Somebody's Distributing Your Copyright Content Illegally? Know Your Facts Before You Accuse by June Campbell|
Is someone distributing your software or other copyright
content illegally over the Internet? It's possible. It
happens. If you can prove your case, you have grounds
for legal action.
BUT -- before making yourself look foolish and creating
enemies, have your facts straight. A reasonable
understanding of Internet technology can prevent you
from ending up with egg on your face.
Take this situation. I've changed names to protect the
A representative of an online business emailed me
saying, "It has been brought to my attention that
you have made the "something.com" public download
files freely available for download by FTP from your
web site. Would you please let us know immediately
what is going on and what your justification is
for doing this."
First mistake. If the files are "public download
files", then what is the problem? Public download
files are freely available.
However, since I had never heard of their
software, I responded with a request that the company
rep show me the link or at least provide a
screen capture of the alleged FTP activity.
I received an apologetic email from the company
rep saying that she could not locate a link to her
software from my site. "Perhaps your site has been
confused with someone else's," she explained. Second
mistake. If you're making an allegation of this nature,
know where the problem can be found and be ready
to present evidence to the other party. You look more
than a little incompetent if you can't back up your
claim in the most elementary way.
A few hours later, a third email arrived. This time,
the company rep accused me of being untruthful
and threatened legal action. She then
backed up her case with the following URL:
Sure enough, "theirfiles" were available for
download at this link. And, sure enough,
www.nightcats.com is my site domain. HOWEVER,
had the company rep had a basic understanding of FTP
(File Transfer Protocol), she would have understood
that a "pub" directory is "public" -- and therefore the
URL had nothing to do with my site.
A phone call to my web host confirmed they were hosting
both my site and the other company's site. Since both web
sites were on the same public server, any domain listed on
that server would have produced identical results with the
FTP URL given above. That is, you could change
ftp://www.nightcats.com/pub/users heirfiles/ to
and you would get access to this company's software. If
a web administrator has set up the server to implement
anonymous FTP in this fashion, then all that is necessary
is for both web domains to be stored on the same server.
And that brings us to the fourth mistake. If you don't want
your copyright-protected software files to be available for
public download, why in the wide world would you store
them in a public FTP directory where everyone has free
access? Public means public. If you want the files to be
available only to authorized users, doesn't it make sense
to have a private, password-protected directory set up on
your web site?
Had I wanted to be vindictive, I could have posted the URL
to multiple newsgroups and mailing lists. Hundreds of
people could have downloaded those files before the
problem was corrected. I didn't do that, but some
What can be learned from this episode?
1. An understanding of basic Internet protocols is
essential if you are running an Internet business. It is
equally important that your agents, employees and
company reps are trained, since they are the ones
that are likely to make the mistakes.
2. Have a tech-guro available to advise you on
issues that are beyond your current understanding.
3. If you're operating an Internet business, get a tough skin.
You'll be accused of some mighty interesting stuff.
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