Law Ratchet: New Dogs, Old Tricks (Update x3)

There’s a new scraper in town.  When the word came in, I strolled over to Bob Ambrogi’s  Law Sites to see who it was.  The name is Law Ratchet, and no, I won’t make the play on its name because it’s too easy. If this seems like deja vu all over again, it is. Scraper USLaw, run by some kid who goes by the name Gregory Chase while sitting on the couch in his mother’s basement hoping to earn enough off his website to pay for his Cheetos fix, tried to get away with this years ago. It failed.

So naturally, someone new comes along thinking they’ve discovered an untapped resource, someone else’s content, and can parlay that into cash in their pocket. The mechanics are simple: Take a blawg’s RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed and use it to recreate someone else’s content on your website. Maybe there’s a link back to the original, maybe not. Maybe there’s acknowledgement of the author, maybe not. Regardless, they glom the full content created by someone else, add nothing to enhance its value, and offer it up.

The day after Ambrogi noted its existence, the obvious question was asked.

Afterwards, a reader emailed me asking a key question my post did not address — that of whether Law Ratchet is violating the copyrights of the publishers and bloggers whose stories it is picking up.

For many of the articles Law Ratchet picks up, it is republishing them in full on its own site, complete with images.
The posts included Bob’s. Volokh’s. Mine. Bob, calling it a grey area of law, notes that in 2005,  Eric Goldman wrote that by allowing readers to access a blawg via an RSS feed, it might be acceptable for scrapers to steal it:

In my mind, there’s no question that a blogger grants an implied license to the content in an RSS feed. However, because it’s implied, I’m just not sure of the license terms. So, in theory, it could be an implied license to permit aggregators to do whatever they want.
Just to be sure, I checked with Eric yesterday to see if this was still his view, and it is. He notes an Israeli court reached a similar conclusion, though in Associated Press v. Meltwater, the Southern District of New York held scraping to be copyright infringement.  On the other hand, IP lawyer Marc Randazza says it’s a copyright violation, without any doubt whatsoever.

Ambrogi asked the babies in charge of Law Ratchet, Derek Chau, a 2006 Harvard Law grad, and  Will Mouat, who were Ropes and Gray associates before they weren’t, about their scraping. They responded in marketeer fashion:
On the issue of copyright law, we did invest a fair amount of time researching the matter. I would hazard to guess that you are familiar with the copyright issues given your experience with media law. We carefully analyzed the issues and suffice it to say that we believe that Law Ratchet is well-positioned on the merits of the legal issues.

Suffice? No, “you say so” doesn’t suffice. In fact, what you “believe” is worthless.

Will and I embarked on this venture to create a better experience for lawyers to consume and discover legal news. In doing so, our goal has been to work with content providers and to forge mutually beneficial partnerships with authors and publishers. In fact, we believe that the only way Law Ratchet will succeed in the marketplace is with their cooperation and partnership.
And so the bullshit flows, because if you wrap up scraping in pretty bows, it’s not like it’s really stealing and nobody will call you out. Except I am.

Much as I respect Eric Goldman, he’s completely wrong on his imputation of an implied license as to RSS feeds. RSS is merely the tool by which individual readers view content. There is a facile assumption by some that because it’s easy to grab off an RSS feed, it must be free for the taking. That’s like saying if someone leaves a potted plant outside their front door, it must be okay to walk over and take it. Because, you know, if they didn’t want you to take it, they would have locked it up in the safe. It’s absurd.

It’s true that some blawgers, particularly those with fewer readers or who subscribe to the “all information should be free” philosophy, don’t mind being scraped. Others overlay their personal sense of propriety, that it’s okay with them provided they get attribution, or maybe a link back. That’s fine, if they don’t care whether someone scrapes their stuff. But that’s not the law, and their sensibilities don’t dictate what’s permissible for other people who don’t share their willingness to be scraped.

On twitter,  Mark Lyon asked whether it was okay if it was just someone curating interesting stuff. The question missed the mark. The details of how a scraper uses someone else’s content, or how someone who might want curated content, is irrelevant. The point is that it’s not their content to sell, whether curated, tied in a bow or any other way.

