Google’s Transparency Report: A Step Backward for IP Theft and Copyright Protection?

August 28, 2012 · Filed Under Brand and Trademark Protection, Intellectual Property, Search Engine Optimization · Comments Off on Google’s Transparency Report: A Step Backward for IP Theft and Copyright Protection? 

When I first read that a new factor in Google’s ranking algorithm was going to be DMCA take down notices,  just like the rest of the Search Engine Optimization community I was a bit shocked and curious about how this would play out.  Could this mean a whole new round of fake take down notices to attempt to hurt a competitor’s rankings in the SERPs?  Take look at the increase in these notices and I will let you judge for yourself:

DMCA URL Removal Requests Aug 2012

In my opinion it looks like it has jumped a bit, no?  It appears possible that people in the SEO industry may have seen this as a way to gain an advantage over a competitor and fire off some DMCA reports.  All they would have to do is report a competitor and watch Google penalize the competition in the SERPs, in turn making their own sites rank higher.

The entire Google Transparency report and the information in it is interesting, anyone involved in copyright or IP law should take a look. After I reviewed the report there was one main point that struck me — the transparency.  But in this case is Google perhaps being too transparent? I was basically just handed a list of over 30,000 websites which have the possibility of containing pirated material and various cases of Intellectual Property theft.

The first place that drew this to my attention was a small list of some of the worst offenders, which included a link to the entire list:

Google's image for top offenders as of August 2012

A quick copy and paste into my browser bar of any of these sites showed they were either torrent related, streamed full movies or had file storage.  File storage that could contain anything from pirated software to navigation DVDs for various car manufacturers. (Disclaimer: This being an election year I would like to do my best to keep my own actions transparent; I will fully admit that I at one time tried a torrent, but I did not inhale.)

But what was the one thing missing from the list? Probably the epicenter of DMCA requests from anyone in the entertainment industry: Youtube.

This was first pointed out to me by one of my followers, Matt Mikulla, on Twitter.  I looked a bit deeper on the site and was able to find a disclaimer on the home page in a pull-down tab:

Google's DMCA Disclaimer

So Google is transparently admitting they are not including any of their own properties (e.g., Youtube.com, Blogger.com and Picasa.com), which is okay, but they are also not including any data from mailed or fax complaints.  The only problem with this is anyone can submit a web form, but it requires a bit more transparency to make yourself less anonymous by submitting a written or faxed request.  I would have expected them to only accept written complaints they can verify for something that may effect their results algorithm.

Of course, there is the issue of publishing the list in the first place. By simply visiting any of the links on the first page I had access to more copyrighted material and Intellectual Property than an entire Best Buy™ legitimately sells in the first 5 minutes after they open for Black Friday.

Transparency on the internet has always been an issue that many companies struggle to address. There are so many I won’t even attempt to give any examples, especially since I would not want to single anyone out.  I applaud the effort at Google’s transparency, I only criticize the information they decided to disclose.  Personally I feel such a list has a potential to drive visitors to illegal sites; however, I also realize this list makes it easier for corporate legal teams to find and identify sites which other IP owners have already reported, and that they in turn may also want to report.  If you’re interested in protecting your brand’s copyrighted information, I would definitely suggest you review the list.

And there is the one issue that sort of makes the whole transparency list a little less transparent, the fact that Google decided not to include their own sites.  I’m sure they are appropriately policing their own site, after all, they should be equally protective of their own content on Youtube as they are of what they allow to appear in their SERPs in order to deliver quality results.  But I would be very interested to find out what percentage of that list was comprised of videos on Youtube …

 

WARNING: New Gplus.To Site Not Affiliated with Google

July 5, 2011 · Filed Under Announcements, Identity Theft, Social Media · 6 Comments 

With the launch of the new Google+ Social Network last week there has been a landrush of (mostly techie) people to start trying out the new service. As with anything new and untested, always be wary of your privacy settings on the web, and especially to whom you’re giving your information.

Recently a new site launched called gplus.to – this site has no affiliation with Google, no privacy policy, and basically no information about who owns it or how it uses your information. It is basically a URL shortener to provide vanity URLs for Google+ accounts. The problem is there is absolutely no verification in place. You can take anyone’s Google+ ID number, enter it in the box, and create a unique vanity URL for any name you choose – whether or not you have access to that Google+ account. This allows a huge potential for spammers to engage in Social Media Identity Theft.

