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TheGrowSpot.Com Gets TheSmackDown

Luba Spichkin: content thief or web developer?

On one of my other blogs I usually review gardening forums I come across. Normally I'd put a review of a gardening forum there but I've decided to use the platform of this blog instead. Recently I've had the misfortune of being the target of feed scrapers and my gardening blog has appeared on sites that I don't want to be associated with and because of that I had to shorten my feed. The internet being what it is I've come to discover that I'm not the only gardener experiencing the same problem with someone taking my feed and republishing it on a site without my consent. Some people on the internet are of the opinion that everything is fair game and that they can take what they want and do what they want with it.

A fellow gardener has been having problems with her posts being scraped and republished to a gardening website called The Grow Spot describes itself as:

"...a gardening community with forums on Urban Gardening, Organic Gardening, Growing to Eat, and more. The Grow Spot is also resource for information on all sorts of garden plants, flowers, trees and all things that grow. No green thumb required!"

I'm not surprised that no green thumb is required to join and participate since no green thumb is required to start the forum and make money off of other people's garden articles and garden photography. I've looked around The Grow Spot forum and the majority of the website is just information copied from various sources like garden blogs.

Annie discovered her blog was being republished after noticing the back links to her articles on her gardening blog. After some consideration yesterday she published Tired of Sharecropping for I told her that if these people were smart that the post would not get published on the gardening forum. I guess I overestimated them because they republished her post where she complained about having her writings lifted and republished on that gardening forum. I invite you to read Annie's post because it is a wonderful piece-much more eloquent and thought out than a smackcdown deserves to be.

The Grow Spot is registered (owned) by Luba Spichkin from California and I can't really believe this person is actually a gardener. Maybe she just considers herself to be a web developer and The Grow Spot is just a means to make money. A real gardener wouldn't scrape someone's gardening blog to stuff their own site with content. A real gardener would get a digital camera, some plants and dirt and grow their own gardening forum, website or gardening blog from their own knowledge and experience. If Luba Spichkin wants to get traffic to her gardening forum then she should do what we all have to do to create traffic to our gardening blogs. You write about what you love or hate, you take your own garden photos, you leave comments on other blogs and hope they are interested enough to visit your blog. A gardening forum stuffed with second hand content like The Grow Spot is doesn't benefit anyone because the people who's knowledge it is built upon aren't there to answer questions newbies may have.

What gets me the most is that after they republished Annie's post where she stopped short of calling Luba Spichkin and her crew a bunch of thieves they responded to the post on their website as if Annie was a member there to answer them.

The response came from "Grow Girl" on The Garden Spot forum and I'd bet that "Grow Girl" is really just Luba Spichkin or another one of her family members because there aren't many active members.

I thought about signing up to the forum and responding to "Grow Girl" in that thread but I don't need another password on a gardening forum to keep track of, so I'll do it here.

All we are doing is subscribing to your RSS feed You are publishing an RSS feed for your blog. You have control over the amount of content that you are syndicating in your feed. RSS feeds are designed to help you distribute your content, and that's exactly what we feel we are doing. We are getting your content out in front of a wider audience, giving you attribution, and linking back to the original source.

Because someone publishes a feed that doesn't give you the right to republish that feed on your website and slap adsense around the images and text written by someone else. If people like Annie who are doing the work don't publish ads on their gardening blog where do you get off taking their work and making money from it? Annie never asked you to syndicate her feed and she has no problem with audience because she has lots of regular readers and comments. It doesn't matter what you feel you are doing what you are doing is scraping. It is as simple as that.

Your ranking in search engines like Google is heavily dependent on the inlinks you get, so in addition to sending more viewers to your site, we are effectively boosting your ranking in google.

That is totally ridiculous. Annie's garden blog has a PR of 4 and she has plenty of inbound links to her blog from people who find her content enjoyable. Your website is a PR2 and the forum where you are republishing Annie's and dozens of the other blogs has no PR value at all. The only thing you're boosting is your own ranking because the content creators are coming up as duplicates in search engine results. Again, Annie didn't ask you to send her viewers. She doesn't need you. It is you that are leaching from her visitors, content and photographs, it is you creating back links to her entries on your forum to gain traffic and boost your own PR.

