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

Anthony, K3NG, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com.

15 Responses to “Callbook Wars”

  • Dan -W5WCM:

    I think you are right on target with your comments. QRZ has become the defacto standard meeting a significant need, but the data is not server processing intensive (like LoTW) and should not cost that much to host. We need an open database that is community supported with a few corporate sponsors, not the commercialized QRZ.com that is fighting free access at every turn.

  • BX2ABT:

    I am totally with you on this one, and I did write about it on this site too: http://www.amateurradio.com/hamqsl-com/‎ . Unfortunately most people are lazy to take a clear look and believe QRZ.com is the official call book of the world, which it is not. The ones that do usually side with QRZ.com because they were the first and the best.

    On the other hand, I had some correspondence with Petr and he also couldn’t convince me that his data was not coming from QRZ.com.

    Just be patient, one day the strong handed tactics from QRZ.com will come back to them and they will fade into the background.

  • Ron W3WN:

    Sorry Tony, I find myself in disagreement with you.

    While I have no love of the staff & management of QRZ.COM, the fact of the matter is that they gathered the data, put it into a database form, and made it available for personal use. What they did not do is make it public domain or free for anyone to help themselves.

    This is their intellectual property.

    BX2ABT has alleged, on the QRZ.COM Discussion Forums, that Petr “compared” his data to that of QRZ.COM, and downloaded data from their site into his — primarily call data for calls he did not have. If that is true, and if he did so without permission of AA7BQ & QRZ.COM, then he has infringed on their “intellectual property”

    That most of the call data is available from public or public domain sources is not the point. The point is that Fred & his staff got the data & massaged it. They may not “own” the raw data, but they do own the finished product that they worked on.

    If someone does not care for the way they do business, or for the way that they restrict or limit access to their database, then that someone is more than welcome to get the data themselves and build their own database. Many others have done so, and done so without having touched the QRZ database system.

    Starting with other commercial ham call vendors, including Buckmaster, Radio Amateur Callbook, and (if they’re still around) SAM. And I’m sure there’s more.

    There’s also independant work done by Dean AE7Q, to name one, for US & Canadian data — with analysis tools superior to those of QRZ. But Dean got his hands dirty and did his own work. He didn’t infringe on Fred’s work.

    Sorry, but you can’t get a free lunch. If you want to use Fred’s work, you have to do it his way. If you don’t want to… then do your own.

  • Richard KWØU:

    Interesting. I understand Rand McNally would add fictitious towns to their state maps and then use these as evidence of plagiarism when suing anyone who used them in another atlas. As a non-attorney I’m not sure how all this works with public data, but it sounds like QRZ has a good argument.

  • Cliff KU4GW:

    I received a email just this past week from the N3FJP_Software Yahoo Group about a update to the Amateur Contact Contact Log version 4.3 software by N3FJP Scott and below is what he stated in that email about HamQTH.com’s theft of the QRZ database that seems to confirm what Fred Lloyd is claiming about the theft. If it is true why hasn’t Fred filed any type legal action? Maybe he has and I’m just not aware of it yet.

    Link to Message: http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/N3FJP_Software/conversations/messages/131

    Amateur Contact Log 4.3 Now Available Yesterday afternoon, I was contacted by Fred Lloyd of QRZ, who wrote in part: “The web site HamQTH.com stole a copy of our data and is now offering it for free.” “Programs that facilitate the use of HamQTH.com are, in legal terms, are participating in “contributory infringement”. Therefore, since your software is on the QRZ recommended logbooks list, I’d like to ask if you would consider withdrawing support for so-called “free lookups” from HamQTH.com.” I followed up with Fred, who substantiated his position by providing fictitious call signs, which QRZ has intentionally included in their data, to detect just such an occurrence. Sure enough, these call signs only appear on QRZ and HamQTH, but not on other data sources. Obviously I can’t support any service that participates in that sort of behavior. To do so would be akin to QRZ linking to a web site selling pirated copiers of my software (something I know Fred would never do). For these reasons, I have removed the HamQTH lookup feature in AC Log version 4.3. Guys, I know this is disappointing news. It is for me too. Not only do I lose the lookup option myself, the days I spent coding the additional feature have been rendered worthless and it puts my software at a competitive disadvantage to other packages that continue to support HamQTH. You can be sure that should QRZ and HamQTH reach a mutual agreement and settle this issue, I will happily and promptly restore the HamQTH lookup feature.

  • Jeff Moore KE7ACY:

    Sorry Ron,

    I have to disagree with you on most of your points. The data that QRZ.com “gathered” all came from one source – the FCC. There was NO gathering involved. Any additional information other than maybe geographical info, was provided by the hams themselve by editing their “profile”. I’d be willing to bet that NONE of that extra ham provided data shows up on any other callbook site, unless again the hams provided it themselves.

    As far as massaging the data downloaded from the FCC, at a minimum, it would be necessary to provide a format for displaying all of the data fields regardless. So that was required to even be able to view some of the data.

