Bogus DMCA infringement notices may be the product of “black hat” PR agencies.

Have you received an email claiming you’ve infringed the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) recently?

Screenshot of Cloudflare infringement complaint

For people with screen readers here’s the relevant text from the screenshot

Cloudflare received a DMCA copyright infringement complaint regarding:
The information we received was the following:

Work: I, XXXXXXXXXXX, would like to draw your attention towards this website owner who copied the content from our website !! I did not authorize or approve this website owner to post them here. …… Kindly act expeditiously to remove this infringing or unauthorized content post from this website ASAP.

We have forwarded this complaint to your hosting provider.
The Cloudflare Team

I got one of those and turns out quite a few others have received similar notifications. I called the attorney listed on the complaint and they adamantly denied any involvement. (No surprise: the address used in the complaint is a vacant lot!). It looks like the lawyer may also be a victim of identity theft!

After reviewing the takedown request the lawyer informally (not legal advice!) told me that since he didn’t make the complaint the infringement notice is not actionable.

So what’s going on?

First of all, what they’re doing

It looks like the actors behind this behavior do this one neat trick

  • Identifies a “controversial” or negative post about one of their clients
  • Copies the contents and posts it on their own website…
  • …using the names of attorneys (at least one) as the authors
  • Manipulates the publication date to one day before the original’s published date
  • Uses “no-index” methods to prevent search engines from indexing their bogus post
  • Submits an infringement notification with the alleged lawyer’s name and a phony Gmail address
  • Make money

They’ve got a lot of !%# gall, right?

In my case I’ve got an iron-clad “alibi.” The original post they copied and complained is actually a follow-up to a previous post. The first sentence has a link back to that post.

Both posts have very similar contents and very similar images (since I created them myself using the same tools and formats.)

The back-dated copy doesn’t link back to anything — no surprise since they’ve just copied and pasted my content.

Second of all, a strong guess about why they’re doing it

I’ve been in contact with several other people who’s posts have been similarly copied, back-dated, and then hit with infringement notices.

In each case the subjects of the target posts call companies or individuals into question. It’s not unreasonable to assume that some people might like to see negative information about their enterprises scrubbed from the internet. And some of those people might hire an “aggressive” reputation management company to try and deal with it. And some of those companies might not be above pulling “black hat PR” moves… like hacking the DMCA infringement regulations by back-dating other people’s posts and claiming the original posters needed to be shut down.

One of the other victims of this exploit contacted me and told me they’ve spoken with at least eight other site owners who’ve had the same experience. Two of them (including the one who contacted me) had not just the “offending” post but their entire websites taken offline as a result!

I’m not going to say any more about this at the moment, because other parties and possibly their lawyers seem to be getting involved.

Instead I’m just going to say if you get one of these takedown notices and you haven’t actually plagiarized someone else’s content it might be a good idea to do a little due diligence.

  • Definitely push back.
  • Get on a search engine to find the real lawyers who’s identities are being misrepresented in the infringement notices and get clarification that they’re not involved.
  • And let your hosting company know, in no uncertain terms, that the notices are invalid.

Chances are very good that neither the black-hat PR companies nor the people who hire them are up to any good.


David Innes,

I've been building and maintaining websites since 1997 and building and supporting similar hypertext-driven software since 1987. I've done maintenance, support, and maintenance for physical and digital systems since 1981. And no, I still haven't seen it all but by now I usually know where to look. More about David Innes...