If you are unhappy about this, we are happy to stop including you in our free service; but if that's the case, you should think twice about publishing an RSS feed -- you are in effect saying you are interested in RSS based syndication of your content.

Gee you think she's unhappy about this? I mean what does she have to do to get the point across that she is unhappy with you taking her material and pasting it to your site? Does she have to call you a thief? Maybe you people aren't good with subtlety and can't take the hint in the title Tired of Sharecropping for . Since you're obviously not gardeners maybe you don't get the reference to sharecropping. Maybe Annie should file a DMCA complaint against you and have Google take away your adsense account would that make it clear?

Publishing an RSS feed doesn't effectively say that the content creator is interested in RSS based syndication. It says that are interested in making it easier for readers to keep updated. There's a difference between using an RSS reader to keep updated with a blog or site and it is a completely different thing to take that feed republish it to your site and slap ads around it. Oh and FYI honest syndication is an opt-in thing and some places even compensate the content creator with money. Your "free service" is a crock used to add content to your site and make money from the work of other people. The fact that gardeners like Annie have to contact you to get you to stop scraping their site is ridiculous.

What I found the biggest insult was that the reply that can be found at invites other garden bloggers to contact them to have their blogs republished. The same reply was left at Annie's blog with a couple of links dropped into the comment just to pour salt in the wound. Annie is debating publishing the comment but I'm of the opinion that leaches like this shouldn't be rewarded with links.

If you're interested in seeing if your blog is being republished onto other sites I'd recommend using CopyScape or taking random chunks of your blog entries and putting " " around them and searching for it on Google. If you'd like to shorten your feed to lessen the chances that places like The Grow Spot will republish your words and images onto their sites I recommend FeedBurner.

With FeedBurner (now owned by Google) you can truncate your feed (see mine for an example) even more than what the Blogger settings allow. When you sign up with FeedBurner and have customized the appearance of your feed make sure to go back to your blog and click on "Settings"> click the link for "site feed" and enter the new URL of your feed next to the text "Post Feed Redirect URL." This will forward the native feed of Blogger to the feed you've "burned" with FeedBurner and give everyone the same truncated feed.

The cool thing about FeedBurner is that you also get site stats in addition to the stats of who is visiting or subscribing to your feed. If you have questions setting this up feel free to comment or send me an e-mail.

If a search brought you here because you were looking for a gardening forum to join and participate in obviously I don't recommend The Grow Spot. It is just regurgitated information that you are better off reading at the source. But I do have a list of gardening forums I've written about.

I noticed I received the following email after I published this post.

This is smgardener, and I'm a moderator at The Grow Spot. We've been
following the discussion on "The Transplantable Rose" about the
reposting of Annie's RSS content to the Grow Spot. We attempted to
leave a comment on her blog post in order to be part of the
discussion, but she didn't publish it. In any case, you noted that you
were going to blog about this, and I wanted to share our perspective
with you as this is quickly degenerating into a name calling war.

I understand that Annie is upset, and I am very sorry that she is
offended by what we're doing -- we have immediately stopped posting
her content, and we won't repost anything ever again from her blog.
This was the first we heard that she was upset about this, and had she
contacted us at any point we would have stopped immediately.

In our opinion, RSS and other social media technologies were invented
to help people get their content in front of as wide an audience as

This is a sticky thread that we have had at the top of our "Hand
Picked" forum (where we post all the blog content) since the beginning
of our site: (link removed by me)

This was GrowGirl's response that Annie didn't publish:(link removed by me)

If you have any questions you about what we're doing that you would
like us to answer before you post, please feel free to ask anything at
all. In any case, if you do publish a post on this topic, I hope
you'll allow us to participate in the comments!


My reponse:
It is great that you're going to stop publishing her posts and you should extend the courtesy to every garden blogger that you've republished without their permission. At the time Annie didn't publish your reply to her because in it you dropped links to your forum. Whoever replied to Annie used the comment forum to advertise your website although, the comment is now up.

Do you not see how tacky that is? Yes, RSS and other media were invented to get content in front of a large audience but it is suppose to be done by the creator of the content. What part of that do you guys over there not understand?

