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 guilty.

A representative of an online business emailed me saying, "It has been brought to my attention that you have made the 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 that apparently had been supplied by a third party source:

Third mistake.

Sure enough, theirfiles were available for download at this link. And, sure enough, 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 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 people would.

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. If you know your understanding of Internet technology is limited, consult with a tech-guru before making acccusations.
  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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