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How The Health Blogosphere Was Scammed

In a press release dated January 28, 2009, the HealthCentral Network announced the acquisition of a company called Wellsphere from its young CEO, Ron Gutman. Many of my fellow medical bloggers are familiar with Wellsphere as they’ve received countless email form letters from Wellsphere’s CMIO, Dr. Geoffrey Rutledge. The form letters are flattering, and suggest that the company would like to feature the blogger’s writing on their platform.

But what happens next is disturbing – to become a member of Wellsphere, bloggers provide access to their blog’s RSS feed. Hidden in the fine print is the blogger’s consent for Wellsphere to publish the entire feed (in other words, all of the blogger’s written work) and that once it’s published on their site, they own the intellectual property rights to it.

Astonishingly Wellsphere convinced some 1700 bloggers to join their network, and have now sold their site (which is comprised almost entirely of blog post content) to HealthCentral Network for an undisclosed amount, likely in the millions.

How much did the bloggers get for their writing? As far as I know, zero dollars.

In the reference section below you will see copies of emails sent by Dr. Rutledge and excerpts from the website’s Terms of Use document.

Is this the biggest scam ever pulled on health bloggers? You decide. If you have any additional information, feel free to post it in the comments section below.

Addendum: HealthCentral Network CEO tells Wall Street Journal “most bloggers are happy about Wellsphere.” If you disagree, send protest Tweet #wellsphere or leave comment below.

References:

Here is the introductory form email sent out by Dr. Rutledge:

Hi Dr. Jones,

I was on a search for the best medical blogs, when I found you at X.  I think your blog is great. I’d like to invite you to participate in the network of medical expert bloggers at Wellsphere, but perhaps I should explain a bit about myself and about Wellsphere as background.

My name is Dr. Geoff Rutledge, and, like you, I understand the power of the Internet to help people. I’m a physician (board certified in IM and EM) who previously practiced, taught, and carried out research at Stanford and Harvard medical schools, before I built and launched the first consumer ehealth service that became WebMD.com.

I now work with Wellsphere, which is a next-generation online platform that helps people achieve their health and healthy living goals – it is a major advance in the way people find and share information and services. Our platform connects millions of users with the valuable insights and knowledge from health leaders and medical experts like you — take a look at how the platform works at www.wellsphere.com. Stanford University was so impressed that they deployed our service for the entire campus (see stanford.wellsphere.com). We sell our service to employers and health plans – you won’t see today any ads or commercial services on our free public site.

I offer you the opportunity to be a featured medical expert blogger for a new  Wellsphere community. Members and visitors will see your postings highlighted, featured, and clearly marked as authored by a true medical expert.

When you join, we will feature you on our medical experts page (here is the preliminary design for this page: http://www.wellsphere.com/medical-experts.htm), and I will highlight your participation and your postings in my personal blog, which is featured prominently on the homepage of wellsphere.com (Dr.Geoff’s MedBlog, http://medblog.wellsphere.com/).

We will republish the postings you’ve already written for you (through your RSS feed), and feature them not only on the community pages of the site, but also within a new dynamic magazine-like Wellsphere360 section, where we give users a comprehensive view of medical expert information, plus news, videos, local resources, and member postings on topics you write about. You can see a sample of a Wellsphere360 special section at http://www.wellsphere.com/Wellsphere360/diabetes-type-2.htm

Also, I will select the best medical bloggers to feature on our homepage at www.wellsphere.com.

Your posts will link back to your blog, so you will benefit from Wellsphere’s high ranking and large readership interested in your topic, which will give you more traffic, additional relevant audience, and a higher ranking for your blog. Wellsphere has well over a million visitors per month, and is growing rapidly.

If you would like us to feature you, just send me an email to Dr.Rutledge@wellsphere.com.

Good health,

Geoff

Geoffrey W. Rutledge MD, PhD
Dr.Rutledge@wellsphere.com
http://www.wellsphere.com


Here is a follow up email after I declined to join the network:

Hi Dr. Val,

We haven’t met, but I’ve been following your journey. We sent you an invitation to republish your blog from RevolutionHealth on Wellsphere, though I understood why that was somewhat problematic. I’m looking forward to seeing your new site at http://drvalblog.com/

Have you followed the advances that Wellsphere has made in creating a consumer-focused site that makes it easy to find both medical expert content and knowledge, and patient/community support?

