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Zoominfo’s Blatant Copyright Infringement


Written by Gene Quinn
President & Founder of IPWatchdog, Inc.
Patent Attorney, Reg. No. 44,294
Posted: August 28, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

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Every once in a while we do an Internet search to find out what is out there quoting to IPWatchdog.com or me personally.  We also try and make sure that others are not infringing upon our works by republishing our content without permission.  It is flattering in one sense to have people want to steal your stuff and copy it without permission, but that is, of course, copyright infringement.  I authorize some republication, but not much any more.  Search engines, particularly Google, punish websites for identical content being on multiple websites.  That has been and to some extent still is a tell-tale sign to Google that you are trying to manipulate their search rankings via other than preferred means.  So the republication, particularly when not authorized, is something that I do not tolerate.  I have even started sending out DMCA takedown notices as appropriate.  See Sample DMCA Take Down Letter.

The other day I came across Zoominfo, which had or may still have an IPWatchdog page.  This page of their took word for word from the About Us page on IPWatchdog.com.  It had some mistakes, and was obviously dated.  It had a toll free number that we no longer use, the wrong mailing address and it mentioned we had an affiliation with LegalZoom, which is no longer accurate.  See LegalZoom Collaboration Ends.  I inquired about updating the information on the page, which I would have done myself.  I was not particularly upset, I don’t mind having IPWatchdog mentioned on other sites as long as the information is correct and leads back to us, but I do not want to be penalized by Google or any other search engine for duplicate content.  So I would have written something original, changed the mistakes and been done with it.  I was told, however, that companies are not allowed to change their own information.  You must send them a link to a page on your website and then they will copy the content onto their servers.  Well… that was not going to happen.

I told Zoominfo that was unacceptable and if that was their policy they needed to take my page down.  Initially they indicated they would not do that and seemed confused as to why I was getting upset.  So I decided to send Network Solutions a DMCA takedown letter, explaining that someone they give a private registration to is infringing my copyright.  I also sent Zoominfo a letter via e-mail.  I was told that they would not accept such a letter via e-mail and I had to mail it into their offices, which I did.  E-mail communications back and forth and finally I was just notified that they will be taking my information down from their site.  We will wait and see.

The last e-mail exchange, however, attempted to explain copyright laws to me, as well as the reality of search engines and what they did was completely appropriate.  I am not about to give them advice on how to run a business that engages in widespread copyright infringement as the core business model, so they really ought not give me copyright law advice, particularly when it is completely wrong.

So as to not infringe upon any rights they have, allow me to share a portion of my reply to them:

You are 100% wrong with respect to your understanding of copyright law. Citation to a source means it is not plagiarism, but citation does not have any implication whatsoever with respect to copyright infringement.

You are also wrong with respect to your assertion that no search engine could function unless they engage in copying. Search engines do not copy blocks of text and deliver it on their own server. They search and provide small portions of text, typically what you identify as the description. By doing this you are giving permission for them to copy that description. If you do not give permission and they take small sections that is fair use. What you do is not fair use. You copy everything, and there is no legally justifiable excuse .

You can believe Zoominfo is a search engine, but you are wrong. You guys are pure and simple copyright infringers.

Robots.txt do allow owners to exclude access, but copyright laws do not require such blocking.  The way copyright laws operate is the owner possesses exclusive rights unless they give someone else permission. The copyright laws are completely clear. Copyright owners do not need to take steps to prevent copying. The law prevents copying without permission. The failure to use robots.txt does not give permission.

Eventually there will be a class action brought against Zoominfo for copyright infringement, and you are going to lose a lot of money, and likely have to pay attorneys fees for the copyright owners because the copyright laws authorize the winning party to collect the fees they pay their attorneys.

This is nonsense.  What Zoominfo does is plain and simple copyright infringement.  The copyright laws do not require owners to block infringement through the use of robots.txt files.  Zoominfo copies information from everyone and serves it up on their servers.  Their whole business model is based on infringement and without directly copying what they find to their liking their website would not exist.

I recommend that anyone who has a company look into Zoominfo and other website like them.  I also recommend that you remain vigilant with respect to protecting your original content.  Not only should producers of original content have others take it and build their own websites on the back of hard work by others, but Google and other search engines will punish you for allowing copyright thieves to steal and then republish your information.

15 comments
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  1. Zoominfo once had an outdated bio page about me, which I did not appreciate since it had outdated information and old contact info. However, I followed their online registration procedures and verified my identity and removed my whole entry, rather easily. I was really annoyed initially, but since my entry was easy to remove and I remain off the zoominfo site, I suppose I don’t really have any bone to pick with Zoominfo.

    But what do you think of archive.org? That is also (in my opinion) blatant copyright infringement on a grand scale. They try to justify it under fair use since they are a nonprofit, but I don’t think anyone has ever challenged them in court. It’s also disturbing, what if you said something regrettable on your site one day, well now it’s forever archived in their database. Or worse, what if your site inadvertently infringed someone’s trademarks or copyrights. Even if you tried blocking access using robots, they would have to release their files it under subpoena.

