Reputation Management Revolution: Fake News Sites And Even Faker DMCA Notices

from the the-dishonest-leading-the-dishonest-into-a-new-world-of-unaccountability! dept

Pissed Consumer has uncovered another apparent case of bad reputation management, this one revolving around bogus websites facilitating bogus DMCA takedowns. It previously exposed a pair of lawyers using shell companies and highly-questionable defamation lawsuits to force Google to delist negative reviews hosted around the web. These faux litigants always managed to not only find the supposed "defamers," but to also obtain a signed admission within 48 hours of the lawsuit being filed -- a process that usually takes weeks or months, especially if the alleged "defamer" utilizes anything other than their real name when posting negative reviews.

In this case, the reputation management scheme involves the use of hastily-set up "news" sites that contain a blend of scraped content and negative reviews hosted at sites like Yelp, Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer.

Frankfort Herald, frankfortherald.com is a newspaper website that, despite its trustworthy name, has never really existed, for all intents and purposes, before January 2016 (according to archive.org). However, this did not stop them from sending a DMCA notice to Google claiming that they were the owners of the copyrighted material from Pissed Consumer that was published back in 2012.

On April 15, 2016 Pissed Consumer received a takedown notice for a review where frankfortherald.com claimed that they originally wrote the piece of news in question back on January 5, 2012. The review is about Brad Kuskin, and they claimed they had it published only 2 days prior to the article appearing on PissedConsumer.com.
Here's the supposed news article Frankfort Herald claims it owns in its bogus DMCA takedown notice.

The scheme is just as stupid as convicted fraudster Sean Gjerde's rep management Hail Mary: post copies of reviews or articles you want to see vanished at your own website and then issue DMCA notices claiming you own the words of others. It seldom works and tends to draw more attention to the content someone's trying to hide. (Of course, Sean Gjerde went the extra mile and tried to have the FBI's press release about his conviction delisted by Google…)

That's not the only negative content masquerading as "news" at the Frankfort Herald. There's also a negative Yelp review about a Spanish language school, a Ripoff Report review of a Georgia law firm and a CBS story about an apparent scam artist who suckered parents into shelling out thousands of dollars by pretending he was scouting talent for Disney. Disney disavowed any connection to the event. All of these have been targeted by bogus takedown notices under several names linked to the definitely-not-a-local-news-site "Frankfort Herald."

Whoever's behind that site has issued bogus takedown notices under the name "Heart Broadcasting" (a name that can only be found in the Frankfort Herald's site footer), "Frankfort Herald News Corp.," and "Frankfort News Corp." Perhaps most idiotically, it has co-opted the name of one of the world's biggest publishers in hopes of giving its bogus takedowns a veneer of respectability: "Hearst Media LLC."

Other fake "news" sites containing a jumble of scraped content and completely unrelated negative reviews have also issued bogus takedown notices within the last 30 days.

AthaNews sent one on March 25th where the sender claims the following is the result of their journalistic efforts:

Bought a house from Lala Ragimov and her “Developer” Husband “Tod”. On the surface their renovatinos seem solid but there were several red flags that I now wish we listened to. 1) “The Ragimov’s” are effectively the same entity. The claim of a seperate relator vs. develoiper and the games they play about “checking with the developer” are a joke. They are husband and wife! 2) We were told our roof was new but the condition was listed as “unknown” in discolsures. We were told this is common since the roof was repaired not replaced. The building was also conviently too tall to bring an inspector with a ladder without a special fee. The result? Leaks almost immideatley! [...]
Of course, the alleged infringer is none other than Ripoff Report, which shamelessly claimed this "journalist's" misspelling-laden "exposé" into a local realtor as its own. [eyeroll] AthaNews' mission statement -- found in the website's footer -- is lorem ipsum translated into English.

SEI World News is doing the same thing. It issued a DMCA notice to Google on April 7th, claiming one of its "news articles" was being "copied."

I am senior editor and my article is copied . Just to harm my reputation online . The article owner anonymously copied my content . Please look into this matter .
Once again, Ripoff Report is home to the targeted URL. SEI World has been playing this game for several months now, targeting negative reviews at other site with bogus claims of "copied" articles.

Searching Google's DMCA database using Ripoff Report as the target uncovers all sorts of "news" sites claiming negative reviews hosted elsewhere are the genuine byproduct of their journalistic endeavors. "Mass Communications Inc.?" Bogus takedown of a Ripoff Report review. Some site called "Global Girl Magazine" wants Ripoff Report to stop ripping off its "journalist's" work -- which is apparently something about a fund manager with an alleged penchant for scamming clients after taking their retainer fees, written in the first person. The same thing goes for the "Lewisburg Tribune." And so on...

