Dubious health start-up of the month

3 minute read

A university-affiliated start-up has published thousands of articles without permission. It thinks it did nothing wrong


In its travels through the innovation sector, The Medical Republic comes across its fair share of dubiously behaving healthcare start-ups.

A common practice is talking up a group’s market position, the performance of its assets, or level of funding already attracted, in order to secure even more investors. It’s a case of buyers (investors) beware.

So it was with some interest that TMR noticed that many of its articles were appearing wholly reproduced, without permission or acknowledgement, on a relatively new website called Medaxs.

When we investigated, we found it wasn’t just our copy that was being hijacked. There were articles on the site from the ABC, BBC, The Guardian, Fairfax Media, Science Daily, SBS and a host of others. And there appeared to be quite a lot.

The site has nearly 35,000 pages indexed in Google, which indicates at least that many articles might be there. That’s quite a haul. The site itself boasts, in its associated wiki, that it has 71,000 articles published. It might just be the biggest article heist in Australian internet history.

More surprising was that when we contacted the group to ask why it was taking all these articles, the founder of the group said that it should be OK because it wasn’t making any money yet and it was actually only “curating” the content.

A lot of work went into making this salami

That is not the view of one of the nation’s most-experienced media intellectual property lawyers, who told TMR that most of the content on the site was being published in serious breach of copyright and Medaxs stood a reasonable chance of being sued out of existence.

To be fair, Medaxs seems more naïve than dodgy, although I’m not sure there’s that much of a difference in the end. How can a start-up in a respected university-based incubator be making such a basic commercial error?

The founder said that the idea of the business was to scrape all sources of medical information it could, and from that use various informatics tools to extract sentiment around healthcare providers and services. Asked if it wanted to make money from that activity one day, the answer was “yes”.

We contacted the University of Queensland’s iLab accelerator head, Bernie Woodland, to confirm the founder’s claim that the group was associated with the institution, but he backed away quite quickly saying that the company just “rented desks” in the accelerator and had no other association he knew of.

We did note the following on the iLab website though: “As iLab’s director, Bernie is currently responsible for all start-up programs, facilities and operational aspects of the accelerator.”

TMR doubts Medaxs will republish this particular article, but you never know.

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