If you would be interested in reaching the Wellsphere audience (now significantly exceeding that of RevolutionHealth, with over 2 million visitors per month), I would be pleased to extend the offer to republish your blog postings on Wellsphere.

We also could list you as a Notable Wellsite on topic pages of your interest (for which we ask only that you either list us on your blogroll, or take advantage of our free Health Knowledge Finder widget, or post an “I’m featured on Wellsphere” badge on your site.)

Cheers, Geoff

Here is a follow up email sent to a blogger who declined to join the network:

Hi XXX,
I just wanted to follow up on the invitation I sent you to be a featured blogger on Wellsphere.com. I was impressed with your blog at XXX, and invited you to be a featured blogger in the new General Medicine community.  We can also promote your blog in our new dynamic, magazine-like WellPages (with no extra work for you)! If you’re interested in being featured and promoting your blog to the larger Wellsphere audience, please drop me an email!
Good Health!
Geoff

Here is more information on how this works:

We republish your articles on our site, and include links back to your site. We also publish your profile with a link back to your site, and we feature you on special sections on topics that you write on, and in your topic-based community.

We will set up your profile if you don’t already have one, so you don’t have to do anything but give us permission to republish your content on our site. We don’t require a particular schedule for posting, though we have invited you to become a Wellsphere health blogger based in part on your history of posting on your blog.

Our growing network of bloggers (now over 1700) have told us they value what Wellsphere is trying to accomplish – helping people of all walks of life and across the spectrum of health to achieve healthier lives. They also appreciate the opportunity to reach the larger (and also rapidly growing!) Wellsphere audience, and to benefit from links in each posting that drive traffic back to their blogs.

We would be happy to include you in our network as we expand into health topics.
——
Geoffrey W. Rutledge MD, PhD
Chief Medical Information Officer
Wellsphere, Inc.
http://www.wellsphere.com

Here is an email from Wellsphere mistakenly sent to my webmaster (he’s not a blogger):

Hi john,

We are excited to recognize you in our new YES, WE CARE! Campaign that honors everyday heroes, like you, who put themselves on the front lines in the quest for a healthier, happier world by spending their time and putting their hearts and souls into helping others in need. We’re particularly excited to have this chance to honor you, for dedicating your time and writing to help people improve their health and well-being. We’ve nominated YOU as one of our Everyday Heroes!

As part of the YES, WE CARE! Campaign, we are creating a special video to highlight some of the amazing stories we’ve heard that demonstrate that caring for others is alive and well today all over the world. We would love to include YOUR story in the video! If you would like to send us a short video (cell phone or webcams are just fine!) about what moved you to start your blog, or to share a moving story of caring that you were involved in or heard about, we’d be happy to include it in the video. You can also interview someone you think is an Everyday Hero, or tell their story. Please keep the length of your video between 20 seconds and 2 minutes. The video can be very casual and definitely does NOT need to be professional or polished – just be yourself!

Please send us the video ASAP, and no later than Sunday, October 19th.

We can’t wait to see your videos and are looking forward to recognizing you and other Everyday Heroes you know for your extraordinary contribution to the world!

To submit your video, send us your video as an attachment via email to wecare@wellsphere.com. If you would like to send a video directly from your cell phone, just email me at Dr.Rutledge@wellsphere.com and I’ll send you the cell phone number you can send a video-text message to.

Good health!
Geoff

Geoffrey Rutledge MD, PhD
Chief Medical Information Officer
Wellsphere
Dr.Rutledge@wellsphere.com

Here is an email from Wellsphere about their plans for a health blog conference:

Hi ,

This week, I’m excited to share the warm words we’ve heard about all of you and the early feedback we’ve heard about the Yes, We Care Campaign, and announce the world’s first Health Blogger Conference!  We can’t wait to meet you in person…

Yes We Care!
The Yes We Care Campaign launched last week, and we’re thrilled to be able to honor you and your colleagues on the Map of Caring. The response has once again been quite dramatic. Many of you have already posted your Everyday Hero badges and the heartwarming Yes We Care! Video on your blogs. Here are a few of the comments we’ve heard about the campaign:

“I am thrilled to participate in your “YES, WE  CARE !” Campaign and am most humbled in your nomination.  What an amazing idea! Our blog continues with the hope of “paying it forward” and helping others, just as you are doing with Wellsphere. .. Thanks for doing such an amazing job!”  – http://www.ranaesheart.com/

