Anatomy Of A Bogus DMCA Scam Run By A Plagiarizing Website

from the back-to-the-future dept

We have been banging the drum for some time now that the way the DMCA has been setup and is put in practice is wide, wide open for fraud and abuse. A huge part of the problem is how content owners police the internet in general, with the overwhelming majority of DMCA notices coming from bots and automated systems. Because of the imperfections of this technology, and our allowance of its use, the end result is that copyright policing on the internet is done with a shotgun rather than a scalpel, leading to all manner of mistakes and collateral damage. But even setting those instances aside, the fact is that DMCAing content on the internet requires so little in the way of verification that there is any true ownership of the content rights in question that bogus DMCA takedowns are the norm, not the exception. And, given how little consequence comes along with issuing a bogus DMCA notice, bad actors are practically encouraged to perform this sort of chicanery.

This leads to all sorts of subterfuge from bad actors looking to fool the people or, more likely, the automated systems policing any of this. One story from Plagiarism Today serves as a nice primer on just how intricate and annoying these nefarious actors behave. Writer Victoria Strauss tells the story of having one of her online articles removed over a DMCA claim. Strauss was understandably confused, as she was absolutely the original writer of the piece, and so she went digging into the details.

The original post, which was published on September 28, 2018, detailed the implosion of Fiery Seas Publishing. She had written the article herself and couldn’t figure out what was infringing about it. However, when she checked out the “Original URL”, it took her to a post on a blog named Comusa and operated by a person known as Bella Andreas. However, the post was dated to September 3, 2018, 25 days before the real original post went live.

Strauss then realized that the plagiarist clearly backdated the post and then filed a DMCA notice to make it look as if she was the infringer. She then went through other posts on the blog (which has been inactive for nearly a year now) and found that every post on the site followed that pattern, copied wholesale from another site and backdated. Strauss further noticed that many of the post dates on her site actually predate the registration of her domain, with some going as far back as 2014 and the domain being registered in 2016.

Worth noting is that "Bella Andreas" has issued at least 10 of these DMCA notices on other publications as well. All appear to have copied the content of others and then backdated the dates of the posts to facilitate the ability to send a DMCA notice.

But... why? Well, this looks to be a slightly new take and method for setting up a "spam site" where there is copied content from other publications. The speculation is that the spammer, whatever their actual name is, is trying to generate some traffic to the site through these spam posts so that it can setup more lucrative online advertising programs on the site at a later date.

All in all, it’s a standard spam blog, complete with misspellings in the tag line and name. It doesn’t have ads or outbound links, but if the site was only launched in December 2020. The operator is likely waiting until it is performing better to add them.

What makes this case unique is the DMCA notices. Why would a spammer want to send DMCA notices against the original authors and draw more attention to themselves? Though it’s impossible to know for certain, there are a few reasons one might.

Those reasons are basically what you'd expect: attempts to get plagiarized posts considered the "original" by search engines like Google so as to drive up traffic and engagement. The bottom line, however, is that this is a systemized approach for abusing the DMCA process to benefit from the work of others. And it's also wildly clear that the current DMCA process and legislation is toothless for dealing with this sort of fraud and abuse.

The DMCA is in desperate need of reform and one of the things that is needed is an effective system to target those that maliciously abuse it. The upcoming Copyright Small Claims Court may provide some help with that, but it remains to be seen how useful and practical it will be in these cases.

It likely won't be useful at all. That Small Claims Court is both a complete mess of its own and will almost certainly open up yet another front for fraudsters to battle on.

The actual fix for this is far simpler. Build some real teeth and consequences into the DMCA process to enforce punishment on those who engage in fraud and abuse. It really should be that simple.

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Filed Under: copyright, dmca takedowns, post-dating, takedowns


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  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 30 Apr 2021 @ 7:47pm

    The actual fix for this is far simpler.

    Yes, it is: Turn the DMCA takedown system into a notice-and-notice system that operates under the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”.

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

  2. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Apr 2021 @ 8:25pm

    "The upcoming Copyright Small Claims Court may provide some help with that, but it remains to be seen how useful and practical it will be in these cases."

    If you define help as how we helped those cold Native Americans with those blankets....

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

  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2021 @ 11:51pm

    Well, this looks to be a slightly new take and method for setting up a "spam site" where there is copied content from other publications.

    This isn't new. I saw this exact practice happen multiple times, from different sources, over 5 years ago when I handled DMCA notices for a web hosting provider.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2021 @ 12:09am

    Re:

    Copyright enforcement has never been so much about punishing the actual culprits as opposed to making things even harder for people gullible enough to follow the rules, thinking that it absolves them from further harassment.

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

  6. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 May 2021 @ 1:45am

    Re:

    That could still require the accused to defend themselves so I would go with(or ideally add on) actual punishments for bogus DMCA claims. If you're going to swear under penalty of perjury that someone is violating your copyrights then you should absolutely face a penalty should you turn out to be lying or grossly negligent.

    I'd set the minimum penalty as being forced to pay the accused's legal fees so that people are less afraid to defend themselves, with the punishments scaling up from there depending on context and severity. If filing a bogus DMCA claim carried with it an actual risk for the one filing it I suspect that a majority of problems like this would disappear almost overnight.

