Pirate site uses web hosting site with fake testimonials in order to process MONEY for copyright infringement

From the “What Do We Have Here?” file:

We have recently been dealing with a site that has been trading in the content of one of our clients and despite numerous DMCA notices, the site refused to remove the infringing content.  Now before you assume our client is some big corporation with oodles of money, I should tell you that the client in question is a single individual, who made an amazing and heartfelt documentary about his trials and tribulations as an independent contractor in a very rough and tumble industry.  It was received tremendously by fans and critics and was financed via Kickstarter donations and every copy sold was literally handpacked and shipped by the filmmaker.

So in other words, spare me the “MPAA is a corporate monopoly blah blah blah” arguments.  This is a small business owner we’re talking about here.

Anyway, so we sent this site numerous DMCA notices, yet no response from the site.  We DMCA’d their host (Luxembourg-based Root.lu) who also ignores notices about copyright infringement.  So we were forced to take other measures.  The first of which was to hit them where it hurts – their wallet.

You see, this site sells access to these pirated materials.  Using the false pretense of “just covering server costs” the site solicits “donations”.  For a fee you can have access to terabytes of content from other small businesses.

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So we notified their payment processors which initially included Paypal, Webmoney, and Google Checkout.  Paypal cancelled their processing, Webmoney eventually did too, and finally Google Checkout.

This didn’t deter these guys from continuing to try and profit from the hard work of others.  Their next move was to remove the public donation options and try and hide just how they were processing money.  They required would-be donators to Private Message the owner of the site and ask for the process to go about making a donation.

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So using an undercover account we Private Messaged the admin and asked how we can make a donation:

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So we checked out the site referenced by the admin:

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Looks legit right?  But apparently according to the admin of the piracy site, this is a front to process payments for the copyright infringement site.  But it got us curious as to all the other information on that site, I mean after all – there’s freaking testimonials and everything.

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So let’s check out those testimonials.  The first one from John Shipley seems nice.  Let’s throw it into Google and see what comes back:

Google results of John Shipley’s testimonial

Wow!  Apparently John gives a lot of hosts the EXACT same testimonial:

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(from: http://allwebco.com/testimonials.shtml)

And here:

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(from: http://www.jsshosting.com/)

Apparently it’s a family affair – here’s Peter Shipley’s review:

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(from http://www.reviewcentre.com/reviews170165.html)

Well now we can see that John has converted to Islam:

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from (http://inodes.us/clients-testimonials/)

And then he reverted back to his christian name, except he lost a -y in the process:

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from (http://www.v7n.com/forums/web-hosting-forum/127855-best-web-hosting.html)

I think you see what’s going on here.  There are dozens more of John/Peter/Zulfiqar‘s testimonials on oodles of web hosting sites.

You can do this for every single “testimonial” on http://grand-host.org/testimonials.html

The best part might be this from Grand Host’s Privacy page:

Grand-Host is committed to developing long lasting relationships based on trust. As such, Grand-Host will do everything in its power to ensure that your right to privacy is maintained and protected. Our Services are not directed at children under 13 years of age.

One would have to wonder how much trust you can put in a company with fake testimonials.

Well as it turns out, the reason why these “testimonials” are the same for so many web hosting sites is that instead of using real customer testimonials, these sites are using a template:

http://www.websitetemplatesonline.com/free-template/grand-host/templateinfo.html

So it’s not even clear that Grand-Host.org is even a real company, or is merely a front to be used to launder the money derived from the piracy site.  Both sites are registered to the same individual:

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This also begs the question of how legit the other sites are that are using the same fake testimonials.  But that’s a whole other question for the FTC to decide.  And then again, this site isn’t hosted in the United States.  Plus we wouldn’t want to deprive this site of their ability to use fake testimonials lest we want to hear from the copyleft how this is the exercise of free speech and how much better the internet is because you can launder money through what might be a fake business with fake customers in order to profit from someone else’s work – what piracy apologists would describe as “innovation”.

Needless to say, we will continue to put pressure on this site, though at this point our suggestion to our clients is to start looking at litigation as a possibility.  Using a US-based company (Google) to launder money to support your copyright infringement site seems to be just begging for a lawsuit.

And yes, this does pass the Office Space definition of “money laundering”:”

“To conceal the source of money…as by channeling it through an intermediary.”

If I was the owner of this site, I’d be hoping to not wind up in “federal pound you in the ass prison” too.

“Nobody told me I COULDN’T pirate it”

Recently we were alerted to a site using video footage from one of our clients movies on a Youtube-esque website.  The client had not given this site permission to use this footage and they wanted us to send the site a DMCA notice.

Upon inspecting the site we noticed the following things this site was doing that were highly questionable:

1.  The content was not “user uploaded” but was uploaded by the site owner himself (the site owner would later confirm this in an email.

2.  The site had no registered DMCA agent with the US Copyright Office.  Not that it would help with every other thing they were doing wrong but if you’re going to be in the business of using other people’s content, you should register a DMCA agent.

3.  The videos uploaded by the site owner had had their original watermarks overwritten by one placed there by the site owner that advertised not the content owner, but the infringing site.  Removing a watermark is pretty cut and dry copyright infringement.  See here.

4.  When confronted about these actions the site owner claimed he was an affiliate of the content creator and thus this gave him the right to use any amount of the footage as he wanted to.  He then claimed he “forgot” to add a banner for the affiliate, but that he would add one immediately.  Note: there were several other infringing videos on the site, nearly zero having affiliate banners.  It’s easy to see he only added the banner after being caught.  Though he still was using a full length chunk of the movie, nothing close to “promotional” content.

5  When asked what made him think he could use any length of material he wanted without getting the permission of the copyright holder he replied “No one told me I couldn’t use that much of the movie”.  I believe in legal terms he’s attempting the willful blindness defense which I think ranks right up there with the “Chewbacca Defense” when it comes to a sound legal strategy.

This is a person running a for-profit website that makes money off of copyright infringement.  I can’t believe they actually ran this business plan by any sort of lawyer, but in their emails to us, they acted incredulous that we would have the nerve to call them out.

Just another example of the egregious exploitation sites like this engage in every single day.  And there would be a line of ideologues a mile long ready to defend this guy with hollow arguments about DJ remixes, copyright terms and claim this is somehow “fair use”.