John Walker's Electronic House

What On Earth Is Going On At WOSblog?

by on Jul.24, 2010, under The Rest

Copyright ME!

You may have been following the saga of Rev. Stuart Campbell Vs. Benchmark Reviews. You may now be wondering why Stu’s site is dead. Here’s the story.

Someone on Stu’s forum spotted a review on the tech site for a chair. A chair called the Herman Miller Embody. It costs $1200, and will apparently cure world hunger. Large sections of the review read an awful lot like a press release. It was filled with the sorts of daft, exaggerated nonsense that wouldn’t make sense for a reviewer to write. Spurious claims of medical benefits, peculiar puff about its design. Stu wrote about this. People who left comments asking about this found their words were instantly deleted. Stu, who then tried to leave another comment asking why, found himself IP banned from the site. As in, he wasn’t even allowed to look at the site from his computer.

Stu updated about this on his blog. He wrote explaining what was happening, and included some evidence that demonstrated that the text on the Benchmark Review site was absolutely directly from press releases and statements made by Herman Miller. Benchmark responded to this by a) changing those passages that Stu pointed out (then declaring that they’d always been that way), and b) published Stu’s home address and phone number on their forum.

Absolutely extraordinary behaviour. And not, you might consider, the behaviour of a site that had made a legitimate mistake. Were RPS to – and this is the only way I think it could ever happen – accidentally quote a statement from a press release and forget to put it in quotes and cite it, we’d respond to this being pointed out by editing the article so it was correct and saying, “Oops, sorry about that.” We sometimes quote press releases for games that have just been announced, because no independent information is available. So we’d say, “According to the Shootybang VII press release, the game will offer, ‘The greatest shootybangs gaming has ever witnessed.'” Clearly we’d not make such a claim ourselves, but I don’t know, let’s say I had a cold and was attacked by a pirate, I might accidentally forget to put the quote marks in? It seems unlikely. I think it would be reasonably difficult to write an eight page review, and forget every time.

So Stu followed this up, pointing out these changes, and linking to evidence that they had been changed. Around this time I spotted something strange. A huge number of words from this extraordinarily long review for a very expensive chair appeared on another site. A site called Smart Furniture that sold the chair. Entire paragraphs were identical on both sites, rearranged into a different order, and occasionally with tweaks made, but otherwise the exact same copy. So I assumed that there must be a source document, the M to these two sites’ Matthew and Mark. I wrote to Smart asking if they could send me the press releases on which their copy was based. They wrote back telling me it was all their original work. Which seemed more strange.

I wrote back to them asking if they knew Benchmark had lifted it all for their “review” of the chair. I never heard back from Smart Furniture.

Then it got more weird. The Benchmark review, with even more unacknowledged tweaks and changes as the author silently conceded that other parts of the original text weren’t written by him, had some new advertising. Throughout all eight pages are adverts for the Herman Miller Embody chair, available from Smart Furniture.

So now you have a site maintaining it publishes independent reviews, using thousands of words of copy that’s also used on a store selling the product, on which the store advertises the product being reviewed. On no level does it look good. Now, it’s very possible for a site reviewing something to also advertise the same product. Say RPS were to review Shootybang VII, and at the same time the game’s publisher, EvilCorp, had negotiated an ads deal with our ads people, it’s possible that a Shootybang VII review could awkwardly be accompanied by adverts for the same game. Clearly that always looks a bit odd, but as it happens it’s difficult for a site to be dodgy enough to arrange it. Ads are worked out often months in advance, and of course they aren’t specific to one page of the site – the Shootybang VII ad looks less weird on the page talking about our favourite knitting tips. But were our review to contain vast numbers of words identical to those of the Shootybang VII website where you could buy the game, I think it would be very reasonable to start asking some serious questions.

But apparently if you ask those questions, Benchmark get a little cross. Beyond the disgusting behaviour of publishing Stu’s address and phone number, they’ve now started throwing out DMCA takedown claims in every possible direction. And unfortunately most ISPs respond to such claims, no matter how erroneous, by instantly capitulating and removing the site from the internet immediately. So that’s why, if you were wondering, Stu’s blog is currently gone. Hopefully it will be up and running again shortly.

The DMCA claims are completely false. Stu used a screenshot of the Benchmark logo, edited down, to illustrate the piece: perfectly legitimate. (Even the neurotic Google recognises the need to use a Google logo in a story about Google.) And he quoted text from the reviews (oddly enough in quote marks and correctly cited, which perhaps confused Benchmark and made them dizzy), which is absolutely allowed and in no way a violation of copyright.

So if you want to find Stu’s articles on the subject, they are, for now, here.


4 Comments for this entry

  • Katsumoto

    Posted this on Stu’s temporary blog too, but check out this interview with Olin Coles (Benchmark Reviews’ editor and author of the “review” in question) I found at (

    “…On the other hand, I know that my own reviews have crossed the line a few times; such as when I call-out a manufacturer for dishonest marketing practices or conditional product treatment. Many websites would like to please their product sponsors with every review, but I’ve burned too many bridges with them for that to matter at this point”

  • DrugCrazed

    Interesting. I never looked through them, because it looked like a series of articles about a game he’d made or something. But now I shall read with interest.

    As an aside, Kid A (Who now writes for me on my blog) had his site taken down thanks to Mr Jochen from the Give What You Want deal claiming that the emails that Kid published were copyright.

  • Jambe

    The site is back up as I type this; some images (which are, I suspect, screengrabs of Benchmark Reviews) have been removed from some posts.

    Shame on Benchmark Reviews.

    I mentioned in a comment at Wostest that people filing frivolous DMCA takedown noticed can be charged with perjury…

    Perhaps the go-around given him is an indication that Stu should check out Nick’s Positive Internet company?


  • Aeneas

    John (or should I say John X),

    This is brilliant. Thanks for linking it.