latest product. For some people, unless he steals from them, this just won’t matter. Not their monkeys, not their circus. And that’s actually okay.

What I do want to make sure everyone knows is just how pervasive a practice that this is, how when Tyler tries to call it an “error” we know he’s lying with the skill of someone with political ambition. A group of colleagues and I have documented at least four thefts from Bike Radar/Cyclingnews, multiple thefts from Velo (from both Fretz and former staffer Nick Legan), plus thefts from Pinkbike, Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, Dirt Rag, Peloton Magazine, Red Kite Prayer, Prolly Not Probably, Bikebiz and Bicycle World TV. We’re talking two dozen documented thefts.

Here’s the scary part: Those thefts are only the ones we know about. None of us has time to police that site to see how often our work is used. Matt Philips of Bicycling says he simply doesn’t know if his work has been stolen because he has never checked. That I know about the thefts of my work is pure luck. There may have been more occasions.

Some of us have begun checking our work against his. What Tyler may not appreciate is that while the statute of limitations for plagiarism is only three years, it doesn’t start ticking until you find out. He could find out that some publishers have decided to do a bit more research.

Another friend, a guy who works in brand security in the industry, sent me an email with a link. That link went to an index of 103 different domains Tyler has registered. There was every conceivable variation of noun-plus-rumor—surfrumor, trirumor, skaterumor, nascarrumor, etc.—on that list, but it also contained mellowjonnies and mellowjohnies. There’s a special circle in hell for those whose business plan is to trade on confusion in the market. When I tweeted to Lance Armstrong that Tyler had registered those domains, Tyler tweeted “… talked to Thomas @ MJ, transferring today. Wanted 2 keep spammers away”.

So Tyler is altruistically looking out for Lance Armstrong?

Yeah, I believe that the way I believed him when he said that he hadn’t pulled all my material from his post because the “process of getting the post updated with credits and references was iterative.” He claimed he was in the process of adding source links, but never did. He had a similar excuse to why even after the post was allegedly pulled, it was still available.

So I sent that C&D to Tyler and heard from his lawyer today. He sniffed around about everything from who the actual copyright holder was (me) to whether I had proof (how’s an admission from the publisher and the writer) and how I arrived at the number in my demand (doesn’t matter; you know the judge will give me more if I have to go to court). He has until next Wednesday to pay up or respond. Anything other than a check will result in me writing a check to my lawyer.

I could give you more examples of the underhanded practices Tyler routinely employs, but because James Huang has been most harmed by Tyler’s thefts, I’m going to finish with a quote he shared from an email Tyler sent.

Tyler wrote: “I borrowed (and credited) one of your photos and will probably borrow a few more over the next few days. Let me know if you’d prefer I don’t do this…your lack of response shall serve as permission to do whatever the hell I want.”

 

Image: Peter Etelej, via Flickr Creative Commons

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23 comments

  1. RickV

    Some men are born great, Padraig. Some acquire greatness. And still others have it thrust upon them, usually by some bully who’s just begging for a spanking.

    Go for it.

    In addition to going after bikerumordotcom directly, keeping Tyler’s feet to the fire will remind the industry of exactly what his advertisers are supporting. As a famous doctor once said, “Kill the body and the head will die.” (Actually, it was Joe Frasier, but HST got all the credit.)

    Selah.

  2. Les.B.

    I have heard that there is software used by college profs to find if students’ papers have plagiarized a source on the internet. Maybe you could use that kind of tool.

  3. Nrs5000

    Seems like now that you are holding his feet to the fire, if bike rumor plagiarizes or otherwise steals copyright material again he’ll be looking down the barrel of $150k in statutory damages for willful infringement. Well done.

  4. Diane

    You know Patrick, the reason YOU are “the one” is because you not only CAN do it but you WILL do it. You work hard – you play by the rules. Sometimes you gotta’ do what you gotta’ do – and this is one of those times. You stand up for all of us and I stand behind you!

