That’s a slight lie. They’re impossible to stop, but you can reduce sharing by almost 100%. That’s exactly what I did when it came to people pirating my own software and I’ll show you how. But first, a scenario: You’re with your child (or niece, nephew or young cousin) at home and find yourself needing a few hours break to get some work done. Said youngster tells you about a movie they’ve been dying to watch and you see it as the perfect opportunity to get some peace for a few hours. You begin the online hunt to find it.
It’s not on Netflix, which you pay for monthly. iTunes doesn’t seem to have it either. Hulu looks promising, but then you get an error saying it’s not available in your current region. Then, what’s that? A Youtube link for that exact movie. 2 hours long, and in perfect HD quality at that.
Do you click play?
You probably know it’s not there legally, especially when the uploaders description is “I don’t intend any copyright infringement” as they often tend to do. If you’re like anyone who I’ve asked this question to before then absolutely Yes, you would click play.
It’s easy to do something like this when you really don’t have to face any direct consequences of the action. Your ISP isn’t going to turn off your internet. You’re not going to get sued by Disney. And it has 55,000 views already so it’s not like you’re the first.
While this is a rather tame example, I’ve had to deal with copyright infringement quite a lot over the last few years for my own products and services. It started out when I launched Cloud Living way back in my PluginID days, and has certainly continued with software like OptinSkin and even my most recent launch, Backlinks XXX.
Notice the predisposition towards internet marketing products. Anything you launch in the IM niche has a far greater chance of being ripped from your site and shared around the web. IM products are not alone, but ‘pirates’ keep me 100x busier than any non-marketing software has.
I can confidently say that as of the time this blog post goes live, there is no access to Backlinks XXX or OptinSkin that is publicly available. At least not on the first few pages of Google, which is what I believe all product owners should be aiming for. The truth is that you cannot stop people sharing your product — they will find a way. Microsoft and Adobe are billion dollar corporations but any teen can go and download Microsoft Office or Photoshop right now. While you can’t stop it you can limit the exposure to it at the heart of where people find pirated content: Google.
I’m aware there are versions of OptinSkin out there but I am not going to take them down. Why? They’re literally the first ever release of the software and it doesn’t even work properly at all anymore. We’ve made dozens of upgrades since that first iteration. I get a laugh out of people who use customer support and are clearly running a pirated version.
I am aware that writing this blog post is probably going to open me up to a lot of Blackhat marketers, many of whom read this blog, and like the challenge of now putting my stuff out there on the web. This is a topic I really wanted to cover as I believe it can help a lot of content creators, so I’m not going to let that possibility scare me from helping others.
It’s not like people haven’t been trying. I’ve successfully removed hundreds of releases of each product from the web already. A few more won’t hurt, since I’ve very much refined my approach.
This is not only prevalent for Internet Marketing (IM) related products. Even IM forums share fitness products, courses on productivity, WordPress themes and video courses from independent creators. Today I’m going to share with you how to protect your precious product launch from people who simply want to share it with others.
Before tackling this, I did have to think about what must go through someone’s mind to share this kind of information. I’m not an internet angel, I remember getting a pirated version of Photoshop back when I was younger because I simply could not afford to purchase it. That being said, I would never dream of uploading it for others though even if I knew how to share it with total anonymity.
From what I can tell, the main motivations are:
If there’s anything obvious I missed, please do let me know.
There’s nobody willing to take the blame for the piracy.
The forums pass it off to their users in their terms of conditions before you register. The forum user passes the blame off to the file sharing site because he doesn’t actually host it. The file sharing site then passes the blame onto the uploader. The web host passes the blame back to the file sharing site, and on it goes.
Everyone wants to share it but nobody wants to take responsibility for it.
The forums want to share it because this is the major reason why people visit Blackhat forums anyway. The users want to share it because it increases their rep on the site or they make money from the file sharing host. The file sharing host wants to share it because they make money on ads being displayed and can get you to download other software for a commission.
The hosting company with the file sharing site wants to keep getting that big hosting income every month so they turn a blind eye until asked otherwise.
In the early days of OptinSkin, it was really disappointing to see how much the software had been shared around the web. There was one person in particular who seemed very set on getting it out to as many people as possible.
What made my clean-up operations harder was that these sites will often mirror their uploads to other locations. So you only need to share my software once and it’s automatically on dozens of different websites where people can download it. That gets frustrating very fast.