It’s copyright. It’s someone else’s content, and without permission to offer it, they can’t. Even if its easy to scrape or readers might enjoy the ease of someone else curating it for them. It’s just not theirs to offer. And as for readers wanting someone to chew their food for them, USLaw tried it already, and nobody wanted it. The business model is not only wrong, but bad.

As for me, I added a footer (that I got from Mark Bennett) to my RSS feed that makes my position clear.

© 2007-13 Simple Justice NY LLC. This feed is for personal, non-commercial & Newstex use only. The use of this feed on any other website is a copyright violation. If this feed is not via RSS reader or Newstex, it infringes the copyright.
If you want to see it in the wild, it’s right there on the Law Ratchet scraping of my posts. As for Chau and Mouat, can you say “statutory damages”?  I bet you can. As of this moment, there are 134 posts of mine on Law Ratchet. Do you still believe?

Update: I see that our pals at Law Ratchet have excised SJ from their offerings, as if it never happened. Except for the screen shots taken before they did so.  Because some people plan ahead.

Update 2:  I’ve received an email from Derek Chau. I was told to expect an apology from him, and this is what was received:



The content from Simple Justice has been removed from Law Ratchet.  If you would prefer that the first few lines of your posts appear, with a link to the original article, please let me know.  We will also reach out to other authors who have concerns about if and how their content is presented. 


Almost 2 weeks ago, we filed a registration with the U.S. Copyright Office to appoint an agent to receive DMCA notices.  Although we haven’t received confirmation of the registration yet, we will very soon put up a copyright section on our website to allow parties to communicate with us.  As we communicated before, we will respect the wishes of authors or publishers who requests that their content be removed.


Law Ratchet does not generate any revenue: we do not charge a subscription fee, we do not deploy ads, and we do not resell content.  We will announce in the near future how we intend to partner with authors, many of whom are excited by the benefits of reaching a larger audience. 


Apologies for any misunderstanding and for not having a clear process up earlier for you to request your content to be removed.



Derek Chau

CEO, Ratchet Technology

First, this is not an apology. Second, it demonstrates no grasp of what he did wrong.

Update 3:  Another email has come in from Derek Chau, but this one reflects both a sincere apology and recognition that Law Ratchet was wrong to scrape.



I want to sincerely and personally apologize.  I acknowledge that my first reply was insufficient.  We clearly operated in a way that caused you and others to be upset. That certainly wasn’t our intention and we are sorry.  We acknowledge and respect the concerns raised by you and your readers.  In addition to an apology, we are taking steps to address these concerns.


First, you were absolutely right to call us out on “scraping” content from some websites: for some sources, we had partial RSS feeds and scraped the remainder of the article from the source website.  We stopped doing that today and you were right for drawing attention to it.  We honestly didn’t appreciate or anticipate the effect on authors.  Now we do.  Because of your comments, that stopped today and we no longer scrape.   The portions of article that had been scraped in the past will be removed from our site.


Second, we recognize that we did not have adequate copyright notices page on our website; while we filed for the DMCA registration about two weeks ago, it hasn’t come through.  We are working now to improve the webpage to more clearly include contact information for copyright-related concerns.


Third, we haven’t adequately communicated to you and the broader community what Law Ratchet actually is and how it works.  Putting any sales pitch aside for the moment, Law Ratchet is a pre-populated RSS reader, and similar in function to the many other RSS readers available on the market.  Our distinguishing characteristic is that we went through many blogs and put them in relevant categories so that it would be easier for a typical user to pick up and use right away.  We genuinely (perhaps naively) figured that most authors would be excited by the prospect of having their RSS feeds discovered by more people.   Because of the concerns you have raised, we will work to improve our communication with content publishers.  We will also provide an opt-out option to make it easy for them to have their content removed from the site.  


Again, my apologies.  We are working diligently to apologize to and respond to all authors who have expressed concerns.  We welcome sincere and open dialogue.



Derek Chau

I accept Derek’s apology, his good will representation that his new business will not continue to engage in scraping, and Law Ratchet will base its future efforts on contributing to the blawgosphere rather than being a parasite, feeding off it for his own benefit. To his credit (and to my great surprise given his first email), Derek chose not to “double down,” and it must have been a very difficult thing to do. I respect that he faced up to what was very wrong here and dealt with it.

