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June 26, 2005

DMCA: The New Blackhat for Yahoo! search

UPDATE:

The site has since been relisted by Yahoo!, as described here:
Platinax relisted by Yahoo!

You can have other people’s websites easily removed from Yahoo! search.

Simply by stating a claim of copyright infringement has been filed with regards to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), you can have a competitor or innocent site dropped entirely from Yahoo! search.

All it requires is a personal malicious complaint, or else get some low-paid foreign worker to stick their name on the DMCA report against another site - and, voila! - instant hand removal from Yahoo! of the entire contents of the targeted website.

Heck, let’s forget malicious - after all, misunderstandings happen. Perhaps you blogged about another site and quoted a section, published their headlines via RSS, or simply had their trackback on your site when they blogged about you - now what is to stop the person you quoted from misunderstanding application of “fair use” or how blogs work, and filing a DMCA complaint against your domain to Yahoo!, thus completely removing it from the Yahoo! search index?

Even worse, Yahoo! doesn’t think it has to tell you about your site being delisted. Maybe you’ll just wake up one day and wonder where your referrals from Yahoo! have gone. And if so, don’t expect to ever get any answers anytime soon.

It’s a system that is open to abuse, and can be easily used to punish targeted webmasters and business owners because:

  1. Yahoo! will not check the validity of DMCA complaints,
  2. Yahoo! will not inform the webmaster/site owner of the copyright complaint against them,
  3. Yahoo! will not even make a public report to a body such as chillingeffects, whom Google refer their DMCA complaints to for public reference,
  4. A webmaster will be unable to get a response from normal Yahoo! search channels as to the reason why their site is suddenly not listed in Yahoo!
  5. A webmaster who finally discovers that a DMCA has been filed, will be unable to learn what that complaint is, and generally faces a continued communications blackhole, and inability to rectify the matter.

This presents a remarkably simple method for removal of third-party sites through malicious reporting.

And I should know - the domain that you’re reading this on, www.platinax.co.uk - was removed from Yahoo! search in November 2004, apparently after such a complaint - a complaint that I was never even made aware of.

Interestingly enough, no DMCA complaint has apparently been filed against Platinax via any other search engine - and even after Yahoo! finally confirmed that a DMCA complaint has been made to them against this site, Yahoo! will not provide any details of the complaint.

The result is that after 8 months Platinax remains delisted from Yahoo! as a direct result of this complaint.

The Long Version

I’d been in various stages of development with a handful of business reference sites last year, and realised that it would really work a lot better if it was all consolidated into a single site.

Platinax was created in October as something I could brand market and develop into a relatively wide vertical for small business, firstly providing free resources and information, but secondly supporting small revenue generation options, such as advertising and directory listing fees.

I knew that Slurp was traditionally slow to update, but when Platinax still failed to show on Yahoo! in January, I became concerned that I’d accidentally tripped a redirect error when setting up from all my other sites. Yahoo! had been famously tripping up on redirects, especially 302’s.

So I went about taking all redirects off, and setting up the old sites as archives, and thus I figured that Slurp would finally update and begin to list Platinax.

However, nothing happened. So I asked at SEW for a contact address at Yahoo! to find out what may be the matter. Despite sending e-mails to the Yahoo! search feedback e-mail address, and via the feedback form on the Yahoo! search itself, I ended up in a Yahoo! search feedback blackhole.

I dug around a little further and eventually found an e-mail address that the Yahoo! anti-spam team were known to reply to, so I contacted them - only to be told, in no uncertain terms, that Platinax had been completely removed from Yahoo! search by a DMCA complaint, and that there was nothing that the Yahoo! search team could do - this was an issue I should chase up with the Yahoo! legal department. It was all confirmed in a second e-mail when I asked for clarification of the issue.

Yahoo!’s legal department doesn’t answer the phone, and after a month I’ve not had any reply to my first e-mail to them or second follow-up e-mail - effectively stating that I am not aware of any copyright infringement, and to please forward details of any complaint.

It looks like another Yahoo! feedback blackhole.

After all, when the Yahoo! legal department almost routinely fight billion-dollar claims with internet giants, why the hell have any concern or interest in some poxy webmaster and his dumb little missing website?

At the beginning of June I actually managed to have a word at the London Search Engines Strategies with Tomi Poutanen, the International Search Business Development Director for Yahoo! - and he made it plain that Yahoo! didn’t see it as their business to report DMCA complaints, but he felt confident that the system was not open for abuse.