I got to the point where I was spending so much time filing DMCA requests and the like that it became a little too much. I stopped focusing on where the software was but instead on who was sharing the software.
I found my ‘target’ and sent them multiple PM’s on a certain forum, asking them to please stop. I didn’t get a response. I then decided to try and get their phone number. My thinking was that if I could speak with them, maybe I could reason with them over the phone and they would see that I’m a real person who would really appreciate if they didn’t do this.
As luck would have it, with enough persistence, I got the phone number. Their username had came up on a a gaming forum, where they linked to a website they presumably owned in the signature. Fortunately the WHOIS data was open, and based on the surname being very closely related to their username, I thought I had who I was looking for.
This was nearly two years ago so forgive me for not having this perfect, but the call mostly went like this:
Me: Hello, is this Alisha?
Receiver: No, that’s my son.
Me: Oh, I’m just calling to talk to Alisha about some software he has been using on the internet.
Receiver: Sorry, we’re not looking to buy anything.
Me: Ahh, no. I’m not trying to sell something to you. Alisha actually owns our software already, I just wanted to talk to him about it.
Receiver: Uhm…Okay, hold on.
**Some muffled talking in the background**
**This time it was a very, very young voice on the end of the phone. I would say no more than 13**
Me: Hey Alisha, are you a member of a Blackhat forum called XXXX
**If he hadn’t said yes, I don’t know how I would have continued the conversation**
Me: I’m just phoning because you’ve been sharing my software all over the web. It’s something that cost me thousands of dollars to make, over 6 months to put together, and I would appreciate if you weren’t doing that.
Alisha: OK, sure.
Me: I would appreciate if you could take down the links and threads that you’ve been starting on forums
Me: Can you do that after our call?
Alisha: Yes, I’m sorry. That’s no problem
Shortly after the call, the links were in fact taken down. But not until Alisha sent me one last message. He finally replied to the Private Message (PM) I had sent him a few weeks prior.
“Fuck you. Don’t phone me. I’m not the only one sharing your software. Fuck you”
I have to admit I laughed. As soon as the phone was down, the keyboard warrior attitude returned.
One of the most prolific sites on sharing the creations of others, especially from designers on Theme Forest, is ThemeOK. They neatly packaged Backlinks XXX up in a ZIP file (videos included), and shared it via a blog post on their website. This blog post subsequently ranked very highly in Google.
As do most of their blog posts. The traffic potential in this niche is absolutely huge…
I didn’t blur out the domain to make them totally anonymous. They’re very simple to find, but they don’t deserve any traffic or free publicity from me (or any blogger).
I filed a DMCA request with the website owner (more on DMCA’s later) and asked for the page to be taken down. After I received a confirmation of the page being gone, I had hoped to get an answer on their motivations of running the site:
He says the other sites copied his information yet he had the power to remove the links almost instantly. It also makes no sense that someone else would promote his site in the file URL. Since that email exchange, ThemeOK actually rebranded themselves to ThemeKO. They’ve definitely found a niche that people are flocking to in the tens of thousands and are looking to take advantage of this:
Trust me, there’s no EXE file that comes with any of my products. Without downloading the file, it will likely either assist in putting malware on your computer or actually give you something like a toolbar, where the site owner gets paid for that install. Or both.
Guess what happened on the very first day of launching Backlinks XXX? I got 10 customers for the income of one!
I decided to try a little idea that I wasn’t sure if it would pay off. I tried to get in on a group buy of my own product because that way I would know exactly who purchased it originally before sharing. Every copy I find on pirate sites tells me who shared it, even if they ripped text directly from my pages.
I’ll teach you how I know who shares something later in the post. And it doesn’t involve anything messy like license keys. My attempt at getting in on the group buy didn’t work, but I guess I should be reassured that they wont give my work to other people very easily.
I found that people were even willing to abuse a vulnerable website (vulnerable meaning it has some kind of hole that allows people to post content on it). Backlinks XXX found itself promoted on the official website of Mary Mary who seem to be quite well known in America (can a commenter confirm?).
On another note, that site is being abused very heavily and those spammy pages rank very highly.
Some people will even go as far as to build their own file sharing forum and the file hosting site that hosts the files. Effectively taking money from both sides of the equation. Allegedly. Legally it seems safer if I add that this may not be the case.