“Thank you so much for recognizing my site and the effort that went into creating it!!! It’s amazing people like yourselves that keep me going and make a contribution to the greater good of all !! thank you again my friends !!!” -http://liftheavy.wordpress.com/

“Here is the video from Wellsphere! It is very cool it’s a 10 minute video with people from all over trying to help heal the world! Awesome video guys!”  http://thelifeofthomascslater.blogspot.com/
“I want to take this opportunity to thank Wellsphere for calling me a “Everyday Hero” for the lives I have touched. I want to say thank you for giving me that opportunity to do so.”  http://ucanhope2.blogspot.com

Many of you commented that the Yes We Care video let you see and connect with other members of the Health Bloggers Network for the first time, and asked if we would consider organizing an event for everyone to meet and connect with each other.  WHAT A GREAT IDEA!

I am very pleased to announce the world’s first Health Blogger Conference (“ HBC -09”)! This conference will be the largest gathering of health writers in history!  The Conference will be by invitation only, and as a member of the Health Blogger Network, you will automatically be guaranteed an invitation. This will be a great place for you to meet fellow health bloggers, share best practices, discuss sources of ideas, learn how to promote your blog, and meet some of the most prominent figures in the world of health. There will be a series of organized information sessions and seminars, as well as fun events and ample opportunities for you to meet and mingle in a relaxed atmosphere.   We will announce the location soon – somewhere you will enjoy a healthy, rejuvenating, experience.

If you’d like to get involved in the Conference, here are some of the opportunities available to you:
– become an organizer                                         
– become a volunteer
– give a talk or seminar
– organize a panel presentation
– suggest a topic for a talk or a panel
– suggest a speaker to invite to give a presentation

Here Are Excerpts From Wellsphere’s Terms of Service Document:

Ownership
…All Website Materials, including any intellectual property rights in such Website Materials, are the property of Wellsphere, its affiliates, licensors, or the designated owners, and are protected by applicable intellectual property laws. You should assume that everything you see on this Website is copyrighted unless otherwise noted, and may not be used without our written permission except as provided in these Terms…

Content You Submit to or Post on the Website
…You agree that any and all comments, information, photos, videos, feedback and ideas that you communicate to Wellsphere or submit or post to the Website or give Wellsphere permission to post to the Website (“User Materials”) will be deemed, at the time of communication to Wellsphere or submission or posting to the Website, to be the property of Wellsphere, and Wellsphere shall be entitled to full rights of ownership, including without limitation, the unrestricted right to use or disclose such User Materials in any form, medium or technology now known or later developed, and for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, without compensation to you. In the event that you have any rights in the User Materials that cannot be assigned or waived you hereby grant to Wellsphere a royalty-free, paid-up, exclusive, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to (i) use, make, sell, offer to sell, have made, and further sublicense any such User Materials, and (ii) reproduce, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and publicly display the User Materials in any medium or format, whether now known or later developed.

When you post your own copyrightable content on the Website or give Wellsphere permission to post your copyrightable content on the Website, you retain ownership of any copyright you claim to your submitted content. However, by posting your content or giving Wellsphere permission to post your content you automatically grant Wellsphere a royalty-free, paid-up, non-exclusive, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to (i) use, make, sell, offer to sell, have made, and further sublicense any such User Materials, and (ii) reproduce, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and publicly display the User Materials in any medium or format, whether now known or later developed…


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72 Responses to “How The Health Blogosphere Was Scammed”

  1. rlbates says:

    Good for you, Dr Val!

  2. Berci Mesko says:

    I declined their offer from the first e-mails because of the reason you mentioned!

    Thank you very much for making it clear for everyone!

  3. Gene O. says:

    Thanks Dr Val,

    These people, whoever they are, simply have no decency. Their job is done, they made their money, and they’re out the door. Its pretty sad how a nice looking website and friendly sounding emails so effectively fooled many fellow bloggers. I hope that in the future, once we see other nasty behavior trying to leech off bloggers, we should try to get the word out to others so they know what’s up.

  4. Steven J. Davidson, MD says:

    I’d read the terms and declined. I knew Dr. Rutledge from some time ago in the academic emergency medicine circles and was on-guard the moment I saw his first message. He was at Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, CA 10/22-23/2008 talking up his project then.

    I’m not surprised to learn of this outcome.