  2. Gene,
    I understand your position and frustration, however, our beloved Google copies word for word, picture for picture of any webpage it crawls, every now and then, and stores it for the public to retrieve at will. Albeit, all for a good and useful purpose.

    i.e. Cache

    G.

  3. G-

    Thanks for the comment. This is a good point. It has been a while since I have looked at the law associated with storing pages in cache, but I believe that is a different sort of thing altogether. Yes, it is technically a copy, but the copy is for the purposes of more quickly delivering to end users that which could be delivered in a much slower fashion. It is certainly of a different magnitude in terms of what Zoominfo is doing. What Zoominfo is doing is copying, placing the information on their own server in their own website template. This is even worse than framing, it is flat out copying for the purpose of taking content to build content on their own website.

    If anyone has any information on the current state of copyright law associated with caching please chime in.

    Good discussion, and excellent point. Thanks.

    -Gene

  4. While you’re surely correct about the way copyright law works, you’re just as incorrect about how search engines work.

    Every time Google indexes a webpage, it creates at least three full copies of the page: one to the memory of the indexing computer, and at least two more to disk where it is stored for some unknown period of time, possibly years. Because of the way its BigTable storage works, this copy is spread out over an unknown number of computers and physical disks, possibly in the dozens, and each individual piece of copyrighted data is stored on at least two separate physical hard drives.

    Additionally, Google Cache allows anyone to request redistribution of these copies over the web. Here’s a link to Google’s copy of the entirety of the ipwatchdog.com index page:
    http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:mmg7OJSVTqgJ:www.ipwatchdog.com/

    At the moment, this copy was made at 29 Aug 2009 18:27:13 GMT, but it will be updated periodically. You have no way of knowing how many times Google has redistributed this copyrighted page without authorization to people around the world, but it’s at least once, since I just accessed it.

    You’ll want to refer to this page on how to send a DMCA takedown notice to Google:
    http://www.google.com/dmca.html

    Here are links to unauthorized copies at two other search engines:
    http://cc.bingj.com/cache.aspx?q=ipwatchdog&d=76634273033318&mkt=en-US&setlang=en-US&w=88914375,33193684
    http://74.6.239.67/search/cache?ei=UTF-8&p=ipwatchdog.com&fr=yfp-t-152&u=www.ipwatchdog.com/&w=%22ipwatchdog+.com%22&d=fr4PCxlMTYXb&icp=1&.intl=us

    Even more nefarious is the Internet Archive Project. They currently have scores of unauthorized copies of your entire website on their servers, many of them outdated and incorrect, and they’re perfectly willing to redistribute these copies to anyone who clicks on the links on this page:
    http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://ipwatchdog.com

    I’m not sure how to serve them a DMCA request, but here’s some info about removing your site from their index:
    http://www.archive.org/about/exclude.php

  5. Leather-

    I will have to take a look at archive.org. There is so much blatant copyright infringement on the Internet that it boggles the mind. Rather than inform themselves regarding the law they hide behind provably incorrect understandings of copyright law, and then when challenged act like you are the one who doesn’t know what you are talking about.

    I personally do not have a problem with being on Zoominfo, and like the fact that it is another avenue to find me. I signed up personally, and I can change and edit my own information as an individual. I would not have had a problem with the business side of what they do if I could sign up and edit my company information the same way, and choose what to project out there. For reasons that obviously only make sense to them, they allow individuals to sign up but not companies. If you own a company you have to live with the fact that they will copy whatever information they want, let it go stale and that is just the way things work. Absolutely ridiculous.

    Someone needs to make an example of them and form a class action. It is a no-brainer, and since attorneys fees would be involved it would be lucrative for the attorneys. Anyone interested in a combined effort?

    -Gene

  6. Adam-

    Point taken. I do think I am right about search engines insofar as they do not do what Zoominfo does. Perhaps my statement was too global and sweeping to technically be correct, but there is a huge difference both technically and in terms of the law with respect to what search engines do and what Zoominfo does. What search engines do is not copyright infringement, despite the intermediate copying. I think that law is pretty well settled. What Zoominfo is doing is completely different, and is copyright infringement by any definition. For Zoominfo to say that if they were stopped search engines would also be stopped is 100% wrong and intellectually dishonest. It is not even like comparing apples and oranges, it is more like comparing apples and elephants.

    Thanks.

    -Gene

  7. Gene,

    As far as the legal standing of caching, I think some people are of the opinion that it falls under fair use. The US District Court of Nevada has ruled that this is the case:
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-6031266-7.html

    Additionally, certain kinds of digital archival have been deemed to be exempt from the DMCA:
    http://www.archive.org/about/dmca.php

    I would say it’s not clear to me that what ZoomInfo is doing is fundamentally different from Google. Both of them base their businesses on creating content for their sites by making copies of other sites. As the Blake v. Google case shows, some people get equally upset about Google distributing their websites as others do about ZoomInfo. It’s perhaps a difference in degree, but it doesn’t seem like a difference in kind to me.

    I think this gets at the fundamental tension between copyright law and the web. In order to do anything useful with a website, you must make a copy of it. While it’s usually assumed that you give implicit permission to copy for some uses by hosting something on a web server, there are many kinds of copying that are not desired by the copyright holder, and I think it will be years before the legal system figures out which of these should be protected and which shouldn’t.