You aren't doing any established garden blogger any favors by copying their material and posting it on your website as a "free service." That's utterly ridiculous, if anything you're hurting them.

Many of us are already syndicated on GardenVoices ( and you have to request that you be added. It also doesn't repost entries in whole but a snippet of it the way it should be unless you have an agreement with the content creator. You people could benefit from wandering over there and seeing how they don't slap ads around our posts and pictures. Even though it is owned by a large company (NBC) that website extends to us the respect of not directly monetizing our blogs in syndication. Unlike your website that slaps ads right next to the words and text that you publish in whole.

I've noticed that your site has republished some pictures and done some linking to Gayla (YouGrowGirl) to "send her viewers" and I wonder why you extend to Gayla the courtesy of not copying her material in whole but provide a link? Could it be that you're worried a famous gardening blogger would take you to court? You should extend the same courtesy to every one who you wish "help." You should go one step further and remove all of the content that you've added without the permission of garden blogger.

I'm a fair person and I'll let you be heard on my blog but I won't publish anything that is a hyper link. I've temporarily enabled comment moderation to avoid providing links to the garden forum in question. I'll publish any comments on the subject as long as they don't have links in them.


  1. I read Annie's post earlier, and it just made me absolutely furious. The suggestion that the Grow Spot was helping Annie, and the idea that because she publishes an RSS feed meant that she was asking for this to happen is completely ridiculous. I'm glad people are bringing attention to what that site really is.

    And, I agree with you...I doubt that she's a gardener. I can't imagine a real gardener pulling something like that. Now you've got me all fired up and indignant :-)

  2. Great follow up post. I don't have much to add, I think you've said it all. I need to do some checking to see who is subscribing to my RSS feed to make sure it isn't scams like TheGrowSpot.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  3. Anonymous8:06 PM

    If they are, without permission, reprinting original writing that we all work so hard on in our garden blogs, they are theives.

  4. I've updated this post.

  5. VERY excellent post. I publish my RSS feed so folks who like what I have to say can read my blog in it's entirety. Not so someone can steal it, blame me for publishing my full feed, and make money off of my words.

    I saw we all truncate/Feedburn to stand behind those who have faced this problem.

    What they're doing is so BS. I'm so glad you penned an intelligent and well-written post.


    Katie at GardenPunks

  6. Thanks for this post. I am a small garden blogger but I am still wondering if there is a way to prevent my posts from showing up on "". A technorati search found that they regularly post pieces of my blog. There is no contact info on the page though! Any tips you or other bloggers have would be useful.

  7. Anonymous9:53 PM

    You nailed it when you said a real gardener wouldn't post someone else's work. It seems websites like Grow Spot are only in it for the ad money.

    Glad I don't blog. I get mad enough when people link directly to my images without the courtesy of even providing a back link.

  8. I like your attitude!

    These people arguments are not very convincing.

    Thanks for your help a couple of months ago on that other scraper site. He finally removed my content.

  9. Been busy for a couple of days and popped in to read my favourites to find out about the hornet's nest. Where do I start...just because we garden bloggers choose to produce and publish material about gardening on the Web, doesn't give anyone the right to steal it and put it whereever they want. You and Annie have both done brilliant service in calling our attention to this situation.

    Now, I confess to being a good writer, but a bit of a luddite where RSS feeds, etc are concerned. I can see that I'll have to read over carefully what you've written, and Annie too, and go look at my Feedburn settings to see if I need to change things.

    Thank you for doing this, Mr. Brown Thumb! You're one of my hort heroes, for sure.

  10. Anonymous11:55 PM

    Hi, this is smgardener, and I'm a moderator at The Grow Spot. We have a different perspective from yours and Annie's.

    We value having our original content redistributed around the web. For example, we have several very popular articles in our forums that have been re-printed in their entirety (sometimes in foreign languages!) across many sites on the web. In most cases, the republishers provide a link back to our original content (as we also have always provided a link back to any content we republish), and this is a mutually beneficial arrangement.

    We benefit from the long term search engine value of those links, and also from the awareness of our site that this provides.

    That fact that we have struck such a nerve has gotten us thinking about how we do what we do, and clearly there is room for improvement. Starting now, we will provide more clear attribution in every post we syndicate via RSS, we will indicate in the post that it was from an RSS feed, and we will provide two links back to the originating content, one at the top of the post, and one at the bottom.