    Regards./Steven

  5. shadowfax says:

    Thanks for exposing this. Noxious behavior like this is a real threat to the med-blogosphere. I went through my old email and found that I, too received the same form letter(s). Fortunately, I gave a pretty firm pass (as I usually do to the random solicitations I get every day). Let’s hope we can finally be rid of these creeps.

  6. Chris says:

    I haven’t made it all the way through every piece of information you listed.

    But I’d say this: asking bloggers to repost, in full, SELECTED (not every) items from their existing Weblogs and fill it with links back to the author’s blog is a BETTER practice for the authors than just providing a headline and link on a blog. It’s a better promotional tool for the author rather than what usually happens – links in the increasingly irrelevant right-hand column.

    Sites like Blogcritics.org to the New York Times have struck such similar deals.

    Example: http://www.nytimes.com/external/readwriteweb/2009/01/28/28readwriteweb-netflix_instantwatcher_a_netflix_mashup_for_impat.html

    It treats the blogger like a guest or featured columnist or (or in the above case) contributor to the site. That’s better play. Period.

    The one awful-sounding thing about the above deal is this: the blogger’s work suddenly becomes the sole property of Wellsphere. Authors’ works should be their own.

  7. Peter says:

    So that’s what that was all about. I received the emails, but one visit to Wellsphere ensured that I never visit again. Thanks for the background information.

  8. NoName Blogger says:

    Whoa!!!

    I began receiving the same Rutledge emails last May and ignored them. At the time, Wellsphere was plastered with ads and information on homeopathic/sports medicine and nothing resembling the community which they wanted to create.

    Several of us bloggers knew better than to give away the entire contents of our feeds for nothing. Unfortunately, Wellsphere has been relentless and several of my friends have just recently signed on within the past month.

    Ironically, I was hired to write for HealthCentral which I still do. We occasionally receive email notices when something significant happens, such as purchasing a site like “The Body.” You would have thought that this would have been included in an announcement email as well.

    I wonder what (if any) changes we can expect to see from HealthCentral.

  9. Cara says:

    Got the e-mails. Questioned them throughly and sent an e-mail requesting more info from the Dr. Instead I got an e-mail from a third-party requesting my blog addres. I never reponded. Too fishy for me. Now I’m glad I didn’t. My work is MY work. No one elses.
    This is one of the home disturbing things that I have ever seen. We bloggers don’t blog for money. We blog to form bonds and to get support in dealing with our chronic illnesses. If money should be made from this, it should be our own, NOT some large corporation that pulled the wool over our eyes.

  10. dokidok says:

    I knew that it’s a scam since the first e-mail I got,and btw the design of the website sucks.

  11. Dr. Rob says:

    Agree. I actually fell prey to the flattery – initially. I thought it would be a way to get my voice heard by more and increase traffic to my blog. Despite the promises, I had absolutely no traffic to my blog from Wellsphere.

    Now if we can get a bunch of Wellsphere bloggers posting posts that are against Wellsphere, perhaps the posts (which, of course, will end up on Wellsphere) will educate the readers and direct them back to the author’s blog.

    You get my drift?

  12. Mary says:

    Lol Dr. Rob. I get your drift.

    Luckily, I was able to avoid the wellsphere scam by asking Dr. Val about it before hand. So I was glad to have avoided it completely. I did get a couple of e-mails about it.

    Although I really have no clue why they’d want my blog anyway. I have barely any medically-relevant content on there! It’s mostly personal!

    I think I might’ve actually blogged about their e-mail and my response back. . .

    Thanks for having EVERYONE’s back, Val! You’re the medical blogosphere’s Hero! And I definetly am glad that you are smart enough to catch them in their game and help warn everyone else!

    The whole deal makes me mad though!

  13. Chris Bishop says:

    Unfortunately, I was one of the ones who got suckered into signing up. This really sucks. I want to know if there is a way to get “removed” from their site? Anyone have any ideas on how?

  14. TBTAM says:

    You have to understand that this is the new business model for the Web – get your content for free from folks looking for a few minutes of fame and flattery, then sell ads and then the business. It’s how Huffington has gotten so big – do you think they pay any of their bloggrs? (They don’t.)

    http://www.editorsweblog.org/analysis/2009/01/doing_more_with_less_nailing_the_new_med.php

    It’s amazing to me the audacity of Huffington adn others to make millions off of free labor, and puts writers everywhere out of business. I have afeeling, though, that this business model ain’t going anywhere soon…

    Nice to see you the other night.

