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(June 26, 2001) Way back in the dark ages ('94 or '95), the largest online Recruitment Service was run by HelpWantedUSA on AOL. The scheme, founded by Wayne Gonyea, provided a huge supply of job listings to AOL. Territories were established on a regional basis.

In those days, AOL rewarded its content providers on the basis of the number of minutes their users spent looking at a particular content area. The more time, the more money. The HelpWantedUSA team theoretically gathered job listings from employers around the country. As the database grew, revenues grew.

It was early in the game and very, very profitable.

The secret to the operation's success? The regional representatives used their keyboards to turn newspaper classified advertising into job database listings. Although this aspect of the operation was kept well hidden, it was the key to profitability. There were always rumors of copyright infringement and intellectual property piracy. The end came for other reasons.

As AOL matured into a single priced subscription service (in those days you paid by the minute), the obligation of paying for content time became extremely counterproductive. Ultimately, AOL began charging content vendors (like the current Monster agreement). Once the financial incentives were rearranged, HelpWantedUSA died a relatively quick death.

It's funny how history repeats itself.

The value of a job listing/posting, while rarely protected, is indisputable. By aggregating job ads into a single database, one could easily evaluate hiring plans, new product launches and internal quality programs. Job Postings disclose the strategy of a company in advance of its execution. Although it is relatively common practice for one recruiter to borrow another's "well turned phrase" (just as web plagiarism is rampant), the practice is neither ethical nor legal. While online copyright law is still evolving, several principles are clear: a copyright notice on the site is adequate protection for legal purposes. That means that a job listing is protected if the home page has a copyright notice. Copying it without permission is actionable. Displaying it in another database is cause for concern.

Job scraping firms, with their mission of aggregating data, are the most interesting repeaters of history. Just like HelpWantedUSA, their objective is to create the appearance of fullness in the database. It gives their customers the appearance of completeness. It's really no surprise that these shortcuts are a part of the process. Nothing is new.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

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