  8. Adam-

    Are you talking about what Google does in terms of Google Books? That is certainly copyright infringement.

    Why would anyone get upset about Google indexing your website in its search. Without being in Google you have little or no chance to be found by the overwhelming majority of people on the web.

    -Gene

  9. Gene,

    I’m talking about Google cache, the feature where anyone can retrieve Google’s cached copy of images and text. From the CNet article on the Blake v. Google ruling:
    “The case rose when an author sued the company for providing a version of a story that he had written, posted on his own Web site, and then removed. However, the court said that the author had not used an available Web setting on his page that would have prevented it from being archived.”

    This seems a whole lot like your complaint with ZoomInfo. In both cases, a 3rd party was supplying copies of an outdated website to users, which the copyright holder did not like.

  10. Adam-

    If that is in fact the ruling in the case it shows that the judge does not understand copyright law. Clear, black-letter copyright law does not require the copyright owner to take steps. So if the judge ruled that way he is either ignorant or chose to ignore the law.

    I still see a big difference between caching and copying to a website.

    -Gene

  11. If my layman’s reading of the ruling is correct, the judge ruled in favor of Google primarily because 1) Google’s copying of the author’s work to its website was protected under fair use and additionally 2) the copying fell under the “system cache” safe harbor of the DMCA.

    The ruling also mentions that the author actually did put a robots.txt file on his website, for the explicit purpose of getting search engines to index it, so he had the ability to just as easily block the caching, but willingly chose not to. I interpret this to be somewhat peripheral information and the above two points are the most important.

  12. I had a long post about fair use and why I thought this was not a slam dunk copyright case. I typed in the wrong captcha code, clicked back, and my work was gone. :(. Lesson learned. I’ll type the post in wordpad next time. LOL. Here are the highlights:

    –the amount of work copied by zoominfo is minimal and cuts in favor of fair use
    –the market displacement cuts in favor of fair use because a surfer going to zoominfo for the information would still have to contact Gene or his firm if they wanted his services
    –Gene could argue ad revenue lost from the copying but I didn’t know if Gene’s “about us” page generated a lot of ad revenue
    –most of the information copied by zoominfo was information related to “facts” (affiliation, phone number, address); facts aren’t necessarily copyrightable; there are a limited number of ways you can arrange these facts

    I had some other insights but I can’t take the time to retype them. :P.

  13. Gil-

    The amount copied was 100%. They copied 100% of my About page, so that strongly cuts against fair use. If what you were saying was that they copied only a small percentage of the overall content of the website, that would be 100% true. That, however, is not the inquiry. If that were the inquiry then newspapers, magazines and content creators would not be able to have any copyrights and everyone and anyone could copy newspaper stories from all papers, and the AP and other news services would have to accept that as fair use. That is not the law, not what happens in real life and never would be what a court would rule. In fact, many federal courts in the countless copyright cases brought by content creators have ruled exactly the opposite time after time.

    I couldn’t care less about lost advertising from that page, if there was any in the first place. The real damage is in how Google, the 1,600 pound gorilla in the room, punishes websites for duplicate content. Eventually someone will sue Google, and all but certainly win, because they are a natural monopoly who through their practices are inflicting intention harm on many businesses as a result of conduct those businesses do not engage in. In fact, they punish websites in terms of ranking for what third party tortfeasors do . It seems like a slam dunk case to me, and one that Google would have to settle because of the implications for search engines, the technology they use and the magnitude of the potential harm.

    -Gene

  14. I have just written an answer on LinkedIn precisely on the point of search engine liabilities for cached material: http://bit.ly/19E5qM.

    In this particular instance the person asking the question was based in Europe, where the Electronic Commerce Directive governs the question, but the idea is similar under the DCMA safe harbor provisions. An important point to remember is that when Google and other search engines provide a link to a cached version of a website as part of their search results, they are not caching within the meaning of the DCMA or the E-Commerce Directive: the cache in such an instance is not for the speedy onward transmission of material to an internet user, but to provide access to a separate and distinct copy of a webpage. In my opinion the safe harbor provisions providing for “caching” simply do not apply in such a situation.

    Gareth

  15. I’m less concerned with Zoominfo presenting large chunks of information as long as my original website links are included. And they have been. HOWEVER – my real complaint with Zoominfo is that I am unable to remove online sources that belong to other people. The only option appears to be removing your entire profile. But that has pros and cons already discussed.

    I’d still like to be “found” through multiple avenues, but don’t want the incorrect and/or dated information about me posted.

    So here’s my solution. I edited my profile to remove all my employment, etc., information, and created a single company reference that redirects the reader to my LinkedIn profile – one that I CAN control. While I can’t control the sources Zoominfo finds, I can cast doubt in the reader’s mind about the accuracy of the information presented. It appears on my profile like this:

    Company Name: “http://www.linkedin.com/in/lisasimone”
    Title: “View my correct profile at LinkedIn”
    City: “In and about”
    State: “NJ”

    http://www.zoominfo.com/Search/PersonDetail.aspx?PersonID=31327981

    Lisa