  15. Matthew Holt says:

    Hmm. Although I too declined the Wellsphere offering, as more people read THCB than their blog. BUT there’s lots more to this company, including a pretty interesting search engine, and a pretty strong participation rate in their Stanford employees’ wellness program. I suspect that’s far more interesting to Healthcentral than their agglomeration of bloggers.

    However, most Bloggers aren’t in it for the money. I guarantee that my blog is better trafficked than many of those commenting here and I’ve lost tons of money and years of time to it over the past 5 years, desptie getting some advertising revenue–and that doesnt count the opportunity cost.

    But most just want to get to get read. If they can get read on Wellspehere, what’s the problem? And now they’ll have even more potential readers.

    And if you signed up for Wellspehere and don’t like it, turn off the full post RSS feed. There is NO reason for publishing a full post RSS feed, as it’s just inviting sploggers to copy your stuff (which happens anyway).

    I’m sure that if you write to Wellsphere (Geoff or Ron Gutman the CEO), they’ll release you from your deal

  16. Keith Carlson says:

    Boy, do I feel like a naive fool. I am one of those duped bloggers and have no idea what to do. I am shaking in anger and uncertain where to turn. How could I have been so stupid?

  17. drval says:

    Keith I’m so sorry that you’re feeling awful. You’re not alone – by Wellsphere’s account there are 1700 of you out there. To get your content off the site, go to Twitter and follow the #wellsphere thread. There are instructions and lots of commiserators.

  18. DrCris says:

    Thanks for posting on this DrVal. I was lucky when I get my letter – a search for wellsphere on twitter makes the issue pretty clear. More press, tweets and articles like this will make the information easier to find.

  19. MaxJerz says:

    Ugh, I got scammed too. Normally I read the Terms but for some reason I didn’t read as closely as I should have. I’m deleting my Wellsphere crap now and will be posting about this on my blog as well.

    Thanks for the heads-up, Dr Val.

    Be well,
    MJ

  20. Karin RN says:

    I got two e-mails and ignored them both. I am one of those people who gets too suspicious with flattery.

    Now, I’m glad I am this way.

  21. Michelle (The BearTwinsMom) says:

    Yup, I got sucked in as well, and didn’t read the TOS that closely either. Call me stupid. I feel like a real idiot. Heck, I even signed up to be a Health Maven, and signed up for the contest for the top 100 blogs. SIGH.

    Thanks for the explanation. I’ll jump on over to twitter to find out what to do from here.

    Warm regards,
    Michelle aka The BearTwinsMom

  22. Jen McCabe Gorman says:

    Dr. Val –

    Thanks for posting the complete comments/emails from Wellsphere for transparency purposes. I too declined the offer to join, but have blogged in the past for HealthCentral (and enjoyed working with that team).

    One of the differences between my receipt of the Wellsphere invite and previous invites to syndicate content was this – I got on Twitter and asked the community of health bloggers there for feedback, before I committed.

    What I found influenced my decision not to join. Without this very rapid feedback from fellow tweets I would have been hard-pressed to make an informed decision.

    This is unfortunately a classic case of read the fine print. Once bitten, twice shy…

    Previous commentors are absolutely right that many online content sites make money by selling ads to sponsors.

    However, we might all want to examine what that’s worth to us – if it wasn’t for the money, what were we expecting from the transaction. We all want to be read – and many of us do this for near-philanthropic sharing purposes.

    But let’s also be honest – some of us do make professions out of being ‘named’ and receiving speaker invites, consulting gigs, etc. – these aims are furthered by establishing our online presences.

    Let’s remember there are many ‘transactions’ on the web that aren’t monetized…we bloggers sometimes give away our content for link-love, more exposure, and higher organic Google search results. The problem here is that many didn’t seem to know it and the company involved didn’t make it easy to discern the terms of content publication.

    Also, this brings to light the need for a clearly stated opt-out policy. It should be far easier to discontinue the relationship and delete your account with no further material being distributed without your permission.

    Another suggestion – use a Creative Commons license on your blog. If you sign up with the company to syndicate content and they don’t ask you to rescind it you have some support for later battles.

    I have a great deal of sympathy for those who’s content is now in jeopardy and hope that Wellsphere and HealthCentral are responsive to your concerns!

  23. MaxJerz says:

    I did some research on Wellsphere’s site. There is no way (at least that I can find) to delete blog posts or even your profile. After searching for half an hour, I discovered that the only way to have your profile deleted is to email them and ask them to do it. I have zero confidence they will actually remove my content.