As far as I’m concerned, this apology ends the matter. I plan to make clear to Derek what things he should not be doing if he doesn’t want to make his business a pariah and defendant. Feel free to let him know any thoughts you have as well.  While I have serious doubts that his business model will work, I wish him well now that the scraping is behind him.

31 thoughts on “Law Ratchet: New Dogs, Old Tricks (Update x3)

  1. Antonin I. Pribetic

    The bottom of Law Ratchet main page reads:

    “© 2013 Law Ratchet”

    The Terms of Service state, in part:

    “You may not use the Service for any illegal or unauthorized purpose. You must not, in the use of the Service, violate any laws in your jurisdiction (including but not limited to copyright laws).”

    Scraping is copyright infringement, whether it is your blog or your RSS feed.

    A while back one commenter to a post of mine of this issue took umbrage with my view that RSS scraping is theft, to which I replied:

    “…What I said was blog scraping and RSS scraping is intellectual property theft. If someone scrapes my content without my permission and profits from it, then it is no different than someone breaking into my house, stealing a manuscript I have written, then organizing a book tour without inviting me to attend or sign copies. If you don’t consider scraping to be a form of theft, then what better analogy would you devise? And no, I don’t care about the legal definition of criminal theft or civil detinue or conversion.”

  2. SHG

    I do care about the law, and I care a great deal about a bunch of legal definitions. But it’s not enough that they do a book tour and invite me. They don’t get to do a book tour with my book, whether they invite me, attribute authorship to me, link back to me, or anything else, without my express permission.

    If they want to do a book tour with my content, they need my permission first. That’s the point of copyright, and there is no “fair use” that permits their taking my feeds intended for the personal use of readers and turning them their content for profit.

    If you want another analogy, consider a bar that purchases a pay-per-view event from their cable company, then charges 100 of their best customers to come in and watch it. Not cool.

  3. Antonin I. Pribetic

    The fundamental and irremediable problem for Legal Hatchet is that it’s RSS scraping platform fails under the four-factor test set out under 17 U.S.C. § 107.

    Fortunately for Law Hatchet, my blog is not on their radar. The fair dealing provisions of the Canadian Copyright Act allow users to engage only in certain activities relating to research, private study, criticism, review, or news reporting.

    RSS scraping fits none of these exceptions. Wholesale or even piecemeal reproduction from an RSS feed is not news reporting. It’s a free rider problem, until someone sues them.

  4. SHG

    Exactly. And I have a message from Randazza just waiting to be returned. I wonder what it could be about?

  5. Turk

    One thing the kids never really think about is Plan B.

    What happens if their bright idea doesn’t pan out and they get trashed up, down and sideways on the web? Now they need a job. A real one.

    Who the hell is going to hire them after they are Googled for their background? What law firm? What client if they strike out on their own?

    They’ve put all of their eggs into this idiotic basket of post-scraping? What a waste of three years of law school and a potential career.

  6. John Burgess

    I’ve found my RSS feed being scraped in several places, unfortunately not in the US. That rather complicates (and jacks the price of) any attempt at taking the sites down or suing.

    Still, I’ve added the following text to my front page — it’s found at the same level as the top post, along with the copyright notice, not in a footnote.

    The fact that this blog permits one to use RSS to read content does not constitute permission to republish content. All requests for republication must be submitted through the Contact form on the menu above. Violations of copyright will be dealt with through applicable law.

  7. SHG

    It’s the internet. Nobody fails on the internet. Or as Jordan might say:

    1. Internet
    2 ????
    3. Profit!!!

  8. Ted Folkman

    I agree that feed scraping without permission is copyright infringement (unless it is fair use, etc.), particularly where the blogger has put an “all rights reserved” notice in the RSS feed itself. So I agree, Scott, that you’re on good grounds here.