The clustering of DMCA notices seems to point to a single reputation management bozo pulling the strings on multiple websites like a more focused Patrick Zarrelli. On the other hand, the scattershot approach and slippery grasp of the English language exhibited in the DMCA notices may indicate this is nothing more than a bunch of Fiverr freelancers making reputation management promises they can't keep. In some cases, it appears to have worked. Several of the bogus takedowns show Google has taken action and delisted links. But those victories will only be temporary. Any challenge from a legitimate site should see these decisions swiftly reversed.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Apr 2016 @ 8:25am

    Dodged a bullet there

    If this is how the system is abused when there's actual penalties for sending clearly bogus DMCA claims, just think of how bad it would be if there were no penalty at all! Why, people might send out clearly fraudulent DMCA claims just to demand that something embarrassing to them be de-listed, think of the hassle sites would have to go through to fight back against claims like that on a regular basis!

    Luckily though the very real and consistently applied penalties for abusing the DMCA system prevents such actions from occurring, much to everyone's benefit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 29 Apr 2016 @ 11:55am

      Re: Dodged a bullet there

      What actual penalties? For those penalties to be enforced, a plaintiff must prove that the violation was both knowing and willful.

      Since mind reading isn't possible yet and psychics reading crystal balls are not considered expert witnesses by the courts, it is generally easier to prove the existence of God in court than it is to prove that someone violated section 512(f) of the DMCA.

      When people use robots that don't meet the legal requirements of the DMCA, should reasonably know that they don't, and use them anyway -- yet the courts rule that this is not willful or knowing violation? Yeah, 512(f) doesn't exist except on paper.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 29 Apr 2016 @ 8:45am

    Wow. Hijacking the identity of a major publisher is such a ridiculously stupid move, the very idea of it Hearst my head!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 29 Apr 2016 @ 8:53am

    DMCA used to stifle free speech. Say it isn't so Tim. They said that doesn't happen. This MUST be an exception. If only there was a website that specializes in this sort of thing that could chronicle all the abuses. If only.

    https://www.techdirt.com/search-g.php?q=DMCA+abuse

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 29 Apr 2016 @ 9:49am

      Re:

      Problem is, this is not abuse of the DMCA. This is people using it exactly as designed: a process that allows content that someone claims violates the law to be removed under color of law without having to go to all the pesky effort and expense of actually proving that the law has been violated in court.

      When the stated purpose of the law is to provide an end run around a legal system that filters out fraud and illegitimate business practices, it's hard to make any serious claim that using it for fraud and illegitimate business practices is "an abuse" of the DMCA. This is the DMCA takedown system doing exactly what it was designed to do: facilitate the legitimization of fraudulent copyright claims with no Presumption of Innocence, no Due Process, and no accountability.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2016 @ 9:40am

    Reputation manager...

    ...equals scammer, spammer, fraud, liar, con artist, cheat, swindler. There are no exceptions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 29 Apr 2016 @ 10:32am

    Outright copytheft

    It seems to me this is outright copyright theft, independent of the bogus DMCA claims. Should be subject to $150,000 per article willfully stolen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 29 Apr 2016 @ 1:44pm

      Re: Outright copytheft

      I'd say you're right. They're bootlegging articles and reviews then trying to steal ownership of the rights from the true owner.

      Normal copyright violations don't meet the legal definition of theft, but this is the closest I've ever seen a copyright violation get to theft -- if the fake owner wins over the real owner, it actually would be theft!

      But since all it takes to trigger the $150,000 statutory penalty is illicit copying, this looks like it could get very expensive for whoever is behind the fraudulent business.

      But since the odds favor them being structured like Prenda, good luck ever collecting.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 29 Apr 2016 @ 10:39am

    I wonder if such idiots will actually help deliver a 512(f) precedent? And if so, maybe then we'll see how toothless it is (or not, courts can be unpredictable).

    In any case, It's getting harder and harder for the copyright cheerleaders to say this is some kind of exception and that copyright can't be used for censorship, no?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2016 @ 10:41am

    There's no proof that the DMCA is being widely abused except the article a week highlighting widespread abuse and the fact that an entire industry has sprouted up to take advantage of it in the absence of any punishments.
    But other than all the widespread abuse of the DMCA, there's no proof that there's widespread abuse of the DMCA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Black Bellamy, 29 Apr 2016 @ 11:01am

    Thanks for the heads-up, legal department notified.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 29 Apr 2016 @ 2:56pm

    Frank For The Rald

    As a side note, but did anyone else read their URL, frankfortherald.com, as Frank For The Rald? I know "Rald" isn't a word, but still.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2016 @ 3:01pm

    This reminds me of how 9gag tried to create the illusion that it created content by scraping posts from other popular sites and backdating them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 2 May 2016 @ 4:36pm

    Perjury?

    Doesn't the really open them up to the perjury aspects of the DCMA? Since they can be pretty much proven to NOT own the rights to the material they claim? Pretty risky tactic, and one I hope bites them in the rear end.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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