    I’ve been associated with HealthCentral informally for several years now, and work with some of the individual site moderators, and have no issue with them. I have every issue with Wellsphere. Sure, I should have read the TOS more clearly and I surely will from now on.

    BTW, the “opt-out” email for Wellsphere is privacy@wellsphere.com.

    -MJ

  24. Vijay says:

    I fell for the scam. Initially. When I woke up and asked politely to be let out of their clutches, Wellsphere ignored my emails. I played it their way. Changed my profile page at Wellsphere to reflect my displeasure, with a stinker on my dashboard. Not surprisingly, that got their notice and the good Dr.Rutledge emailed me an apology with his usual flowery prose.
    My personal opinion: Wellsphere stinks. The bigger company that has acquired it is now tainted. Watch out people.

  25. DrV says:

    I spoke with Rutledge by phone and told him to go suck an egg. I can’t see any advantage to allowing someone to aggregate what I write. It would only serve to upstage me on the search engines.

  26. Gregg Masters says:

    A timely discovery of a “devil in the details” lesson within a fast moving, and immature industry, no?

    I find it interesting that bloggers, with ad supported business models, are now somewhat in the position of the mainstream media who traditionally opposed open access to content.

    Rather than spread the word “for free and for fun” (and yes, I get that we have to eat), and see what happens in the “tag cloud”, i.e., does the idea or post get traction, and initiate a click stream of interest, it’s more about whether it pulls the reader to the “branded blog” for a tour of target site content, and perhaps even invite PPC or CPA click throughs.

    With Twitter or its generic micro-blogging breatheren, its seems more about real time relevance, and/or context meaning (gravity) in the “clickstream”. That momentary sweet spot could be American Idol buzz, or the CBO’s cost estimate IT incentives in the stimulus package (though I doubt the latter trends in Twitter’s top 10).

    The incentive in micro=blogging is to be relevant….. Efforts to control the clickstream by brand “blog baiting” (esp., when it’s limited to the re-marketing of someone else IP), and enter the tag cloud as an branded aggregator conduit, is likely to be unsustainable.

    Either an idea has relevance and resonance in the cloud, or it will fall regardless of parsed PRs, or other attempts to raise it’s visibility.

    Then again, I’m just thinking out loud…

    I look forward to tomorrow nite’s Wellsphere conversation.

  27. Dr Emer says:

    Hello, Dr. Val. ‘Got here from ChronicBabe and Dr. Rob.

    Arrgggh. That’s the sound of a sucker waking up and reading the truth.

    Thanks for this one. Next time, I’ll consult with you guys first.

  28. Strong One says:

    I was lucky enough not to fall prey. I was not aware of their activity, especially to this level.
    I have seen the Wellsphere badge on numerous blogs I visit.
    What a shame.

  29. Mark Salinas says:

    I was approached and declined their offer. Thanks for the clarity!

  30. #1 Dinosaur says:

    These people, whoever they are, simply have no decency. Their job is done, they made their money, and they’re out the door.

    Funny; that’s exactly what can also be said about all the HMO executives who pioneered the whole managed care movement in the early 90s.

    I didn’t fall for the scam either, nor several others that came my way. I suspect the only real defense is an ego strong enough to resist the flattery. Mine is fed mainly through my practice. Attention and money from blogging/writing, with its attendant attention/fame, is strictly secondary.

  31. Wanderer says:

    *smacks head* D’oh! I knew it was probably too good to be true.

    My name is Wanderer and I am a sucker. For a limtied time I will be entertaining requests to help you transfer money from *insert war torn country here*, buy your “male enhancement products” and your “authentic” Rolexes, but most importantly, I’ll be a sucker for your flattery, entranced by your flowery prose and write well thought out blog posts for you to use for your financial gain.

    Yes, I too am a Wellsphere-Sucker (copyright 2009). No traffic from them and now evidently my writings are free for them to use as they feel fit. Yes, I should have read the fine print and the TOS, but I didn’t. Now I get to figure out a way to remove myself from their clutches…if I can.

    Thanks to Dr. Val for the info!

  32. LizS says:

    Got their offer, was told by Rutledge that I could remove my content anytime and when I tried, was repeatedly ignored. Where is he now, I ask?

  33. laika says:

    I never got an offer from Wellness! Boy, I’m the only one that didn’t get those flattering emails? Now thát is worrisome!