    The only unique features I am aware of that QRZ.com provides is like I said earlier – geographical. Derived from the basic data, calculated out, and displayed in numerical and visual (maps) format.

    EVERYTHING else is provided by the hams editing their profile, which BTW has very limited editing capability because most of the data is obtained from the FCC and can’t be changed by the hams. For example, try changing your address on your QRZ.com profile w/o submitting a change to the FCC.

    So Ron, your arguments are specious and misleading. I believe the QRZ.com has had a monopoly position for so long that they now figure they deserve special rights in all of this – clearly wrong-headed thinking.

    I agree that pulling data off of QRZ.com and presenting it as your own work is wrong, but so far, I haven’t seen anything that convinces me that is the case. I would even go so far as to suggest that HamQTH and the other sites in contention here could have easily been set up by QRZ.com in that they all allow for the uploading of data by their users. Can you say w/o a doubt that QRZ.com is totally innocent in that regard??

    It has already been suggested that QRZ.com has been playing games with some of the profiles on their site – those of the owners of the other callbook sites. Does that sound like someone that’s being totally honest in all of this?

    I suggest that people take a hands off approach to all of this unless they have incontrovertible evidence of wrong doing on someones part. In which case they should make it available to everyone to examine.

    At this point, Open Source is the way to go. By the hams, for the hams, no profit involved. If we’re not careful, the FCC may enter the fray and start charging for the “public domain” information that ALL of these players require and currently get for FREE. I’m actually kind of surprised that they DON’T already since a number of the entities are making money off of the data.

    Jeff Moore — KE7ACY

  • Don N4KC:

    Maybe I am a bit sensitive to issues such as this since I make my living by writing books. The Internet has resulted in some really complicated issues in regard to copyright and intellectual property ownership, too.

    Fact is, if any other site accesses QRZ.com’s online database (it IS theirs once they modify it for use by their visitors and members) and uses it for their own purposes, they are stealing. Where QRZ got that data is not relevant so long as they obtained it legally. They have manipulated the data to not only make it accessible and available to those who visit their site but also to those who pay for a membership and want to download it for use with logging software or by other means.

    If it is true, as others have said, that the raw data is easily available to anyone who wants it for free, then they can go get it, manipulate it, and use it to their heart’s content. However, QRZ is the owner of the data in the form in which they provide it to their members or site visitors. Accessing their version without permission is copyright infringement. Other sites should go get the raw data themselves and not steal it from QRZ.

    Incidentally, the fact that QRZ makes money off ads and the sale of the modified data is immaterial. Yes, they are attempting to make a profit with the site. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. That is the American way. If you don’t want or need their service, don’t visit the site or contribute to gain access to the data for your logging program.

    My logger, by the way, is N3FJP. If I want to download the raw FCC database, Scott’s program allows me to import it into the log. I do. It works nicely, though it takes a long time to download and is not updated as often as the info QRZ offers. Plus I also like to see the user input on QRZ. It’s nice to see more about a contact during the QSO. For that service alone, I am more than willing to see the ads on QRZ.com.

    Don N4KC
    http://www.n4kc.com
    http://www.donkeith.com

  • Rob W8MRL:

    Jeff,

    I think you have forgotten that the FCC does not have information on all the Ham’s around the world – just those licensed in the US.

    As for the site, that was mentioned in an earlier post, they may not have ad’s or charge at this point but unless the owner is independently wealthy they won’t be able to cover the costs forever. Hardware, coding, bandwidth and their time gets expensive quickly.

    Of course only time will tell

  • David - K2DSL:

    A couple of points…

    1) To some previous comments, though US data is available from the FCC and with a bit of work you can access the data, you also need to keep it current. I maintain a local database of the FCC and enhance it myself using geocoding, etc. It takes some work, but it is possible. This isn’t the case with other countries and I can’t go to most other countries and download their licensed amateur radio operators data.

    2) Without having any behind the scenes knowledge of what QRZ has hidden in their data, I’m sure it is trivial for them to create a few random bogus records of imaginary operators both local in the US and international. Anyone with those bogus records in their database obviously extracted data from QRZ which is illegal. Imagine if they created a record for callsign DL1XYZ. That callsign likely isn’t valid (I checked QRZ and the other sites) so if that bogus call was on QRZ and then showed up on the others, what would you say? QRZCQ & hamQTH even displays DL1XYZ as a record which it isn’t and shows generic info for Germany. I;d personally prefer an obvious “Callsign doesn’t exist” message vs their passive display of generic data though hamQTH shows has a message it might not be a real call. For hamQTH it if shows a blown spot for the non-existent call.

    3) QRZ has spent years (decades?) building up their content which is their “product” The individual(s) that run QRZ make their living from the efforts they put into it. If it was easy, anyone would do it, but it would also takes years/decades to have the volume of content QRZ has and not something that shows up overnight.

    4) Not that I would condone a monopoly, but what if you had 4 companies that produced a printed phone book for your town and they each had different names and different data on each name. Would you prefer 4 phone books with incomplete data or 1 with complete data? I’d prefer 1 that provided the most valued data and contained the most number of names/numbers and that for me is QRZ.

