Case Study: How Google Hosts & Funds A Copyright-Infringing Web Site

Color me tired. I got a report of a site that reprinted one of our articles without permission. Checking it out, I discovered that miserable combination of someone making money off content they don’t own, paying nothing to host that stolen content on Google’s Blogger service and earning off that content through Google’s AdSense ads. And reporting the infringement is oh so easy. Not.

So here’s the fun loving site:

Infringing Site

The most current article shown comes from Search Engine Land. It’s reprinted in its entirety, without permission. There’s even a credit line shoved in at the end:

Sure, A Credit Tag Makes It Better

Newsflash, to anyone who doesn’t get it. You can’t just shove a credit at the end of a story and assume that gives you permission to reprint an entire article. You have to ask the source. No ask; no permission.

Sometimes this happens by accident. People just don’t know any better. Usually when it comes to my attention, I track down a contact address or form, send a short, polite note that summarizing an article and linking to it is fine, but reprinting it is not. Usually, that works just fine.

In this case, there is no contact address. That’s got me all ranty. Hey Google — you’re going to let someone have free web space? Make it required that there’s a contact address of some type. This blog doesn’t have the standard navbar that has the report abuse link right at the top of the page, probably because they use FTP publishing. Well, figure out a way to require that of anyone. It’s absurd people have to otherwise hunt down a way to report this junk you allow to be hosted.

I did track down links to use. One is the DMCA form. I can see that two pages were stolen from our site. So, I could fill in the incredibly long and complicated form and enjoy the fun of Whack-A-Mole.

But you know, I shouldn’t have to do this. I should have a much simpler form that I can fill out that says “Hey Google, look at this site you’re hosting for free. They’ve clearly stolen our articles — you can see they’ve stolen some other ones. Why don’t you suspend them and see if they mount a defense. If so, then drag out the complicated forms. Otherwise, employ some common sense.”

Yeah, that’s the damn form I want. But you don’t have it. You do have a report spam blog form, so I used that. Just put in the URL and whoops! That’s all you do. That’s all you ask for. You don’t ask for any comments about the blog, what’s wrong with it and so on. Apparently, the URL alone is enough for you to then respond with this not-so-reassuring confirmation message:

Thanks for reporting this possible Terms of Service violation. We will examine it soon and take action as necessary.

Yeah, I’m believing that. Well, maybe I can hit the blog where it hurts — in the AdSense all over the page. Surely Google AdSense doesn’t want to make money off infringing c0ntent, right? Surely there should be an easy way for someone who sees Google ads all around stolen material to report this. Right?

Sure. Those “Ads By Google” links are a way to do it. But check it out. When I clicked on that link, here’s what I saw:

AdSense For Beginners

It’s an ad for AdSense and AdWords.

It wasn’t until I went back and looked harder, scrolled down, that I discovered this:

Oh, That's Where You Report Bad Sites

Oh, there’s the link to report a problem with the ads. How could I have missed it?

Hey, that new Browser Size tool you just rolled out? I ran it against that Ads By Google landing page. It tells me, using your own stats, that 80% of the people coming to that page will have to scroll to see that link.

Now here’s a thought. I think most people on the web who want to run online ads at this point know you have them. That “Ads By Google” link? It really doesn’t need to be a product pitch for people who click on it. No, you’ve instead got two key audiences. Those who want to opt-out of your behavioral targeted “interest” ads and those who want to report some crappy site that you’re helping fund. So let’s fix that page and make the message be focused as it should be.

Let me add that when you finally do locate the policy violation page, it rocks. You’re giving me exactly what I wish Blogger would — that one click “Hey, there’s something screwy with this site” option:

Now That's A Nice Form

Thanks. Fingers crossed, you’ll act on it.

Related Topics: Channel: Display | Features: General | Google: AdSense | Google: Blogger

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://tins.rklau.com/ rklau

    Hi Danny – Looking forward to talking about this with you this afternoon. In the meantime, for anyone reading this, I thought a couple comments were worth making:

    * when we revised the DMCA form this summer, it was in part in response to rights holders (like you) expressing frustration over the process. We tried to simplify it, and our commitment is to act on submissions via the form within 48 hours. From your post, it’s clear that the form itself leaves room for improvement; I’m looking into ways to address this (esp. the AdSense policy violation page).

    * re: repeat violators. As we mention on our DMCA page (http://www.google.com/blogger_dmca.html), we *do* terminate accounts for people who’ve repeatedly violated our content policy.

    I’m open to ways of making this more responsive to content owners’ needs, and eager to address concerns by you and others that we’re somehow incented to perpetuate this content. We’re not. We actively combat abusive content – whether it’s scraped content (the case you outlined), malicious (distributing malware, for instance) or otherwise harmful – and take down scores of these blogs on a regular basis.

    That said, thanks for bringing it up. Hoping that after talking I come away with some additional ideas for how to improve things.

    –Rick

  • syns0r

    Hey Danny,
    To get the Report Abuse link for the blogger blog in question. Change the ‘Page Style’ to ‘No Style’ in firefox and then do a find for Report Abuse and you will see the link.
    The thief has it hidden it with CSS so just disable the CSS and report him (or her).

    Daniel

  • http://www.fairsyndication.org richpearson

    Hi Danny,

    Unfortunately, cases like this are pretty common for anyone publishing quality content. Interested if you would to prefer to share in the AdSense revenue made from sites like these vs taking them down?

    AdSense would still get its cut, but the remainder of adsense revenue would be split between you and the republisher.

  • Monte

    Great post Danny. Maybe Matt will get back to you. Keep up the good work.

  • http://www.marketingwords.com Karon Thackston

    I have experienced the same frustration. There is a site hosted by Google that is giving away one of my books as well as over 700 other ebooks. I’ve contacted Blogger and gotten no response. I’ve faxed a DMCA report to Google — twice two weeks apart — and gotten no response.

    I’ve resorted to contacting others whose books are being given away free of charge – including the publisher of the famous Dummies books – so they can have their legal departments jump on board.

    It really is frustrating to supposedly have this wonderful legislation on our side but to face unresponsive and seemingly uncaring hosts who refuse to take action.

    What’s the point of having the DMCA at our disposal if the complaints get ignored?

  • Richard A

    Don’t celebrate too soon. Based on my experience the action they will take is that in about 4 weeks time you’ll get an e-mail inviting you to submit a DMCA notice in writing and that’s it!

  • http://tins.rklau.com/ rklau

    @Karon – Please e-mail me any specifics (rklau -at- google.com) and I’ll work with our removals team to find out why this didn’t get addressed in a more timely manner. Really sorry to hear that we haven’t been as responsive as you expected. Also interested to hear why you faxed the DMCA complaints instead of using our web form?

  • http://www.JiansNet.com briteguy

    I think scraper sites like trailfire.com also presents the same problem for us content writers. They have a html frame that displays other websites content without permission, but with no links or whatsoever to the original content. Also, it is all under the so-called “innovation” of discovering the useful stuff on the web.

    I think Google should remove trailfire.com and such scraper sites from the search index. Same as the above scraper site too.

  • http://www.marketingwords.com Karon Thackston

    Thank you, Rick. I’ll do that this afternoon. Much appreciated!

  • http://seoroi.com Gab Goldenberg

    @Rick from what I’ve read on blackhat sites, you still payout on these clicks even if the account is terminated. Perhaps refusing to pay for such clicks would change the economics of spam and reduce problems (and PR black eyes) like these…

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