    But is there any real reason to be unhappy about scraping? For law bloggers who, like me and, I think, like you, do not even try to profit directly from our works, what’s the real harm? In fact, don’t I (and, I hope, others, but that’s debatable!) benefit from wider distribution of my writing, even if the distributor is somehow profiting directly in ways that I am not? To me, the key thing to worry about is attribution: are those who are distributing my work attributing it to me, as they should (i.e., name, link)? Assuming they are, I say: spread the word!

    To take Antonin’s analogy to the burgled manuscript and book tour: instead of keeping my writing locked away in my home, why not have a house party?

    Of course, if I had to make my living from selling my writing, I’d feel differently, and I’d have a good legal case, but it seems to me that law blogging, for most of us, is a different kind of enterprise.

  9. Jack B

    In fact, we believe that the only way Law Ratchet will succeed in the marketplace is with their cooperation and partnership.

    Talk about chutzpah. That statement would have some credibility had they contacted the authors prior to scraping their sites.

    Maybe the only cooperation and partnership they require from you is the churning out of new content.

  10. SHG

    Initially, the question is irrelevant. It’s not necessary to justify why one doesn’t want their copyright violated. I can assert my copyright for good reason, bad reason or no reason. It’s mine and that’s enough of a reason.

    More importantly, because it is anathema to my values that my content be scraped, I (and others who value their writings) do not shrug at scrapers and say, so what? 

    To me, the key thing to worry about is attribution: are those who are distributing my work attributing it to me, as they should (i.e., name, link)? Assuming they are, I say: spread the word!

    Frankly, I don’t, nor is there any reason why I should, care about what’s fine to you. You don’t get a vote as to what I find acceptable with my work.

  11. Ted Folkman

    Right, I’m not disagreeing with you about the law, and of course you needn’t justify the assertion of your rights to me or anyone else. You’re not required to say why you take the view you do, but it would be interesting to know why, particularly because my intuition about this is so very different from yours.

  12. SHG

    Your “intuition” is what? That you don’t care about people who steal content? That you don’t care if someone else profits off another person’s content? That ego drives the desire to have as many people read and perhaps adore ideas as possible? That the more people who read, the more who will think the writer a thought leader and hire him? That you don’t consider your content worthy of being valued, by yourself or others?

    But truth be told, it’s not relevant. If you want to walk the boulevard in hot pants, that’s your choice. It has absolutely nothing to do with the law or how I demand my content and copyright to be treated. But what I do care about is why you would suggest, as you do by asking the question, that someone who does care should consider lowering my expectations to yours?

  13. Turk

    …because my intuition about this is so very different from yours.

    Uh, yeah, and different from mine too. Oddly enough, I don’t like it when people steal my stuff either.

    Your mileage may vary, of course, as it clearly does here, in that you don’t mind people stealing from you.

    Another example of mileage varying: Once upon a time a law professor posted that he didn’t mind spammers. He just cared that someone found him, robot or not.

    There are all types out there who have blogs, but you shouldn’t be under the impression that your view is widely held by people that give a damn about what they write.

  14. SHG

    After Elie Mystal scarfed up the only decent Plan B option, it was naked ballet dancer or internet scraper.

  15. SHG

    Marketeering puffery needs no connection to truth or reality. It only has to sound good.

  16. Bart Torvik

    “As for Chau and Mouat, can you say ‘statutory damages’? I bet you can. As of this moment, there are 134 posts of mine on Law Ratchet.”

    Have you registered your blog / posts with the Copyright office? I could be wrong, but I believe registration is a prerequisite to an award of statutory damages. See 17 U.S.C. § 412.

  17. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    I could be projecting here, but I think rather not . . .

    The issue, Greenfield, should you care to admit or even acknowledge it, is that the young’uns nowadays do not even have the g-ddamn common courtesy to give a reach-around . . .

    That really chaps my ass and, likely, yours too . . .

  18. Josh King

    It seems LawRatchet’s model is loosely based on RSS Readers (like the soon-to-depart Google Reader and Feedly). The difference on the equities seems to be a) that readers rely on users proactively opting in to feed inclusion, and b) that to the extent readers offer feed discovery, it’s done on a “snippetized” basis and exclusively via RSS rather than scraping.

    But it’s a blurry line. I don’t think RSS readers work from a copyright perspective unless there is an implied license in signing up for RSS. Law Ratchet is clearly over the line, but I hope they don’t take RSS readers down with them. Bad facts, bad law, etc.