    David – K2DSL

  • N7EP:

    I like QRZ.com and use it daily. Most of the comments infer that QRZ.com get a free FCC database and then makes a profit by charging for it. The fact is that QRZ gets data from all over the world mostly from countries that don’t provide free government databases. This takes a great deal of time and effort and stealing this data is unethical and probably illegal. The DX database is the reason I decided to subscribe to QRZ.com.
    I work a lot of digital DX contacts and my enjoyment of ham radio is greatly increased by viewing the DX contact’s QRZ page which often show pictures of the operator, station, antennas, and sometimes family. Very seldom do I contact a DX station that doesn’t have a well filled out QRZ page. Most of QRZ is free and you don’t have to click on the advertisement, but I do as I want QRZ.com to be successful.
    I like QRZ.com and use it daily.

  • Ron W3WN:

    In response to Jeff KE7ACY:

    Jeff, you are overlooking or have failed to realize some key points.

    First off, the QRZ.COM database contains more than just the FCC data. A good bit of the international calls must be acquired, converted to the proper format, and then inserted into the database. That is the “gathering involved” that I was referring to.

    Second, the FCC database is not stored in what you would call a user friendly format. It has to be converted to be useful. That take time and programming.

    Third, I said nothing about the ham profiles, and that has nothing to do with the address database in question. Don’t change the subject.

    Fourth, this is hardly unique to QRZ. The Radio Amateur’s Callbook was doing this for DECADES before personal computers, let alone the Internet, existed. QRZ, to their credit, did NOT simply “borrow” the RAC data without permission. They compiled their own data.

    Fifth, QRZ does not hold a monopoly. In addition to the RAC, there’s also Buckmaster for one. I don’t know if SAM still exists, but it was around for a good many years. In terms of US data, Dean AE7Q has his own site, as did the recently closed Vanity HQ. ALL of these entities, and many more that are out there, did their own work. They didn’t steal from anyone else.

    You stated “I agree that pulling data off of QRZ.com and presenting it as your own work is wrong, but so far, I haven’t seen anything that convinces me that is the case” Well, it has been alleged by BX2ABT on the QRZ forums that Petr did in fact compare his database to that of QRZ, and when he found something in QRZ that wasn’t in his, copied it. If this allegation proves true… and based on the information provided quoting N3FJP, I think we can accept this as true… then it appears that this is indeed the case.

    Whether or not QRZ has a “monopoly” is irrelevant.
    Whether or not QRZ is “innocent” of other actions that they’ve taken with other providers is irrelevant and immaterial.

    To be blunt: What is relevant is that there appears to be proof that the QRZ data was stolen. Sorry to put it so harshly, but it is what it is.

    And if it is stolen, QRZ’s ownership & management have EVERY right to take appropriate actions.

    The excerpt from N3FJP is most interesting. Presuming that this is an accurate reflection of what was sent to him by AA7BQ… and I have no reason to doubt it isn’t, but I haven’t seen the original… the point is very clear that HamQTH is using stolen information, and that they are asking other providers not to enable thieves or those benefiting directly or indirectly from the theft.

    And I would not at all be surprised if there is further legal action down the road.

    The simplest solution? HamQTH and the others need to remove the stolen or tainted data, and create their own database. Not take a short-cut by stealing someone else’s work, and then crying when they get caught.

  • I would be very surprised if there was legal action. The would-be defendant is in another country, lawyers aren’t cheap, one needs to prove damages to win a lawsuit, and there isn’t a whole lot of money involved in this, relatively speaking.

    It quite simply isn’t very clear that HamQTH is using stolen data or thhat the database by and large was stolen. The QRZ-planted callsigns haven’t been revealed, publicly at least. If you take the planted callsigns out of the database, there is no longer QRZ proprietary data in it. Each entry in and of itself is a piece of data, and whatever other data is not QRZ created is in the public domain. One proprietary piece of data doesn’t taint the entire database. Furthermore, HamQTH accepts public contributions to its database. If they accept callsign information for a DX station from a country that doesn’t publish its callsign database, but the call appears only in QRZ, is it QRZ proprietary?

  • Daniel, HB9DDS:

    @ all

    If QRZ.COM changed the user data without the user’s knowledge and over again, that would really be a mess beyond compare. Furthermore, no one gets upset by the pro QRZ.COM people. Funny, is not it?

  • Henryk, D44CF:

    There are two issues which I do not like:

    1. The qrz.com can freely remove any information posted by the owner of a call sign, not informing the person who uploaded this information. Thus, the information published on qrz.com can be wrong or obsolete.

    2. Other sites which have copied information from qrz.com have no means to update their data bases, consequently it is misleading for people who trust them. For instance, HamQTH contains obsolete and inaccurate data.

    I have personal experience of both things.

  • Ghiuzan:

    I am a new company, five years, with the sgrnotest and best mounting equipment for the mobile ham radio operator. I think your members would be interested. A link to me would be appreciated.

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