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2021 @ 2:59am

    But... why?

    Demonstrate an ability to get articles taken down, and then market that as a service.

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

  8. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    jody arsbright, 1 May 2021 @ 4:59am

    shit

    fucken dickheaded cunts that are the american fuck heads cunts shit holes. cunts

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  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2021 @ 6:26am

    Re: shit

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  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 May 2021 @ 8:27am

    Re: Re:

    The antidirt replacements have really gone downhill.

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  11. icon
    sumgai (profile), 1 May 2021 @ 8:29am

    Re: shit

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

  12. icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 1 May 2021 @ 9:24am

    Oh for shame!

    How dare you!
    Don't you know I wrote this article first! back on April 31st 1957? How dare you try and claim it as yours!

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

  13. identicon
    Lumen team, 1 May 2021 @ 5:07pm

    This "backdated/stolen article" phenomenon has been going on for years. A Lumen team member wrote about his investigation into one set of examples ( found in the Lumen database) in 2017
    https://www.lumendatabase.org/blog_entries/800
    "One such tactic is the “stolen article” scam, which uses fake websites and backdated articles to remove content online. As described in a previous blog post, the scam typically plays out as follows:"

    More recently, see
    https://www.qurium.org/forensics/dark-ops-undercovered-episode-i-eliminalia/
    viz. "The servers of the Company World Intelligence LTD , which also is registered in the name of Diego Sanchez, host almost 300 fake newspapers used to clone existing websites with the purpose of “de-indexing” content out of search engines and run all sorts of “information campaigns”. "

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

  14. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 1 May 2021 @ 6:37pm

    I'm surprised a headline about "DMCA" "SCAM" and "Plagiarizing" website wasn't about Meshpage.

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

  15. icon
    ECA (profile), 2 May 2021 @ 9:14am

    always thought

    That the laws of the land should have a detriment to those with false claims.
    If a person found dead, and another says they Know who did it, and the claim is false, That person(s) should BE in the Jail cell.
    And when in HELL, were the laws to stop states from being Sued Start?
    False this and that should be prosecuted.
    Laws made long ago to control Capitalism, SHOULD check the Fines and update them ALLOT.

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

  16. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 12:40am

    Re: Re:

    "That could still require the accused to defend themselves so I would go with(or ideally add on) actual punishments for bogus DMCA claims."

    That's basically it. Where any other form of misdemeanor is concerned an automated and error-prone system would just generate a hundred thousand slam-dunk countersuits within weeks of being set up. But because of the magical words "copyright infringement" normal jurisprudens goes right out the window.

    For those of us who remember how the DMCA was set up we well remember that this exact issue was debated and rejected as the bought tools of the copyright cult kept whining that if stakeholders had to prove their claims or have any standards of validity, then that would put unduly burden them.

    Instead the great burden falls on everyone else who has to defend themselves from a steady hail of baseless allegations or waste massive resources sifting those allegations for validity.

    The DMCA is literally the law which forces Russel to prove the alleged Teapot orbiting Mars isn't real.

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

  17. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 12:42am

    Re:

    The one thing you can rely on when it comes to the copyright cult is that nothing of theirs will be original. tp is just a johnny-come-lately when it comes to ways of abusing or advocating the abuse of the DMCA.

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

  18. icon
    n00bdragon (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 12:10pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Great, now do red light cameras.

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

  19. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 May 2021 @ 6:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    There's a case to be made there. The red light or speeding camera at least catches the vehicular type, license plate, and other actual details. The burden of evidence required to go beyond reasonable doubt is going to be way less.

    The machinery behind automated DMCA takedown requests would in that analogy be unable to catch anything more detailed than "white four-door sedan" and randomly have any such vehicle found in the DMV registry clamped until the owner ran a court case to have it un-clamped. At which point the owner of the garage that owner had a parking spot in will have decided it's not good for business to have clamped cars around and evicts the car owner.

    It's not really comparable. Traffic fines and methods of enforcement exist to stem or mitigate negligent driving. We can argue the proportionality and rationale behind enforcement mechanisms, but the principle of traffic laws isn't in doubt.

    The DMCA, otoh, was expressly and relatively openly designed to be a giant exception of normal jurisprudens with burden of proof, in practice, reversed.

    Yeah, sure, if you can prove ill intent behind a takedown request there are penalties to assign - but such intent is almost impossible to prove. When you can literally set up automated trawlers to trigger on any mention of a keyword and send a takedown notice to any video or image where that keyword appears what you need is an actual written confession by the stakeholder that they knew their trawler was deliberately flawed.

    What sunk Prenda and ACS: Law was one thing alone - the parties involved had to go full "America's dumbest criminals" for a significant period of time and reveal the details of their con in audit trails. Other copyright trolls less inclined to obvious ineptitude remain in business.

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

  20. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 May 2021 @ 6:25am

    Re: Re:

    True enough. Copyright enforcement has never affected pirates.

    Legal users, especially independent creators, otoh...for them shit gets real in a hurry. I think I've read somewhere the average youtube channel owner spends more time fending off false DMCA takedown requests than they do actually recording their program.

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


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