Of course, it’s funny that Google and MSN apparently have had no DMCA complaint made against this site. That looks very odd. Coupled with the fact that I am not apparently in receipt of a any copyright complaint by a third party, makes if very difficult not to believe that any such DMCA report was maliciously made.

It’s also extremely disappointing to apparently not be in receipt of any kind of notification of such a complaint, despite that the DMCA procedure apparently requires it.

At the end of the day, Yahoo! can list who it wants to list in its search index. I do not begrudge them that right.

However, if a third-party alleges that one of my sites is in breach of the law on any issue, whether of copyright infringement or otherwise, I should expect that I be properly notified of such a legal situation, not least so that I can responsibly respond to such a complaint.

I am now in the somewhat ridiculous position of having been removed from Yahoo! search for over 8 months now, over a legal complaint that I have never even been made aware of.

It seems that the DMCA complaints procedure at Yahoo! is seriously lacking in basic protections, and Yahoo! needs to make a proper effort with regards to accountability, in relation to processing such complaints by raising them properly with the parties concerned.

Otherwise there is nothing to stop abuse of this system - abuse of a system that I fear Platinax has already fallen victim to.

Seems like DMCA is the new blackhat for Yahoo! - forget redirects, there are easier ways to have other people’s sites delisted from Yahoo!.



Related posts to:
"DMCA: The New Blackhat for Yahoo! search":



12 Comments »
  1. This is very sobering news. I wish this had been posted before the Webmasterworld Conference in New Orleans last week… I would have asked Tim Mayer about this and its implications.

    Comment by Dan Kramer — June 27, 2005 @ 4:19 pm

  2. Hm…and what will be if I will report about Yahoo personals or Yahoo mail? Will they drop them out of search results? :) That’s imbecility, what will be with unlucky webmasters? They don’t know what to do and how to protect themselves and their own sites from this stupid Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

    Comment by Venera's citizen — July 2, 2005 @ 9:05 am

  3. This is great and distressing information Brian, but it appears you must have resolved this issue as I see your site at #1 in Yahoo! from your delisted link above. How about an update as this story just went out in WebProNews today!

    Thanks.
    martin

    Comment by webseo — July 12, 2005 @ 8:08 pm

  4. Thanks for the comments - the site update was just posted earlier this evening:

    http://www.platinax.co.uk/blogs/brian/archives/2005/07/platinax_relist.html

    Comment by Brian — July 12, 2005 @ 10:49 pm

  5. I seem to be lost. All the claim says:
    DMCA section (512) (f) defines penalties for knowingly misrepresenting a claim.

    DMCA section 512 (c) (3) (A) requires the following of notices alleging copyright infringement

    What does this have to do with re-directs?

    Comment by Joe Balestrino — July 12, 2005 @ 11:35 pm

  6. the planitax site looks listed on yahoo to me (from that link)

    Comment by jenny — July 13, 2005 @ 12:01 am

  7. Hi Joe -

    The issue of redirects was simply that, as commented upon, Yahoo! used to have reported problems with 302 redirects. Hence why I initially believed the site had fallen foul of a redirects error, and so took off the redirects I was using and created archives instead.

    Hope that helps.

    Hi Jenny -

    Indeed, I posted an update earlier this evening, about how Yahoo! had contacted myself and stated that the site had been re-submited for indexing.

    There’s an inactive link in the comments above, and a live link to the update at the top of the article now.

    Sincere apologies for any misunderstanding.

    Comment by Brian — July 13, 2005 @ 12:39 am

  8. From reading through all this about DMCA
    …I worry about one thing and ask …with Yahoo!
    are ‘red-directs’ allowed, nor sure if they are 301, 0r 302…. what re-directs are acceptable to Yahoo???

    Comment by Jean Hughes — July 13, 2005 @ 9:06 am

  9. Jean, the issue with redirects and Yahoo! was a reported problem last year, but luckily it seems to have been resolved since.

    I shouldn’t worry too much about that issue. :)

    Comment by Brian — July 13, 2005 @ 2:37 pm

  10. If you misuse the DMCA you can be sued and held liable for damages and attorney fees.

    Comment by section 512(f) — July 14, 2005 @ 10:22 am

  11. Absolutely right - but the concern is that if there’s an allowance for abuse in DMCA reporting to any individual ISP, then such reports may conain false name and contact information, with no attempt at proper verification until *after* the fact of the report being filed.

    Comment by Brian — July 14, 2005 @ 2:16 pm

  12. I did not know you could get sued. WOW!

    Comment by Steve — January 17, 2008 @ 7:40 pm

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