Let’s just say that that Feedurbrain.com (the forum) and iSaveLink.com (the file sharer) who use the same domain registrar, and have the same WHOIS location, is pure coincidence. Also that iSaveLink support threads get answered by Feedurbrain.com members is just totally random and not related.
Feedurbrain is a tricky one because the website owners do not respond to any emails via their contact form. The email addresses’ found on their WHOIS data also doesn’t work. For this one, I had to go directly to their host. Put a domain into Whoishostingthis.com and you’ll find out who their hosting company is.
For Feedurbrain, it turned out to be ID3 (a dutch company) hosting the forum and Namecheap hosting the file sharing site. I’m amazed Namecheap would host a website like this to be honest. I submitted a DMCA request via ID3 and Namecheap and the page was removed from the forum within a few days. However the page is now back and Namecheap never once responded to a single email. All I received was that ‘this has been forwarded to our legal department’
I sent two follow-ups and didn’t get a single response. It doesn’t help when very large, seemingly legitimate companies don’t seem to care that their clients are operating in this way. I wonder how the marketing guys at Namecheap would react if they knew. Anyways…
For a good portion of my products now, I invested in a way to track people who simply copy content from a membership site or try to crack a plugin and share it around the web. For instance, here’s what you see when you first visit Backlinks XXX:
I really didn’t want this to seem like some kind of scare tactic, and simply wanted to mention that we’re not stupid and we actively do track people sharing our software and videos. Notice the specific sentence I highlighted. Since we’re using a form of membership software already, all we have to do is tap into that with specific information for each user.
Essentially you can pick a point in your content where you would like to place randomised content (this is unique data you assign to each user) then you track any shares of that item. It will only match one person, and then you can go and look into Paypal or Clickbank or whatever and get more information on that person.
I think this works so well is because nobody is going to have any idea where those sentences are and they actually make fairly decent sense. Since adding this page (and the plugin) I’ve noticed that sharing of the product has stopped by almost 100%.
I haven’t found a single copy of my membership sites shared since I added that security notice and implemented the randomising system. I’m not trying to tempt any Blackhat forums here; I’m simply trying to help you protect your own creations from people who would love to see them spread across the internet.
Usually I would share this with you but let’s not make their job easier. You can get this done for less than $100 on oDesk.
The DMCA stands for the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and is primarily what allowed me to get hundreds of files taken off of file sharing websites. Like this:
I’m not a laywer (obviously) so to get specific information on the DMCA I recommend the Wikipedia page for the act, here. As I understand it in its basic form, it enables you to prove that you are the owner of specific content and would like the infringing material removed.
Most file sharing sites have the following DMCA requirements:
Which ends up looking something like this:
Keep it saved somewhere so that you can use it again very easily. I like to use Canned Responses for Gmail so in just two clicks that whole message has been pasted. Then you just change the location URL of the infringing download or page.
9 times out of 10 this is all you need to do and the pages are usually removed within 48 hours. It’s not as difficult as you maybe once first thought. You will make some forum members unhappy though…
If you can’t get a specific file sharing site to comply with a DMCA request then you still might be able to get the page taken out of Google’s search results if they are actually infringing on your data. This is a tricky one because on one hand some of them are only linking to the site and not actually doing anything illegal.
However, if they have taken content from your product or your sales material (unique images, sales text, etc) which is common, then the Google URL removal tool is another option to think about.
Amazingly, URL’s get removed within 2-3 hours of submission. There’s always 1 or 2 that don’t get approved that fast – I don’t know why – or not at all. As you can see below though, I have been fairly successful with this.
You can find the URL removals dashboard in Webmaster Tools at this URL.
I hope I’ve just shed some light on the things that aren’t clear and known to everyone. Don’t forget to think about the other options at your disposal as well. Besides my security page example, this was very much a case of what you can do after this happens to you. Don’t forget about other things to do before as well.
This could be things like using membership site software which limits login attempts for each account and allows you to protect download links to zip and PDF files. If you’re selling a plugin then at least put some form of licensing in the code, even if it can get cracked.
There is a very big business out there online for people to share your products. They get paid by the download companies or get free VIP status on Blackhat forums (along with some rep points). The forums make special areas for people to share these downloads but don’t take responsibility for the content of it.
Essentially they turn a blind eye as it is a major traffic driver to their sites. The fast growth in this niche doesn’t always pay off though…
If you have any of your own advice and suggestions, I would love to hear them in the comments. I really hope this helps some of you with current and future product launches online…