    In response to the many negative and personal things that have been said both about people involved with the site, and the site itself, I only say that I hope we can keep the discussion more civil going forward.

  11. @katie,

    I may make a post on how to shorten your feed tomorrow because it seems like every few weeks it is a new site targeting garden blogs.

    Good idea.

    @ Gardenista,

    I've left you a comment on your blog on how to do it.


    I've also left you a suggestion for yours.

    @ everyone else above thanks for stopping by commenting.

    @ smgardener

    I'm an urban gardener. This is me being civil. Had I had a dog in this fight this would have been a completely different scenario.

    Just because you appreciate your content being used in other places doesn't mean that all gardeners will feel the same especially where someone is profiting from their work when they don't.

    I'm sure I wouldn't mind my stuff being used like you're doing if I also had friends trying to game StumbleUpon, Digg and propeller on my behalf. When you have a steady flow of inbound links one or two pages that go into the supplemental index probably doesn't matter much.

    If I had the time and money I'd test just how appreciative you are of having your forum's content being republished.

    At some point you're going to come across the wrong writer that you'll end up seeing in court. But if you think that adding a few more links will make things kosher then go for it. But don't be surprised when more gardener bloggers join together and use their blogs and tools available to them to fight back or Luba finds herself forking over cash for violating copyrights.

    I wonder how many people know their photos from flickr are being used on your "encyclopedia?"


  12. I am a pretty new blogger and i found your information to be very helpful. I guess i am so new i did not even knew that this stuff went on. I guess the whole internet thing is an anarchy without considerations. I do hope you can post more of these encounters because people like me need this info to help protect ourselves.

    Thank you !!
    you are more help than just in the plant section :)


  13. An interesting post. On matters I had not really considered before thanks. Imight have to look further into this myself (Feedburner settings) that is

  14. Mr Brown Thumb,

    Reading your post and comments has been an education for me and for a lot of other readers - not only in content - but discovering how much passion and intelligence you instill in your writing.

    I, too, thought that our posts were pretty restrained, considering what could have been said.

    Thank you for everything,

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  15. If smgardener thinks this conversation is uncivil then s/he is spending too much time stealing stuff and not enough time actually participating in forums and blogs.

  16. MBT ... you are my hero :) All I can add to this conversation is "those that can't, take".

  17. I'd be inclined toward giving the benefit of the doubt, on the grounds that it's often not clear what the legal status of the posts on a blog actually is, unless there's a Creative Commons logo spelling things out. That said, ignorance is not much of an excuse, and common courtesy, if nothing else, would suggest that getting permission before reposting is what you'd want to do. If you were only interested in altruistically upping somebody else's hit count, you could just link to them, after all.

  18. @Mr. Subjunctive

    Actually copyright is pretty clear, concerning blogs and photography are covered under copyright law. The moment you publish or press the shutter it is yours.

    A CC license is a license used by the content creator that specifies how and if someone can use their work. If no CC license is present then there is no implication that the creator allows for use, in any form, of their work or passes on any rights.

    And where a CC license is applicable it has a clear definition of how the work can and cannot be used and the person must comply with it exactly how it is worded.

    I've come across some information that seems to indicate ignorance of the law isn't really an excuse.

  19. Uh, oh. I'm about to burst everyone's bubble. When Garden Voices started, they just subscribed to any feeds they wanted and published them. Legally they and anyone else can do that. Their inhouse legal dept confirms that. When I was hired as the editor of Garden Voices, I was shocked like any other blogger. One of the conditions of my employment is that that practice be dropped and that Garden Voices only subscribes to and publishes the feeds of bloggers who have agreed to have their blogs appear on the page. As I explained to the people at GardenWeb, there is such a thing as "netiquette". They didn't believe me, but agreed to "humor" me probably in their minds to prove me wrong. After a few months and a few blow-ups from people whose feeds had been subscribed to and published before I came aboard, the powers that be at GardenWeb agreed with me and have graciously "allowed" me restrict the content of the page to bloggers who actually want to be there.

    Unfortunaltely, Ms Spichkin is correct and is doing nothing legally wrong.