There is an opportunity here for these site owners to start engaging in massive data mining because they offer no terms of service or privacy policy. So in addition to allowing anyone to capture anyone else’s vanity URL, they are also capturing everyone’s information for their own purposes. They can also redirect your URL wherever they want before sending you to your profile – Malware, tracking exploits, botnets, etc. You should be EXTREMELY cautious about using this service.

JULY 6 UPDATE: Someone associated with the site from Turkey got in touch with us and updated their site to include a simple About message which explains they are not trying to do anything malicious, and they are not affiliated with Google.  They also changed the appearance to make it look less like an actual Google page.  Wasn’t so hard, was it?

Microsoft Follows Google’s Rules of Trademark Use In PPC

Microsoft released an announcement today that as of March 3rd, 2011, they will no longer be making editorial investigations into “complaints about trademarks used as keywords to trigger ads on Bing & Yahoo! Search in the United States and Canada.”  What this basically means is they are allowing anyone to bid on a trademarked term for PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising, even if someone else owns the trademark on that term. They still, however, will investigate text within the ads (note their new “Investigations” policy).
Trademark Pay Per Click
This basically follows suit with what Google has already been doing – allowing the competitive purchasing of trademarked terms in the United States as PPC keywords, while not allowing the use of trademark terms within text ads (when deemed inappropriate).  The U.S. is one of many regions where Google will not investigate keyword trademarked infringements, but ad text only (see full list here).

According to Microsoft’s new statement, they are only ceasing investigations to the U.S. and Canada on PPC trademark buying, but obviously they could expand their list of regions in the future also.

So what does Microsoft suggest you do if someone is buying your trademarked term, misrepresenting your brand, and stealing your customers?  According to their new Intellectual Property Guidelines, “If there is concern that an advertiser may be using a trademark keyword inappropriately, the trademark owner should contact the advertiser directly.”  So now the onus is on trademark owners to spend the time, effort, money and litigation to exert the government-granted right they paid for to protect a trademark.  This is basically the same stance Google has been taking for a while now.

Of course, one can readily see why both Microsoft and Google don’t want to be the gatekeepers on PPC trademark rights – they want more advertising money.  By opening the flood gates to allow illegal trademark purchasing, they can get a lot more competitors buying click terms.  Pepsi can buy Coca Cola, and Ford can buy Nissan.  It’s up to the trademark owners to battle it out in court.

If you’re a trademark attorney representing a major brand, you will now have to be ever more vigilant in policing the web for cases of trademark infringement.   And if you’re an SMB out there trying to create a brand and protect a trademark on the search engines?  It’s the wild west out there now, and anything goes unless you have the money to take every competitive PPC buyer to court.

The New Threat of Typosquatting (Misspelled Brands) in Social Media

September 13, 2010 · Filed Under Brand and Trademark Protection, Domain Names, Identity Theft, Online Reputation Management, Social Media · Comments Off on The New Threat of Typosquatting (Misspelled Brands) in Social Media 

A recent tweet by Andrew Nystrom of Red Bull brought attention to a growing trend we’ve noticed in Social Media sites such as Twitter and Facebook — that of TyposquattingTyposquatting is a form of brandjacking/cybersquatting in which someone registers the misspelling of a brand or trademark term in an attempt to capture traffic from a legitimate well-known entity.  In the case of social networks, this is done by using the misspelling of a username, such as in Justin Bieber’s case. The real @justinbieber has 5.2 million followers, but a misspelled dupe account of @justinbeiber (the i and e transposed) with zero tweets already has over 16,000 followers.

Typosquatting on domain names is not a new practice on the internet; it was clearly identified as a threat as early as 1995 by the Federal Trademark Dilution Act and targeted directly in 1999 with the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act which “established a cause of action for registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name confusingly similar to, or dilutive of, a trademark or personal name.”  Eventually ICANN also established the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) for further protection against domain name squatting.


Like defensive domain registrations to prevent cybersquatting, trademark owners should acquire a company name, any trademarks, and any other important intellectual property brands on all social network sites.
Traverse Legal, 9/21/09

While this helps protect trademark owners from issues with misspelled domain names, there isn’t really anything in place yet which protects them on social networks.   This was evidenced as early as a year go by reports concerning name misspellings being bought and sold on Twitter, and not just as usernames, but by API names as well.  It seems wherever a user can supply content on a social network, there is the possibility of that content’s true owner being misrepresented.

So what can trademark owners do to protect their brands?  They can wait until after their name has been squatted and issue a cease and desist to each social network and try and recover it, or they can use a service like KnowEm to proactively register their mark on popular social networks.  For purposes of full disclosure I will point out that I am a co-founder of KnowEm, and I am happy to stand behind our service as the first and foremost social networking trademark protection firm on the internet.