    But instead -without ever being asked and without getting any offer-, the content of my blog has been and is still being scammed by sites selling Viagra and/or giving dubious information. I suppose that by adding ‘good content’ the owners of these sites are trying to appear more reliable.

    I also find this worrisome.

    (But thnx Dr. Val, whenever I do get such a flattering email, I know that I should resist).

  34. Megan Oltman says:

    Dr. Val thank you so much for bringing this to our attention. This is troubling in many ways. I spoke with a copyright attorney this morning, who confirmed my impression of several things here, which I want to pass on:

    1. if you were signed up automatically by Wellsphere, by saying yes to their e-mail, and they signed you up, without you ever having seen their terms of service, or you having been required to click “yes” that you agreed to their terms of service, there was probably no valid contract formed – you didn’t agree to terms you never saw!

    2. even if you had seen the terms, a copyright license cannot be automatically given away by implication as Wellsphere is attempting to do here; and such a license can only be granted explicitly in writing.

    3. it is worth noting that Health Central has much more legally sound, respectful and ethical language in its’ terms of use: “We do not claim a copyright in the text, files, images, photos, works of authorship or other materials that you post on the Site, either as the host or a visitor (collectively Member Content). After posting Member Content to the Site, you shall continue to retain ownership of such Member Content.” – People may actually be better off dealing with Health Central!

    I for one intend to write to Wellsphere specifically informing them that they have no rights in any of my content despite any of their attempts to the contrary. Their language would probably be unenforceable in court, and is highly unethical, especially considering that a large number of the bloggers they deal with are chronically ill. This could appropriately be the subject of a class action lawsuit if Wellsphere attempted to enforce their attempts to license the bloggers’ content.

    – Megan Oltman

  35. Kim says:

    I was warned about this after I signed up, wrote to Wellsphere and had Emergiblog taken down off their site.

    It was no problem to be released, and I later went back and searched with the term “Emergiblog” and found nothing, so it really was down.

    I declined to write for a quite reputable site at one time because I would not own what I wrote.

    I write, I own. ‘Nuff said.

    But boy, you would have thought I was Mark Twain personified by the way they RAVED about me in those emails! : D

  36. Gianna says:

    I’m unhappy and I’m not even a member and yet I found some of my stuff on there…

    they certainly sent me all their slimy marketing crap though:

    http://bipolarblast.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/healthcentral-buys-wellsphere/

    I was onto them from the get go…

  37. Bernard Farrell says:

    I received several very flattering emails from the evil Dr. I decided not to accept the ‘offer’ because something didn’t feel right about it. I’m glad that I didn’t.

  38. Fool Me Once... says:

    Did any of you folks bother to Google Ron Gutman before you even entered into a discussion or agreement with them?

    Had you done so, you would have found a rather long list of former employees who documented, in great detail, major issues with the ethics and motives of his operation. I have no idea if those links will turn up high in any searches now and I don’t care.

    I feel bad for those of you who feel duped, but it seems like it was avoidable. On the other hand, you all should feel your collective power and you should exercise it however you see fit.

  39. MedInformaticsMD says:

    When you post your own copyrightable content on the Website or give Wellsphere permission to post your copyrightable content on the Website, you retain ownership of any copyright you claim to your submitted content.

    However, by posting your content or giving Wellsphere permission to post your content you automatically grant Wellsphere a royalty-free, paid-up, non-exclusive, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to (i) use, make, sell, offer to sell, have made, and further sublicense any such User Materials, and (ii) reproduce, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and publicly display the User Materials in any medium or format, whether now known or later developed…

    “HOWEVER?”

    It should be remembered that copyright is retained by an author of an original work unless an agreement between an author and some other party says otherwise. Explicitly declaring copyright is unnecessary.

    The legal passage above seems to indicate the author maintains their copyright, except with regard to Wellsphere which an do whatever the hell they want with the author’s work, with no apparent requirement for revenue sharing if profit is generated at some point. Wellsphere can also sublicense an author’s work to anyone they please.

    Did I read that correctly? You maintain your copyright, except you don’t?

    There is a word for this agreement.

    It is:

    S-U-C-K-E-R.

    Bloggers such as myself at Healthcare Renewal often over scams and dishonesty in healthcare. In that regard, I would refer to this agreement as a “meta-scam.”

