* FreakonomicsSucks.com

In which Erik Heels demonstrates that domain names – not diamonds – are forever.

I am an engineer (BSEE from MIT). I have worked with engineers. Engineers share a common feature/bug: they like to be right. And they will go to great lengths to prove that they are right.

I am also a lawyer. I have worked with lawyers. Lawyers, like engineers, like to be right. Lawyers will go to great lengths to prove that they are right.

I am a patent lawyer. Patent lawyers must (1) have an engineering degree, (2) have a law degree, and (3) pass the so-called “patent bar exam.” I founded Clock Tower Law Group, a patent (and trademark) law firm. I have worked with other patent lawyers. Patent lawyers really go to great lengths to prove that they are right.

One of my engineer friends (Dave) asked if I have a vendetta against Freakonomics. I do not. But I admit to being an engineer. I admit to being a lawyer. I admit to being a patent lawyer. And I admit to having the personality feature/bug of liking to be right. But with the Freakonomics brouhaha, it’s not just that I’d like to be proven right. I am right. (Just like it’s not paranoia if they are out to get you, and it’s not bragging if it’s true.)

Domain Names Are Forever

In the spring of 2007, the Internet was abuzz with the AACS encryption key controversy. A hacker published a 128-bit number that can be used as a key to decrypt HD DVDs and Blue-ray disks. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) sent Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take-down notices to Digg and others. Internet users revolted. One smart protester registered the hexadecimal version of the key as a domain name.

Jay Westerdal, of the excellent DomainTools blog, wrote a blog post about the “secret” number:

“There is no action to remove a [domain] name once it has been published. It has already been replicated everywhere and thousands of copies are left in storage and in backup facilities like DomainTools, Verisign, and the Department of Defense. If you want to spread a secret, domain names are the way to do it…. Domain names can never die, they can never be deleted, and there will always be a record of them.”

Or, to summarize, domain names are forever. Forget diamonds.

So I am using domain names to demonstrate how I am right – and how Freakonomics is wrong – about the various issues that I’ve been blogging about over the past month. Now – and forever – when anybody looks up any Freakonomics-related domain name, they’ll find these domain names. (See the Chilling Effects website for a FAQ about protest, parody, and criticism websites.)

Freakonomics Sucks!

“Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

It doesn’t, really. I’m a big fan of Freakonomics. Steven Levitt’s research for the Freakonomics book was supported in part by the American Bar Foundation (ABF). I am also an ABA fellow (a fellow ABA fellow). The Freakonomics book is great, and you should buy it. The Freakonomics blog is great, and you should read it.

What I object to is a series of bad blogging practices on the part of Freakonomics. I’ll detail each below. With domain names. Which reminds me:

  1. freakonomicsucks.com (but not really)
  2. freakonomicssucks.com (but not really)
  3. freakonomics-sucks.com (but not really)


Freakonomics should apologize for unfair use (really).

On 07/13/07, I blogged about how Freakonomics had a history of “borrowing” images for its blog without apparent regard for whether the use was “fair use” under the Copyright Act. Was Freakonomics committing copyright infringement? I don’t know. Was it nice to borrow images from other blogs and websites without attribution? No.

For example, the cleavage photo made a point but at what cost?

Did Freakonomics stop borrowing images? Apparently not. On 08/01/07, I blogged about how Freakonomics borrowed another photo. Was the soiled dove photo the smoking gun?


Freakonomics should apologize for copyjacking (really).

As I was investigating the first issue, I discovered a second, and potentially more troubling, issue. Freakonomics had been directly linking to photos (83 images, by my count) hosted on other sites. This process is known as hotlinking (and is also called inline linking, leeching, direct linking, and bandwidth theft). But since not all hotlinking is bad (e.g. hotlinking YouTube videos is both accepted and encouraged), a new word was needed to define bad hotlinking: copyjacking.

The most egregious example was when Freakonomics hotlinked a photo from a public library – on a post that got Digged and subsequently hammered the Freakonomics blog server. Hammer the server, hammer the hotlinking victim.


Freakonomics should apologize for bad netiquette (really).

The Freakonomics blog home page says that the blog “is meant to keep the conversation going.” In practice, however, Freakonomics is only playing lip-service to the concept of business as a conversation (a concept popularized by another excellent book “The Cluetrain Manifesto”).

As soon as I would blog about a Freakonomics bad blogging practice, Freakonomics would edit its blog 1984-style to correct the faux pas, sometimes within only a couple of hours of my blog post.

And then – silence.

Freakonomics has a larger platform on the Internet than I do. The Freakonomics blog has a Technorati authority score of 1674, whereas erikjheels.com has an authority score of 149. But with greater authority comes greater responsibility. Freakonomics has the responsibility, I believe, to further the conversation and educate others about the evils of unfair use, the evils of copyjacking, and the viable alternative of purchasing stock photography.

Freakonomics is shirking its responsibility.


Freakonomics should apologize for using a partial feed on its blog (really).

The Freakonomics irony scoreboard keeps getting longer. On 08/07/07, Freakonomics announced that it has moved its blog to the website of The New York Times. Except Freakonomics also changed the blog’s feed from a full feed to a partial feed. Feeds are an economic issue. Freakonomics is a book about economics. The economics of partial feeds vs. full feeds has been studied extensively. And according to Feedburner and many Freakonomics blog readers, partial feeds suck.

Let me see if I can spell it out for Freakonomics in simple terms. People who read blogs prefer full feeds because it makes the websites come to them (rather than the readers having to go to various websites). A partial feed is a huge step backwards.

Help Save Freakonomics!

Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Pay Learn More

For the month of August 2007, I’ll donate one third of the funds that I receive from the Amazon Honor System to Freakonomics so that they can afford to purchase stock photography, Copyrights for Dummies, Netiquette, and The Cluetrain Manifesto.

I’ll donate another third to Hammond Community Library in Wisconsin, one of the victims of the Freakonomics copyjacking (bad hotlinking).

I’ll donate the final third to Legends of America (a victim of Freakonomics unfair use).

For More Info

I’ve created a new Freakonomics category for ongoing coverage of this issue. See also:

  1. Freakonomics, Cleavage, and Fair Use
    A call for Freakonomics to clean up its act.
  2. Freakonomics Still Stealing Content
    A second call for Freakonomics to clean up its act.
  3. Freakonomics Hotlinking Victims
    If your website is on this list, then it is likely that you have been a victim of hotlinking by Freakonomics.
  4. Help Coin A New Word For (Bad) Hotlinking
    Copyjacking = copyright + hijacking. Copyjacking + hotlinking + framing = inline linking.
  5. How To Find Photos For Your Blog
    Add photos to your blog to boost readership.
  6. Help Save Freakonomics
    Ironically, the Freakonomics blog about economics appears to be having economic difficulty.
  7. Book Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four
    By George Orwell.

As long as Freakonomics continues to shoot itself in the foot, I’ll keep blogging about it.