COMPUTER WEEKLY'S shrinking publisher Reed Business Information (RBI) must have breathed a sigh of relief when US construction portal Bidclerk.com withdrew its legal action over alleged denial of service attacks and a coordinated "click-fraud" scheme aimed at the portal's paid advertisements.
But the situation must still be embarrassing for RBI and its flagship IT title because the publisher has had to admit, and Bidclerk.com has accepted, that the UK company did not know what was going on with its computers in the US.
Bidclerk.com had accused the declining publishing house, which once owned a range of US construction magazines, of launching denial of service attacks and carrying out click-fraud against the construction industry networking site.
To put it in legal terms, the alleged misconduct by RBI included violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, breach of contract, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and violation of the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Bidclerk.com's case was to be heard in the District Court of Minnesota. Settling the case earlier this month, the two companies said in a joint statement, "After reviewing the information RBI provided and conducting its own investigation, BidClerk is satisfied that the suspicious activity affecting BidClerk's computers was not the result of intentional acts by RBI."
New RBI chief executive Mark Kelsey, who got his job on 1 October after the third board level resignation in as many years, can now sort out why his computers were hijacked and what his IT department was doing, or not as the case may be, to allow that to happen.
Kelsey's appointment came at the end of a tumultuous period that began in 2008 with RBI's parent company Anglo-Dutch multinational Reed Elsevier failing to sell it. Reed Elsevier needed to sell RBI because of the overhang of billions of dollars of debts that it had racked up.
That led to Reed Elsevier's then chief executive Sir Crispin Davis leaving, and he was replaced for a mere eight months by then new boy Ian Smith. Smith was then pushed aside by Reed Elsevier heavyweight Erik Engstrom. Following this management train wreck Kelsey got his job because RBI CEO Sir Keith Jones retired.
In the wake of Reed Elsevier's multi-billion dollar debt disaster, nicely timed to coincide with the worldwide banking meltdown, and the management musical chairs, RBI has been asset stripped to service the gaping fiscal hole. Magazines have been closed down and sold off and staff numbers have been cut to the bone and worse since 2008.
Alas this is not venomous claptrap but it is all factually true and the RBI board's need to deal with this otherwise trivial IT situation must be as irritating as unsubscribing from email alerts that they don't want but which are still being sent to them anyway.
One big issue behind the "unintentional acts" might be the lack of US IT oversight because what was once RBI's US wing is now little more than a shadow of its former self.
In the past the now cratering publisher RBI was a worldwide operation with businesses in Asia, Germany and the USA. But following the failure to sell the company in its entirety in 2008 the RBI US operation was pretty much closed down by spring this year and the Asian and German assets have also been largely disposed of.
In its desperation to rid Reed Elsevier of the debt, Engstrom's colleagues have even started asset stripping the parent company itself. Reed Elsevier has sold off legal database Lexis Nexis Deutschland but market rumours beforehand had the database buyer buying the whole of the Anglo-Dutch multinational. Today's announcement of Reed Elsevier's trading situation shows no improvement and its shares fell because of it. µ