Callbook Wars

Last year QRZ.com made accusations that callsign database sites HamQTH.com and QRZCQ.com stole QRZ callbook data, citing planted fake callsigns in the QRZ database appearing in their databases.  Both HamQTH and QRZCQ denied the claims.  QRZ appears to have recently upped the ante, having contacted at least one software developer, N3FJP, requesting him to remove HamQTH support from his logging program, claiming “Programs that facilitate the use of HamQTH.com are, in legal terms, are participating in “contributory infringement.”  HamQTH on Facebook continues to deny copying QRZ data, though it’s been noted that the site accepts publicly submitted data, so the possibility of QRZ lifted data exists.  HamQTH founder, Petr, OK2CQR, in a Facebook post quoted from a private email exchange QRZ founder Fred AA7BQ, “Your service does not offer anything to the amateur radio community that isn’t available elsewhere, which makes you a parasite, enjoying the benefits of the hard work of others.”  The comment struck me as ironic as Petr has no advertising on the HamQTH website and he also contributes to the community the free CQRLog logging program, which is open source software.  To people who know what Petr has done, he is hardly a parasite.  QRZ, on the other hand, generates revenue by hosting content others write.

Several times I have run comparison queries between QRZ and HamQTH and have yet to find any unique QRZ data in HamQTH query results.  I’m not saying QRZ data doesn’t exist in HamQTH, it’s just that I haven’t found it and I haven’t seen evidence that the copying, if it occurred, is prevalent.  On the Facebook thread it was mentioned that email addresses have appeared in HamQTH profiles that may have come from QRZ.

After the claims by QRZ last year, the QRZ callbook listings for HamQTH founder OK2CQR (1) and QRZCQ founder DO5SSB disappeared.  DK5TX claims his QRZ profile was repeated edited without his knowledge when he linked to his HamQTH profile page.  (OK2CQR’s QRZ callbook entry reappeared a few days ago.)

While I should be concerned about copyright infringement, I have difficulty siding with QRZ in this dispute.  The information in QRZ is mostly information in the public domain and user contributed profile information was created by users, not QRZ personnel, though they created the system to store it and charge for XML access.  Email addresses of active radio amateurs can be easily harvested on the Internet by anyone and collected in a database.  Furthermore, I find the alleged QRZ manipulation of database data in retaliation disturbing.  As I indirectly attempted to illustrate in this satire piece earlier this year, QRZ is considered the de facto amateur radio callbook these days, and essentially has a monopoly.  QRZ’s dominant position dates back to the times when government agency radio amateur database data was difficult to acquire and process, before the Internet became mainstream and online query tools to government data became commonplace.  With this monopoly comes a responsibility, beyond generating paychecks for employees, but a responsibility to the community.  In my opinion it’s time to get this data in more open databases, and on sites that are not concerned with web clicks and revenue or those that host forums with often vitriolic exchanges that do not reflect well on amateur radio.

(1) http://hamqth.com/news.php, Posting from 20 June 2012

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5 responses to “Callbook Wars

  1. I think you already have a much of the answer in your post.
    Callsign data is available from the government, so a smart guy like you
    should be able to create a front end to query it in no time at all and make it available to everyone. That would only leave the part about all the personal details. Everyone could just find someplace to host a personal website for that. I’m sure there are people who would be willing to give you some server space to collect the associations between the callsigns and the websites. Just a callsign and a URL for
    the website associated with the callsign would be very small datawise.
    You could even have some sort of update mechanism to the frontend
    that you created that would just download the associations datafile. Did I leave anything out?

  2. It would probably be helopful to think of the QRZ database as a slice of Swiss cheese.

    If an entry was in the public domain, it is still in the public domain because QRZ never owned it, they got it from somewhere else.
    If QRZ created a fake entry, that would belong to them.
    Simple and clear, right? No room for discussion, right?
    ;-)

  3. To play devil’s advocate here, while I agree that this data is in the public domain, in its compiled state, it is not. This is not just a simple database of an FCC extract, but a compilation of licenses from many different entities and sources. Some (USA/FCC) may be easy to get, but those from other entities are not. That, in my opinion, is the value that QRZ adds. As such it can be considered an “improvement on prior art”.

    I do have to agree that with QRZ, I believe these entities did copy the data, because those sites have information that I posted only to my profile on QRZ and not to those other sites. The insertion of bogus data is a typical tactic used to prevent abuse of data of this nature, mainly in the case of marketing lists. Companies insert addresses into the list, that they can track, to ensure that the list is used under the conditions it is granted.

    When another entity comes along and grabs the data and then passes it off as their own, that is where the line needs to be drawn. It would be akin to Google replicating the data, in its entirety, and when someone enters a call to search, it provides baseline information for that call, much in the way is does if you were to search for George Clooney.

    In the case of QRZ, they have spent many years establishing processes by which to compile an international database of licensees and they do have a right to protect that intellectual property. I am not associated with QRZ, except that I am an XML subscriber. I am willing to pay, because I understand that it does cost money to provide the service. In their case they are a business, not a hobby and as such must make money.

    That all being said, I do agree with you that other elements on QRZ have gotten out of hand and really go beyond what their original purpose was. When someone else provides this data through their own efforts, I will gladly abandon QRZ.

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