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Your One Chance to Avoid a Lawsuit

Your One Chance to Avoid a Lawsuit

April 2, 2002
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" I took a deep breath, another big chug of frothy brew, and let 'the red rage' take over. "

Sometimes, in every adult Webmaster's life, there arises an occasion when only the threat (or execution) of legal action will produce the results we desire. When the situation presents itself, we must then decide what we believe in, and how much we believe in it, no matter which side of the coin we find ourselves on:

I've written about "Webmaster's who steal" before, and posted the responses from those who apparently feel that this behavior is acceptable — or at least justifiable. The previous times that I've discovered that one of my sites had been copied outright, I did nothing about it. After all, the 'borrowed' sites or pages were examples that had been used in articles and tutorials, and the folks who took them were not very good at removing my own sponsor links, the result of which is that I was making money off of their theft.

The most recent incident (that I am aware of) was discovered Saturday evening. I was drinking a vat of beer and tinkering with the backend of my oldest and favorite site, which I will soon re-launch after (yet another) major overhaul. During this process, I was going over my stats and noticed some odd looking referrers that pointed to pages that were no longer available to surfers, and that were never directly linked before; in fact, they were only accessible through doorway pages that now point elsewhere. Hmmm. There was also an odd pattern visible in my '404' files. Hmmm. Time to visit the referrer:

Hot on the Trail:
When I clicked the hyperlink on my site's traffic admin menu, a new window popped open. Low and behold: sitting there before me was a bastardized version of my baby. A deformed clone; mangled, but recognizable. This was too much for me. I felt violated, and clicking several of the links didn't help, as they either went to my sponsors (but with new referral codes), or they 404'd on my own site.

A 'Nuked' site using a PHP front end driving a mySQL backend, the thief simply chose to hit the 'Save As' button on their browser in order to grab as much of my site as possible. My mySQL server only responds to requests made from my domain, plus the structure and coding of this prototype site was probably more than they could handle, so there it lay: crumpled, and broken... I was aghast, and drunk; a dangerous combination.

I sent an email to the contact address on the stolen site, hoping for a swift response. I got one... The email had bounced back, a "permanent fatal error." I took a deep breath, another big chug of frothy brew, and let 'the red rage' take over. Dawn came running into my office to investigate the loud string of profane obscenities issuing from me, as I scoured the Web for exegesis on ancient grimoire — with the firm intent of conjuring Satan's minions for an assault on the culprits.

My 'Kitten' soothed me of course, and suggested a 'WHOIS' lookup to find an alternate contact address, instead of performing arcane rights to unleash the forces of darkness. A wise option, indeed. An impulsive and imprudent post on the Cosmic Village 'Speak Your Mind' board to share my pain with you, my friends, and I was off again, this time with a new contact email address. Here's the message I sent:

Kent,

I'll make it short and simple: remove your site at http://www.leatherandlace.net/ immediately (the one that you STOLE from ME at pornworks.com) and you will avoid me having my attorney force you to...

Regards,

Stephen

Getting Attention, and Results
With a subject line of "Your One Chance to Avoid a Lawsuit" I knew I would get his attention, and I did. Here's the response I received the next day:

Stephen,

First of all my apologies. This site will be taken down when I can get into the office or get a hold of my programmer to go over there. I was not even aware that anything had been done with this site. The last time I had looked at it there was a hub site there for a few CyberAge sites which are old. The person I believe that copied the stuff is no longer in my employ and we have found more than one site high-jacked.

I will tell you the whole story since there is a lesson in there and just maybe fodder for an article, post or something. If anyone else can learn something from my recent headaches, I will feel better. BTW I do read your stuff on a regular basis and appreciate the advice and helpful information.

Not long ago I hired a great Graphic Artist that enjoyed working in the industry. Where I went wrong was giving her too many keys to the works. Since she was also very close to finishing her MCSE, she doubled as a network admin and setup the sponsor ads on the sites that she was responsible for.

I remember well the day I was reading your article at TheAdultWebmaster.com and pointed out to her that we need to do something like Porn Works, meaning build a portal, not rip off a fellow webmaster.

About two weeks ago my partner and I started noticing a sudden down swing in the sponsor click thru rate for sites on certain domains. Entire domains which had previously produced steady traffic suddenly dropped a whole bunch, as much as 90 percent. The first few days we just attributed it to the ups and downs of our industry. By day 3 we knew there was something wrong.

Upon investigating nothing looked out of the ordinary. However, looking further I discovered that the referral codes were not our accounts! She had high-jacked the sites with accounts she had setup in her name! She had left some of our ads in place in the hopes that we would not notice. The day after I fired her I discovered (No, had pointed out by the model for the site) that the pay site we were preparing to launch for an amateur girl was a direct rip-off of Nina's site even to the point of still having Nina's email address on it. Not only was I pissed, so was my partner and the Web Girl who has severed our contract.

Bottom line is we still do not know how far this theft and deception goes and we are wasting hours and hours going over each site and hand checking link codes and referral links. I can tell you that the site in question is currently hosted on a server whose IP address is supposed to be utilized, not the production server it was on. Why there is even a server there I do not know.

I guess the real kick in the teeth is she was family, and I gave her work when The Getty did not renew her contract due to funding (I wonder now). She was making good money with us, and it was not enough. I trusted her way too much, but then sometimes you have to trust people to get anything done. Currently we have taken the precaution of disabling all FTP, user accounts from remote access and changed passwords. We hope we have blocked every avenue for her to get into our systems. We have wasted hours and hours of valuable time recovering from this and mending fences that could have gone into making money.

Again I want to apologize for this and hopefully can mend another fence.

Kent I then considered the enormous value of referrer stats and 404 logs, the power of a WHOIS lookup, and the need for monitoring all aspects of our operations...

Lessons Learned
Giving Kent the benefit of the doubt, I began to consider his email, and the vulnerable position that many of us are found in; including the potential for legal problems, and disembowelment by Beelzebub, that we face as a result of the misguided actions of our underlings. I also considered that I was not powerless to stop the people who decided to make use of my hard work: at least in this case, since the same letter to a 15 year old in Petrograd would likely have not produced the same, responsible results. I then considered the enormous value of referrer stats and 404 logs, the power of a WHOIS lookup, and the need for monitoring all aspects of our operations — even those aspects that we trust others to attend to.

There are many lessons in this little story of mine, and I hope that you will benefit from a few!
~ Sephen


BUSINESS ANALYSIS

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