Benchmark Reviews – corporate shills?

To the tune of Paloma Faith – Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?

A Reputation-Destroying Chair

Whatever your experience of Stuart Campbell, owner of World of Stuart, everyone agrees he’s a tireless campaigner for accuracy, honesty and justice in journalism and blogging. About three days ago he started investigating a seemingly minor infringement, the too-glowing review of an expensive office chair by Olin Coles, executive Editor of Benchmark Reviews (270,000 monthly unique users being misled there.)

The issue was that the chair seemed to have been reviewed by lifting ad-copy from a second site Smart Furniture and elements from the PR brochure of Herman Miller, the manufacturer. It was quite clearly a case of corporate shilling, giving a glowing review in return for unspecified benefits, which Olin Cole has admitted doing in the past;

“I used to take anything that manufacturers would offer, back when BmR was starving for donated products.  These days, we work more closely with proven manufacturers to help launch their upcoming products“.

The problem is that the staff don’t seem to be able to stop lying, admit they made a mistake, and restart their careers as honest, albeit damaged, journalists.  Once challenged the editor altered the article to properly attribute the paragraphs that plagiarised the press release and then denied Stuart’s claims, despite Google Cache showing him to be a liar. He’s also deleted any comments on the article criticising it, deleted similar forum posts, and generally behaved like a bad egg. So far, so scummy.

However, thanks to the DMCA, Benchmark reviews has now enforced a takedown notice on Stuart’s blog, claiming he’s reproduced copyrighted material. Of course, the copyright-infringement isn’t their primary concern as much of the material is copyright of Smart Furniture, so if they took it to court there would be problems – but I’m not aware of a parody defence against the DMCA and some of the material is copyrighted, so Stu doesn’t really have a leg to stand on can only rely on the news reporting defence.

Personally, as a PR and one-time journalist I find this despicable; there is no point paying for coverage like this. Morally, it’s disgusting and practically, the media always end up getting caught out – whether it was PC Zone’s appalling Kingpin debacle or OPM’s Driv3r review, you get caught. Doing it in this manner, stealing other people’s copy, is lazy and stupid; not admitting your guilt and going on a vendetta against a well-respected, well-connected and avowedly honest journalist is even more stupid. EAVB_IUMHYIXDFT

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5 comments

  • I’ve been following this and I still can’t believe it’s all exploded over nothing more than a review of a fucking chair.

    The only thing dumber than that is Benchmark’s total lack of guile. Everything they do makes them look increasingly guilty, increasingly corrupt and increasingly stupid. I would simply have claimed that the review was accidentally swapped with some PR text, or that it’s misattributed and by someone who has since been fired, or any of a dozen other things that would’ve made me look less foolish.

    P

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    • Yes, there’s a million lies to be told. I would have rather seen them do what Eurogamer do – pull the review and commission someone else independent to redo it.

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  • Cheers for the support, much appreciated. One teeny correction – I *do* have a leg to stand on, since the DMCA (and almost all other worldwide copyright legislation) protects fair use for the purposes of news reporting, which the quoted bits of text clearly are. My useless hosts (JustHost.com) SHOULD have reinstated the material on receipt of a DMCA counter-notice, which I sent yesterday, but as previously noted, they’re useless.

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