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TMCNet:  Labour urges Met to go ahead with inquiry into Shapps firm

[February 28, 2013]

Labour urges Met to go ahead with inquiry into Shapps firm

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Labour is calling for police to press ahead with an investigation for possible fraud and copyright violations into the family business founded by the Tory chairman Grant Shapps - for selling software that inflates a website's advertising revenue by copying other people's content - after many of its web pages disappeared from the internet.

The opposition had been pressing for the Metropolitan police to launch an investigation into How To Corp, an internet marketing firm set up by Shapps and his wife in 2005, which through its website sells "autoblogging" software that creates an instant cashflow by allegedly plagiarising information.

This week Steve McCabe, a Labour MP, wrote to the lead officer in the specialist crime and operations division dealing with the case to warn that five months after his original complaint: "How to Corp appears to have taken down many of its web pages, thus making it harder for any investigation to be conducted." How To Corp created a product, TrafficPaymaster, that McCabe says seems to be specifically designed to "circumvent the rights of copyright-holders".

The software creates content from other sites - which Labour says means "copying it and using it without permission in the process of running a business".

The company could be prosecuted, suggests McCabe, for "possible offences committed against the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, as well as conspiracy and obtaining a pecuniary advantage".

The Guardian first revealed that How To Corp's premier product - a $497 (pounds 313) software package, TrafficPaymaster - created web pages by "spinning and scraping" content and sought to attract advertising, in contravention of Google's code of conduct. In response Google said it would blacklist sites created by TrafficPaymaster.

McCabe has also got hold of a TrafficPaymaster user manual and presents this as fresh evidence to be considered by the police.

"If you note the properties on the document, you will see the author is 'Grant'. This may add further weight to the contention that the document was authored by Grant Shapps MP," he said.

The Met said the force is "still assessing an allegation relating to the breach of copyright. There is no investigation at the moment." Going under the name Michael Green, in 2007 Shapps claimed audiences could "make $20,000 in 20 days guaranteed or your money back" - if they spent $200 buying his bespoke software.

A year later, in 2008, Shapps transferred his share of the company to his wife, Belinda.

Michael Green has been replaced by Sebastian Fox as the face of the company. Shapps said TrafficPaymaster was created two years after he left the company, which is now run by his wife.

Captions: Grant Shapps set up an internet marketing firm that Labour thinks could be subject to prosecution under the copyright act (c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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