    Thank you!

    dl

  5. Steve

    Welcome to the world of business… Gotta agree w/ RickV, having it “thrust upon you” is painful at first (sort of like having children, employees, etc…) but one day you wake up and realize that “today is not that day”, to paraphrase Aragorn!
    I have been a small business owner for 21 years and have witnessed many a ill-gotten gain by folks who have don’t play by the rules, pay their taxes, relieve themselves in the well that we all drink from and watch them leave town when the going gets rough.
    Major respect to you sir, that’s why I keep reading your work and supporting your sponsors when able.
    See you in NorCal on Saturday!
    Oldsacracer

  6. Morgan F

    Padraig,

    I have quietly enjoyed RKP and the rich, knowledgable writing that is on this site. Especially your writing. This is the best cycling news site in my opinion. I have never left a comment here before but this whole Rumorgate thing is driving me to do so.

    Those people at Bikerumor are complete amateurs. BR is a sloppy content farm at best. Their amateur-ness shows in every way; crappy writing, crappy looking site, auto-loading videos(thanks for not having those on RKP)… And let us not forget the comment sections. Not only are the comments 90% total chum, but BR deletes comments they don’t agree with… And they steal content from you, James and God knows who else?

    To hell with em. Give em a good spanking, as Rick said!!! 😉

    You have lots of people on your side – let us know how we can all help.

  7. Steven

    Good gravy.
    I have a special distaste for plagiarism, especially of the blatant, willful sort. Padraig, I wish you the best of luck in this, and bikerumor won’t be on my list of sites to check.

  8. steve saltzman

    I’ve unfollowed and unbookmarked BR too, but there is another crime no one is commenting on. Theft from RKP, Bike Radar is just that, theft. But also the bicycle industry is made stronger from collaboration and learning – information put in the public domain is great and builds the foundation for better bikes, safer cycling, a more innovative and entrepreneurial industry for the people who develop and service products, and of course, a healthier planet. I have no financial or other ties to this group, but for all of you content creators, consider using a Creative Commons license to both protect you work so others can popularize and elaborate on your work. Here’s a link: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/


  9. Author
    Padraig

    Everyone: Thanks for your comments and your support. And if I can humbly offer, the last time I was in the proximity of greatness, it was because I was shaking someone else’s hand. I like it that way.

    It occurs to me that there’s an appropriate response to Tyler’s note to James:

    No, Tyler, no you can’t.

  10. Al Lakes

    “Blog journalism” is an interesting animal. Wouldn’t the interests of RKP be better served if this story were being reported by another media outlet/site? I wonder if your lawyer would advise you to continue to relate your experience with Bike Rumor in such a confessional manner. BR’s bad business practices have obviously harmed you but at this point why keep “outing” Tyler. In fact, why do you continue to refer to him by his first name. It’s just my sense that how you’re presenting the situation misinforms or confuses readers as many details of the story seem to be exposed in an inflammatory manner. (full disclosure: i work in publishing and deal with copyright issues on a daily basis).


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Al: As it happens, none of the trade magazines (I assume this is what you mean) touched this story until I published something on it. And I don’t expect Bicycling or Cyclingnews to report on this. So there’s that. Then there’s the fact that it’s a fairly common practice to refer to people you actually know in real life by their first names. That’s not AP-approved, but such an informal reference helps convey familiarity. I don’t think I continue to “out” him; this is an unfolding story; it merited a post and a follow-up.

      I consider myself a writer, not a journalist. I don’t just chase facts. My purpose is to connect with readers and give them something worth reading. That means crafting a piece strategically; I want a punchy (or to use your word “inflammatory”) finish to my work.

      But back to your original question: Would my interests be better served by allowing someone else to report this? No, I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think there’s anyone better positioned to report just how badly Tyler has handled this.

      Finally, I don’t allow lawyers to tell me what to do. I learned that lesson a long time ago. My life is more enjoyable for it.

  11. Shawn

    Do you think BR has assets? If not, litigation would be throwing good money after bad. Maybe that’s why the big pubs don’t chase it.

    Good luck, and keep us informed.

  12. WhollyToledo

    There is a degree of you patting yourself on the back so profusely that I can’t decide if I less respect for you or for the Bike Rumor dude.

  13. Pingback: bikerumor.com sucks

  14. khal spencer

    Jeeze. Got to admit that this is the first time I ever heard of BikeRumor. Unless this story continues, probably the last. Safe to say, Red Kite Prayer is on my list of Useful Links, and BikeRumor never was and never will be. Good luck.

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