  19. Anonymous

    How is Law Ratchet different from Google Reader or any other RSS reader? That it’s curated? How does that change the scope of the implied license? Where’s your indignation at Feedly and NewsBlur?

  20. SHG

    Law Ratchet isn’t an RSS reader. If it was, there would be no issue. But I assume that you’re incapable of telling the difference, since the post made it abundantly clear, which means you’re beyond help.

  21. Mark Lyon

    Law Ratchet has some clear problems. They appear to be altering the feeds (removing some content and altering other portions), they seem to go out of their way to hide access to the source site and they provide no functionality to allow users to choose which specific feeds they receive – just the ability to pick several “key words” that result in additional content. They’re also not taking any steps (such as robots.txt) to prevent the content from being indexed and don’t have a way for authors to easily remove themselves. As a result of the republication there is a real potential for the original sites to lose (at least some) search engine visibility.

    The worst of their sins is making it appear as if the content is just another section of their own site. There there are several obvious places that should link to the real content (including the header, the title of the post and the site’s name in a big button at the bottom of the screen), but only the buried “View Original” button accomplishes that task.

    The idea has promise – a web-based RSS feed reader with a clean interface and targeted collections of feeds that might be interesting to the legal community – but the execution here is poor. The approach they take seems to misappropriate content rather than provide a tool with real value for their users.

    Unfortunately, in today’s “share everything” environment, many people respect too little the original work of others.

  22. SHG

    No, Mark. Their sin is that they are scraping; republishing other people’s full content without authorization and in violation of copyright. The idea has no promise. This is the antithesis of an RSS reader, where an individual reader can subscribe to a feed for his personal use. This is the theft of content for the commercial use of a republisher.

    Yes, the site is replete with other faults, but they pale in comparison to the overarching problem: this is a clear, flagrant and unapologetic copyright violation.  And so you know, the idea that they steal first and stop stealing if you ask them is not a solution. The solution is to not steal in the first place.

  23. SHG

    This is a business model based on stolen content. It’s nothing like an RSS reader. That Google is doing away with its reader doesn’t create some magical authority for Law Ratchet to scrape other people’s content and make a business out of it. The two concepts are entirely different.

  24. Mark Lyon

    I agree and think we may actually be saying the same thing in ways that make it difficult for the other to understand.

    They’ve stolen content and continue to steal content. That needs to stop.

    The open republication of other’s work (particularly in a way that makes identifying the source) is clearly wrong. Without the benefit of time travel, the appropriate fix for that is to say they’re sorry and face the consequences of their past actions.

    But I find it also interesting to also look forward. They’ve got a rather nice looking site and obviously spent some time on an RSS-reading backend and web app. They could, if they desired, easily use that as the basis for a tool that functioned as an actual RSS reader instead of just an engine for republishing content. There’s no technical reason that their site couldn’t allow individual users to choose and manage their feeds. I’d hope they would also fix the other issues if they choose that route.

    I suspect, though, that they’ll double down on the content theft for a little while, ignoring the complaints of content creators such as yourself, only to stop once served.

  25. SHG

    Unfortunately, Derek Chau has had the opportunity to apologize and avoid the wrath and consequences of his scraping. As you can see from his email above, he failed miserably. There is no hope that he will suddenly learn how not to be a blithering scraping asshole.

  26. Jordan Rushie


    I have a really, really good idea. I think you will like it…

    First we steal a bunch of lawyers’ copyrighted content. Then, we reproduce their content on our own website. From there, ?????. Then PROFIT!

    Copyright, you say?

    Pshaw… dude, stop being so LAME. There’s this jawn called the DMCA. All you have to do is put up a disclaimer on your website. Once you do that, you can do whatever you want. So don’t worry about a thing, brah. It’s like a legal loophole, only way cooler!

    Trust me brah, I’m a lawyer. And we have a sick website and an iPhone app, so this is totally legit.

  27. Josh King

    Except – BUMMER – the DMCA doesn’t apply to direct infringement.

    This could have been a great service if they’d done it as a “Feedly for legal.” I would have signed up.

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