  40. Janet Geddis says:

    I was one of the duped ones–joined on a whim while knowing full well that the doctor who’d written me this “personal” letter hadn’t really personally sought me out. I should have paid better attention to my instincts: Wellsphere’s tendency to fill up my inbox with offers to feature my as a leading blogger, a community “expert,” and to have me compete for best blogger awards smacked of promotion and not a genuine interest in health. Alas.

  41. Karina says:

    Hi Dr. Val,
    I followed this through Enrico’s (MexicoMedicalStudent) post today. Thanks for making this clearer for us.

    I too was contacted by the same Dr. about writing for Wellsphere. I did not outrightly decline, I responded by saying I would look into it when I get the chance. Fortunately, I never got the chance.

    Thank so much again for making this clear for everyone.

    Best Regards,
    Karina

  42. Trauma Junkie says:

    How crazy is that?

    I was actually thinking of becoming a blog author for Wellsphere but I had a gut feeling that told me not to do so.

    Nice job getting to the bottom of this, Dr. Val.

  43. Anonymous says:

    It’s interesting how easy it was for this site to scam a bunch of highly educated people.

    It would be interesting to see some of these folks think out loud about why they allowed themselves to be scammed, and then to think about how similar it is to the ways their patients get scammed by bad medical “news” or “information.” Maybe they’d have a little more understanding of how easy it is to get scammed?

  44. MedInformaticsMD says:

    After posting a link to this story to the American Medical Informatics Association mailing lists for the clinical information systems and the organizational issues workgroups, I realized why the name of the CMIO was familiar. I did a Google search and found he was a Medical Informatics trainee at Stanford when I was a trainee at Yale.

    I hereby apologize to the blogger community from the field of Medical Informatics. Our goal is to promote informational clarity and honesty in biomedicine. This affair is, to me, a professional embarrassment.

    Interesting that I was not approached by WellSphere. Perhaps it’s because of my Medical Informatics background. It may also be due to the fact that I have a known no-nonsense style in dealing with questionable biomedical information practices of any kind, including IP (see my case study at http://www.ischool.drexel.edu/faculty/ssilverstein/failurecases/?loc=cases&sloc=^yaleinf ).

    This quite long story for an example of Ivy shenanigans in that regard).

    I’d likely have read the TOS and then eaten the profferers of such an offer alive.

  45. MedInformaticsMD says:

    The URL is not being parsed properly by this blog’s comment engine due to a carat in the URL.

    That URL can be reached by clicking here.

  46. Lou says:

    I’m one that got scammed. I have a drug addicted son, and have blogged about it for a year. I signed on with Wellsphere, and after a time I stared getting questions from their readers, as I was a health “expert”. These were serious, potentially life threatening questions and I was very alarmed. It took many emails to Dr Rutledge & others to get my blog taken off the site. I’m a mom, not a medical expert. Is anyone else concerned about the site dispensing medical advice from amateur (for the most part) bloggers??

  47. Mark Johnson says:

    As a former employee of Wellsphere, I share in the pain of the bloggers who feel duped. Unfortunately, I got an up-close-and-personal view of how unscrupulous the management team at Wellsphere is and I’m not surprised by their behavior.

    What I think is most unfortunate is that they’ve been rewarded for screwing dozens of employees, thousands of bloggers, and god knows how many other people. I hope that all of the bloggers included in Wellsphere’s “network” pull out as soon as possible.

  48. Fool Me Once... says:

    I feel for all of you, but see my earlier post.

    There is a much larger lesson here: don’t trust MBA’s who, for the large part, have few skills and little knowledge that they can monetize themselves without parasitizing the skills and knowledge of others.

    Some MBA’s come from a position of expertise in a domain. The MBA is a networking after-thought. These types don’t seem all that common.

    I don’t know which type this Gutman character is, but I suspect a few former employees could fill in the details.

    Maybe I’m wrong and it’s more about the person than the degree, but I think there is something to what I am saying.

  49. Kim says:

    Thank you Dr. Val. Ron Gutman and his doctor should be SUED for the amount of harassing emails and tricks on the contract. Greed and slim over personal value and self worth! Shame on you Ron Gutman! Never thought a person could be in the health field and be so callous.

  50. Roy says:

    Val, thank you for exposing this episode to the light of day. At My Three Shrinks, we tried to get Wellsphere to pay up for the access to our blog content, but no luck, so we told them no thanks.

    But I don’t feel they truly tricked people. Their intent was clear.

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