Site Jacking and the DMCA

Friday, November 30, 2007
Posted by Jim Hedger @ 10:19 am

Far from being the sincerest form of flattery, imitation is often a big waste of time.

Two days ago I was performing a rather dull set of SEO experiments when I noticed something very disturbing. While testing Google’s SERPs against keyword phrases inserted into the Metamend Facebook profile, I found a Chinese SEO company had completely stolen the Metamend source-code, images and all. The Chinese firm, Okwoo.com had slightly altered and translated the site-text into a Chinese language but had left blog postings (many of which I wrote) in the English language they were originally written in. It’s called site jacking and it happens more often than a reasonable person might realize.

The discovery posed deep problems on many levels, the least of which was the series of phone calls that overtook the better part of the afternoon. It’s never much fun to tell the president that you’ve found a problem, even when you are not the one at fault. The way these things inevitably turn out, when you find and report it, you get charged with fixing it.

Aside from the insult of having a bunch of strangers steal our source-code, the incident of site jacking could cause a cascade of problems for Metamend. Thinking about effective and efficient damage control, we had to look at potential issues one by one to figure out which were the most pressing and how to prioritize our responses.

The first issue broached was the question, “Are we somehow being associated with their deceptive practices?” The most honest answer is, “We don’t know.”

Metamend has worked hard for its excellent reputation. We have no idea how the Okwoo company operates except knowing they steal source-code and site content. They could be distributing malware through their site, a practice Google recently cracked down on. There is an image link included at the bottom of their INDEX page that does not appear on the Metamend domain that leads to a suspicious looking software distribution page at c6.50bang.com/. This is definitely an association Metamend would, under every other circumstance, avoid with extreme precision.

They are using our in-house SEO tools on one of their pages, making them available to their site visitors. We can probably cut their access off immediately by banning their IP range though there is little we can do about damage the association might have already caused in the algorithmic eyes of the engines.

We have established that Okwoo is using a java-script to re-direct URL requests so their site visitors would not necessarily know they are using tools from another domain. The java-script also limited our view of links back to the Metamend site from theirs. That’s one of the reasons the jack went on for more than six weeks without us noticing. We are hoping that the script also created a spider-proof firewall between Okwoo and Metamend preventing search bots from associating Okwoo’s access to our toolbox with Metamend’s general profile.

The next issue of concern is that of duplicate content. Okwoo scraped content from the Metamend Blog as recently as September 5, retitling it “../index-5.htm”. Literally hundreds of links from that and other blog entries accessible through the index-5 file are directed (through the javascript) back to the Metamend domain.

Along with duplicate content comes confusion for site visitors. The Okwoo site is a visual copy of the Metamend site. It uses our colours, images, logos and tools. We can read the English language text that has not been translated into Chinese and confirm it is an exact duplicate of content found on the original site it was scraped from. We can assume by the layout of other pages that Okwoo copied them directly and translated the text into a Chinese language. Even their corporate name is a blatant copy of our own. They call themselves Okwoo Software and Design. Glance to the left to see what our full corporate name is.

To make matters stupider, they have not changed the meta descriptions used on pages throughout the site. Each mentions Metamend, exactly as we first wrote them. Could a reasonable person be left with the mistaken impression that Okwoo is an extension of Metamend into the Chinese market? Maybe…

While Metamend has no pretensions of being a player in the burgeoning Chinese SEO market we would like to be sooner or later. We have every right to protect our name, brand and image within that market and any market we might choose to serve now or in the future. The Internet is a global marketplace. The use of our images, source code, written content and SEO Tools creates the potential for confusion on the part of Chinese and international web users. That is obviously unacceptable.
Clearly the theft and repurposing of our content presents several problems and issues that require immediate attention. Like we don’t have enough work to do already eh?

There is not much we can do about damage already done. The content-theft and site-jack has gone on for more than six weeks. Okwoo is established in the indexes of Google, Yahoo and MSN. A search under the keyword phrase “Metamend in the community” puts Okwoo on the first page of results in all three engines. Chances are there hasn’t been a great deal of consumer confusion as yet however the engines might perceive something amiss somewhere in a chain of cross links, duplicate content and malware distribution, and take decisive action against us.

Luckily, there is a way to request the copied content be removed from search indexes and establish one’s innocence through disassociation. Unfortunately, it is an ugly tool to wield. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects content creators from having their work stolen and republished without their permission.

Using it, website owners can ask the search engines to remove incidents of stolen content from their indexes. While it will not necessarily compel Okwoo to remove our source-code and content from their servers, the three complaints Metamend filed with Google, Yahoo and MSN sets out a reasonable and logical request that they remove reference to Okwoo from their search results until Okwoo stops using our source-code and content. That should limit their motivation to use the stolen content now and in the future.

Filling out a DMCA complaint is not an easy undertaking. Each engine requires a unique complaint filled out in a specific manner. A DMCA complaint is a legal document requiring a sworn statement that the information provided is true. Spurious complaints can be met with a fine of up to $10,000. The complaints must be mailed or faxed and, with the exception of MSN, will not be answered if sent via email.

Here are links to the complaint process as outlined by Google, Yahoo and MSN. Read each very carefully before writing or filing the complaint. Google will also publish the complaint at the website Chilling Effects in order to provide a measure of transparency to the process of removing content from its results.

Filing the DMCA complaints is the first step in what we hope will be a short and successful journey. We’re prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the theft of our code and content and potential confusion on the part of consumers and search spiders but would rather just go about doing our daily business without such distractions.

I have a pretty good feeling that someone over at Okwoo will see this writing sooner than later. Hopefully they will have the good sense to remove all Metamend code and content from their domain as soon as they realize they’ve been caught.

1 Comment »

  1. I think you handled the situation about as good as possible. Given that the site is actually hosted in China, unlike other Chinese sites that just host in the U.S. or Europe, there really wasn’t much that you can do.

    However, I do have one question, you say that each search engine requires a special DMCA notice. That has not been my experience. Though search engines require a different notice than hosts, they seem to follow the same format. I’ve never had a problem with my DMCA notice. The requirements are set by the law itself and not by the search engines, try as they might.

    I’m just wondering if you’ve had experience to the contrary in this area.

    Comment by Jonathan Bailey — Saturday, December 1, 2007 @ 6:27 pm

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