  20. Hi OldRoses,

    The reason the legal department says it is ok because GV was using it and covered under fair use.

    I'd like to point your attention to this article
    The Copyright Debate & RSS
    RSS is commonly defined as really simple syndication. So, this means that any material contained in a feed is available for syndication, right? Well no, not exactly. It means that the content contained in an RSS feed is in a format that is syndication friendly, if the copyright holder allows for syndication. Offering a feed for syndication does not in fact grant any legal rights to anyone to reuse the feeds content beyond what the Copyright laws grant as Fair Use...

    The Copyright Debate & RSS
    And here's the .gov page on "fair use." Fair Use

    I've contacted the web hosting company of a particular site that was reposting my blog entry and the web hosting site made them remove my blog entry. The bloggers in question could contact GoDaddy (web host for TGS) and have the same thing done. I've also had my entries removed from a scraper site owned by advertising giant.

    If they had the legal right to republish a feed then the web host and this large company would have told me to take a hike.

    Since the site runs adsense the bloggers in question could also contact Google and file a DMCA complaint.

    It was one of my options in my cases which I didn't need to avail myself of because the webhost and parent company handled it when I first contacted them.

  21. Anonymous6:22 PM

    bill at prairie point says ...

    Thanks for bringing all this to everyone's attention. It seems most bloggers were as unaware of it as I was. I hate having to look up stuff like this and deal with it.

  22. Well okay. I stand corrected.

    The lingering question for me, then, is: why bother with a feed in the first place? What does having a feed do for readers? Do people not point and click anymore?

    Forgive the naivete, here, but so far, all I've found about this was from sites that wanted me to use their feed ('cause it's super!), and according to them, without a feed, you may as well be scribbling your blog out in crayon and burying it in the backyard. This strikes me as being a little . . . overstated.

  23. mr subjunctive
    The lingering question for me, then, is: why bother with a feed in the first place? What does having a feed do for readers? Do people not point and click anymore?

    I guess the closest thing I could compare it to in old mediawould be the newspaper. You can walk to your nearest newsstand and buy a paper or you can get home delivery to save you the walk every morning. A feed is the home delivery of your blog and it makes things easier for the reader of the blog/website.

    You know I'm not sure how I really feel about feeds. I think they're great but certainly not the best thing since sliced bread. I use them to keep updated with several sites I like/visit on a daily basis.

    Feeds are one of those things that are suppose to make things easier people have room for abuse.

  24. Thank you for your outstanding post. I just found out from reading Annie's entry a few hours ago that my blog content has also been stolen and reprinted without my permission by Grow Spot.

    I'm glad to hear they are going to stop stealing Annie's blog content. I hope they will do me the same kindness. I tried to sign in to their site to say, "Stop stealing/copying/publishing my blog content", but their system does not let me log-in even after registration. Not a huge surprise since I signed on using my Blog Name. *sigh*

    I have shortened my feed, added a copyright claim and placed an URL link to my own entries (a kindness 'Grow Spot' has failed to do when they stole my content over and over and over).

    Thanks to you & Annie for bringing this to my attention. Now hopefully we can all complain to the companies that advertize on Grow Spot so they will think twice about supporting a site that steals.

    A pox on all thieves.


  25. Thanks for this timely post, I just checked recent blog posts and found my words on another blog. It is a WEIRD feeling to see your exact words being used by someone else.

  26. Thank you for educating us bloggers! As a neophyte, I have so much to learn just about the basics, and you explain things so clearly. Maybe garden bloggers should get together to give out public service awards. I'd nominate you.

  27. Anonymous1:30 AM

    Pam @ Digging says:

    Great post, Mr. Brown Thumb. Thanks for letting the thieves have it, and for educating me and other garden bloggers about what's going on with feeds.

    I already have a shorted feed, I have a copyright notice on my blog, and I put a copyright "watermark" on my photos, and yet I still find my content lifted onto ad-blogs on a regular basis. It's very frustrating.

  28. Thanks for the excellent post. Like Annie I've been ripped off by these people too. Just got an email from them requesting me to allow them to keep stealing from my blog. Uh huh!

