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Don Burleson Blog 








Internet Copyright infringement and web page cloaking

Tech Tips by Donald Burleson

As I'm sure you know, it's illegal for anyone to use deceptive business practices, and there are a variety of laws to protect the victims of web page theft. 

Detecting web content theft

The Copyscape web site and are an easy place to find people who have stolen and re-published your web content. A Google search is another great way to spot content theft.

There are some of the law that I found that address the theft of intellectual property and copyright infringement.  Here is my review of the US copyright laws and their remedies.

Deceptive Business Practices

US Federal Trade Commission Guidelines on deceptive business practices.  The FTC is very clear on this requirement:

"Connections between an endorser and the company that are unclear or unexpected to a customer also must be disclosed, whether they have to do with a financial arrangement for a favorable endorsement, a position with the company, or stock ownership."
Deceptive business practices, are defined here by the FTC:
"An ad is deceptive if it contains a statement - or omits information - that:
  • is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances; and
  • is "material" - that is, important to a consumer's decision to buy or use the product. "

Dastardly web hosting companies

I have a small web hosting company and we will not hesitate to "boot" anyone who steals or cheats, but sadly, there are exceptions, and nasty web hosting companies who have no trouble aiding and abetting criminal acts.

My most recent theft (of hundreds of my web pages) was not addressed by the web hosting company, even after several e-mails and telephone proof of the content theft, as required by law. 

Criminal statutes against facilitating a crime

The DMCA is quite clear that a web host is only free of liability while they are unaware that they are facilitating a crime, and failure to act may have criminal penalties.  The US has felony laws prohibiting aiding and abetting criminal activities, but it is not clear whether these laws extend to aiding cyber criminals, computer fraud, and computer forgery.  According to the FindLaw entry on criminal aiding and abetting a criminal (emphasis added):

"A criminal charge of aiding and abetting or accessory can usually be brought against anyone who helps in the commission of a crime, though legal distinctions vary by state.

A person charged with aiding and abetting or accessory is usually not present when the crime itself is committed, but he or she has knowledge of the crime before or after the fact, and may assist in its commission through advice..."

Unfortunately, law enforcement is generally reluctant to step-in (many are not proficient on "that thar Internet Thang"), and it can be impossible to have your stolen content removed from the web.  The bad guys know this, and many of the hosting companies are more concerned with making money than doing the right thing.

Inside deceptive page cloaking

If you do the Google search burleson, you see 250 stolen pages on the domain.  If you click them, you are re-directed to their home page, to buy their illicit crap.  It's called page cloaking, and it's a form of cheating, outlawed by all of the major search engines.  The problem is, that the Googlebot never sees the deceptive redirects and cloaking and th4ey rely of reports from their users.  You can report page cloaking and deceptive redirects to Google here.

Here's the Google results page, showing that when you look in their site in the Google search and the word Garmany, you see their results.  Take note of the URL that it shows, which is the the URL that you get when you click on the link: 

When we click on it, it redirects us to their main advertising page:

So, how do we wee one thing, and Google another?  the answer is the browser information which is sent as part of a TCP/IP packet.

Here we change my User Agent to Googlebot, which makes their site believe I am Google:

And suddenly, the whole page looks different!  Now we have a ton of links going to spidered content from all kinds of sites all over the internet.  Your sites used to be part of this spidered content, but it appears that they have desisted from that...probably because you complained to their host.  Here is what it looks like when it thinks I'm the Googlebot:

Note the URL in the top is the TRUE URL, it doesn't redirect me if it thinks I'm Google.  While Google will be removing your site from their cache as soon as he's reindexed, it's still not right what he's doing, and he could easily do it again.

This is just a brief foray into the unsavory world of Internet content theft.  If you are fortunate enough to have a friend in law enforcement there are plenty of laws to punish violators, but the risks are small and the rewards great for those who choose to steal the works of others.




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