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Udemy goes after Techzim: The stupidity of automated copyright tools

Copyright infringement is rife on the internet. It takes all forms and because there are so many jurisdictions involved it sometimes feels like the wild west out there. One site that has been on the receiving end of piracy in recent years is Udemy. com-the learning site.

A quick intro to the DMCA

One way to counter blatant infringement in a multi-polar world is to use what is known as a DMCA take-down. Without getting bogged down in the legalise, DMCA is a US law that allows the aggrieved party in a copyright dispute to send a message, usually in the form of an email, demanding that the copyright infringing party take down the offending material from their website.

As you would have probably guessed there is nothing preventing the recipient/infringing party from ignoring the take-down demand and using it as toilet paper. In fact, several notorious pirate sites have a tradition where they print out these notices and do all sorts of obscene things with them as a way to voice their disdain.

Under US laws you can then proceed to sue the infringing party, but there is a problem. Remember the internet is literary in all countries except North Korea. Suing a dude from Mutoko in a US court of law isn’t going to change much. So the DMCA has other tools that allow the aggrieved party to send the notice to the web host or any other party involved in facilitating the dissemination of information on your website.

Even if your webhost is not a US company bound by US laws the aggrieved party can just send the DMCA notice to the greatest arbiter on the internet-Google and sometimes to lesser known search engines like Bing. When this happens, and when the notice is verified as legitimate Google (and other Search engines) , which are based in the US, then proceed to de-index the page.

It’s the second-best thing that copyright holders can hope for. Most people rely on search engines like Google and Bing to find information on the internet. If a page is no longer included in these search engines’ results, as far as most people on the internet are concerned it doesn’t exist. Of course, you can always type in the page address in your browser and visit it but given how people still Google for Google, Facebook and YouTube you can expect a drop in traffic to that page.

Pirate sites of course have come up with ways to counter this including having their own internal uncensored search engines. For example everybody knows if you want to illegally download torrents you can visit ThePiratebay. The address is easy to type and usually appears in search engine search results because it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s copyright. Once you are there you can search using the search box on the site.

Udemy goes after Techzim

We have written about Udemy here a many times in the past mainly to promote their awesome short courses especially their programming courses which cover various languages including Python, Javascript, Java, Kotlin, Swift and many more. Their courses regularly go on promotion when they sell for as low as US$9.99

Udemy themselves have an affiliate program of which we are part that allows us to promote their products here. It’s all above board and very legal. However, Udemy, like everyone else also employ automated tools that constantly crawl around the internet looking for potential infringement and that is where problems crop up.

It’s extremely hard to make a good crawler that can distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate use of and it seems the crawler used by Link-Busters.com on behalf of Udemy is not a particularly great one. It works by simply vacuuming whatever references it can get on Udemy on the internet, they then rely on whitelisting domains that are known to be not pirating and then proceed to submit whatever chaff is left to Google.

Thus Techzim was caught in the dragnet and listed among notorious pirate sites. According to the claim, this link from back in May 2018 and the other one from March of 2018 are infringing on Udemy’s copyrights. It’s absolute nonsense, of course, it’s quite the opposite actually, the links on that site point to Udemy itself!

In cases like this, Google is your last line of defence. A lot of the time they wisely ignore these take-down notices but in this instance, the links were removed from the index! Just to prove that Link-Buster’s claim is stupid, if you do a quick Google search you will notice that a copy of the article which is on Financial Gazette, is still available on Google’s index, never mind that it is the same article word for word.

Malicious use of DMCA

In this case it looks like it was an honest mistake. Nobody took a pause to check and see whether each link was really infringing on anyone’s copyright. They just took action and that opens up a potential for abuse.

In fact, it’s a tactic that has been used by rivals before. In order to gain an edge in the SEO game, some competitors have been known to file bogus DMCA notices with Google. Sometimes the search engine catches these and ignores them but at times, the supposedly offending link is quietly removed from search results and all you get is a drop in traffic.

How then can you know if that recent drop in traffic you have been getting is not a result of some malicious take-down notice to Google? That’s where the Lumendatabase comes in. They list all take-down notices sent to Google and other search engines. Each take-down notice comes with information on who made it, why and the affected links/pages on your site. You can then use this information to file counter-notices.

The DMCA is a weapon and a tool rolled in one. A hammer.


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2 thoughts on “Udemy goes after Techzim: The stupidity of automated copyright tools

  1. Interesting and unfortunate. Funny enough, today i watched a video from a channel I’m subscribed to who is suffering in another way. An entity/individual will claim some content they don’t own and then instead of taking it down or striking the channel, they simply claim any monetisation (and stuff the video with new ad spots). The AI and youtube in general just let these claims through without any real vetting, even where abuse would be obvious to a human with 30 seconds of googling! Seems these platforms would rather err on the side of wilful ignorance and minimum effort if it means they save a buck and legal hassles.

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