    As for that whole RSS feed thingy: Huh? Like Jodi I'm a bit of a luddite on that score. So any help you can give me would be much appreciated!

  29. Hi Yolanda,

    On Dec 9th I wrote an entry on how to "shorten your feed" if you're interested in doing that. It gives about three options. Look it over and see if it helps if you have any questions feel free to ask in that post and I'll see if I can help.

  30. Anonymous11:14 PM


    This is smgardener again. Let me start by responding individually to some of the commentors:

    @Dawn: I'm sorry you had trouble accessing our site. I've just removed everything on our site related to your blog.

    @Christopher C. NC: As far as civility goes, we believe we are on the right side legally and morally of this issue, and we are doing our best to reach out to the community and remove the content for people who don't want it on our site. We are not treating this like a flame war, nor are we publishing personal information about or pictures of any garden bloggers who are on the other side of this issue from us (as has been done to us).

    @Yolanda Elizabet: This controversy has made us realize that there are some people who don't like this practice. We are attempting to reach out to the folks whose content we are republishing. We have removed all of your content, as you requested. Believe it or not, several of the bloggers we have contacted are happy about us publishing their content and want us to continue to do so.

    @Mr Brown Thumb: Your experience with the web hosting company sounds slightly different, and I think context is important. We are not scraping content, we are simply posting content published in RSS feeds, including attribution and links back to the source material. Cleary some people don't want this, and we are making an effort to fix it for those who don't like us doing this. Also: I think you are doing a valuable service by educating your readership on this technology. I’m sad that we’re the foil for your altruism.

    There's a lot of back and forth in opinions on this thread about the legality of what we are doing on the site. In addition to the lawyers that old roses mentioned from gardenweb, significant legal scholars from around the world have weighed in on our side of this matter. Do a Google search for "rss copyright harvard" and look at the first result, or "RSS, Blogging, & Copyright Questions" and look at the third result.

    We are not spammers nor spreaders of viruses as has been suggested. I find it sad that Luba's good name is being dragged through the mud here since as the webmaster of and a moderator for The Grow Spot, I'm the one responsible for setting up and running this particular feature. I'm trying my best to make it right with the people who have been affected.

  31. hi,


    Before taking the word of the legal department at GW you should speak to your own lawyers. I'm assuming the lawyers Roses mentions are the same ones that updated the TOS of the site and laid claim to all words and images, and e-mails posted on the site. Tons of people left the forum because of I don't know if I'd take their liberal view of who own what without consulting someone.

    I did as you suggested and this was what I got Results. While what you were directing me to was not there I think I know what you're talking about. I've seen the blog entry by a proffessor who thinks like you do. But I've also seen many rebuttals to his opinion.

    And my experience with getting webhosts to remove my text or images from the websites of people who have reposted my feed contradicts his opinion. There is no legal precedent to back up your claim and honestly there isn't one to back up my side either. Laws are never up to date with technology but I think withing the next couple of years there will be one set forth by a large corporation in suit against a small publisher/webmaster.

    But if you think that the laws side with you and using other people's material then go ahead and keep doing it. My experience is that it has been very easy to get a webhost to see my content republished as a violation of my copyright.

  32. smgardener,

    Since you say you are taking measures to remove the content by garden bloggers that are unhappy with this I've decided to play fair and remove Luba's picture.

  33. Just wanted to add a follow up to my comments in this entry. I came across this on the help pages of FeedBurner:

    Can FeedBurner prevent someone from using my content?

    What I find interesting is the response given that the legality of the issue was brought up:

    "Unfortunately, we cannot remove your feed from sites which have resyndicated or redisplayed your content without your permission. The course of action available to you is to contact the site owners yourself and demand they remove your links or content wholesale. To look up the site's Internet Service Provider (ISP) information, you can"

  34. Anonymous11:03 AM

    uh...this is the internet--if you want to blog, better expect that it will get around...that is the nature of the beast. If you don't like it, stop blogging.

  35. Anonymous8:35 PM

    I agree with Anonymous.

    Thegrowspot did nothing wrong. That's the whole point of feeds.

  36. Anonymous,

    Neither you or the one above you seem to understand anything about the issue. The "whole point of feeds" isn't so that other people can take them and make money off of what others are creating.



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