You don’t necessarily have to rush out and use a professional service to protect misspellings of your trademark on every social network, but at the least you should consider monitoring not only the usage of your brand or mark, but several misspellings as well.  Typosquatting has been around since domains existed and there’s no reason to believe it will go away anytime soon, especially with the continuing popularity and growth of social networks.

Welcome INTA Attendees to the KnowEm Boston Tweetup

May 24, 2010 · Filed Under Announcements, KnowEm News · Comments Off on Welcome INTA Attendees to the KnowEm Boston Tweetup 

KnowEm is proud to sponsor a tweetup tomorrow tonight with Rob Holmes (from The KnockOff Report) and Nils Montan (of IP Ally) at the International Trademark Association’s 132nd Annual Meeting.  The tweetup will be from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at McCormick & Schmick’s in Boston (1 Faneuil Hall Market Pl, North Market Building).  KnowEm is sponsoring the tweetup, so drinks and appetizers are on us!

The tweetup is an informal get-together where we can talk about IP issues, cybersquatting, trademark misrepresentation, social media identity theft, and just about anything else you feel like discussing.  We’re very happy to be in Boston for the INTA Annual Meeting this year, and we’d like to thank the organizers Rob and Nils for inviting us to sponsor the tweetup.  If you’re at the INTA Meeting, or are simply interested in trademark and intellectual property issues in social media, let us know if you’re around.  We’d love to see you there!

Social Media Identity Theft Hits Facebook; Stolen Identities Up For Sale

April 23, 2010 · Filed Under Identity Theft, Social Media · 3 Comments 

Identity Theft isn’t just something that impacts your bank account or credit card.  Your brand or trademark can be hijacked in social media and on the web as well, and we’ve seen it thousands of times here at KnowEm.  Most recently, according to PCWorld, a hacker named Kirllos has offered up for sale 1.5 million Facebook user accounts.  Facebook hasn’t confirmed that this is a verified hack or if Kirllos’ claims are actually legitimate, but the fact that there is a market at all for claimed usernames should give you an idea what their value is worth.

The stolen Facebook identities are offered for sale at between $25 to $45 per 1,000 accounts, making them go for as little as $0.025 per username.  But imagine if one of those stolen names was the name of your brand or trademark term?  How valuable is it for you to control your name on the web? Now think about the intellectual property value being lost, and how much it might cost in legal fees to wrestle it back under your control.

At KnowEm we often see brandjacked names in social media being used to hawk counterfeit products or promote affiliate links to questionable landing pages which are obviously not under the company’s control.   Someone will register a brand name on a popular social media site (and there are hundreds of them) and then use it for their own purposes.  After all, if you were a consumer and saw a brand name you were researching had an account on Twitter, wouldn’t you just assume it was that brand, and trust any links they published?  Thousands of people do every day.

Even if the Facebook hacker’s claims aren’t legitimate, social media identity theft is a real threat and should be a major concern for anyone using a unique name on the web. And after all, isn’t that everyone?

Be an Intellectual Property Hero; Don’t Ignore Social Media

April 22, 2010 · Filed Under Intellectual Property, Social Media · 6 Comments 

In the Intellectual Property world, few things matter as much as a name.  Since the advent of the business name and the trademarked word, nothing has been used to identify quality and individuality more than a unique name.  A unique name, as obvious as it sounds, is how people know to buy your product instead of something else.  This was common sense back when there were only billboards, magazines, radio and television.  It was also manageable.

Whether you use Facebook, Twitter or FourSquare (or none of the above), you need to protect your name on all social media websites.  Our America Online screen names were all that we cared about ten years ago.  Five years ago, all we cared about was our Myspace profile name.  Then Facebook.  Then Twitter.  Now FourSquare.  Which will be the next big site tomorrow?  Today there are thousands of startups vying to be the next big social website.  Currently there are hundreds of sites gaining traction.  Will one of these be the next big thing?  Of course.  And there is no way to tell right now which one it will be.

I advise IP attorneys for a living and stress more than anything else that securing your client’s name on every possible site is the best thing you can do for them.  Some make money pursuing cybersquatters and negotiating purchases of user names.  But seriously, what could take a few minutes now can leave you to much more important tasks. And who doesn’t want to be the hero?

Rob Holmes is the CEO of IPCybercrime.com LLC, a full service trademark investigative agency.