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Funny business for vegan Podcaster Erik Marcus

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  • Pamela Rice
    http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1697,1894992,00.asp Podcast Hijacked, Held for Ransom November 30, 2005 By Lisa Vaas In an assault reminiscent of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2005
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      Podcast Hijacked, Held for Ransom
      November 30, 2005

      By Lisa Vaas
      In an assault reminiscent of the early days of the Internet,
      Podcaster Erik Marcus recently found that his RSS feed had been
      inexplicably redirected.

      According to Marcus, rather than fully cooperate to address the
      situation, the cyber-squatter is demanding payment or permanent
      agreement to terms, and Marcus is seeking legal redress for this new
      form of Internet extortion. ADVERTISEMENT

      Marcus publishes Vegan.com and the "Erik's Diner" Podcasts.

      Over the course of the past year, Marcus has built his listenership
      from 100 people per show up to some 1,500. Over the past few weeks,
      he noticed that Yahoo Inc. had created an entry for his show on its
      beta site, Podcasts.yahoo.com.

      The page had an RSS feed belonging not to Vegan.com, however, but to
      a site named Podkeyword.com.

      Marcus shared with Ziff Davis Internet News a letter he sent to a
      lawyer who specializes in intellectual property and who has agreed to
      work with him on his case.

      In the letter, Marcus said he contacted Yahoo repeatedly for about a
      month. The company never responded. Yahoo had failed to correct the
      RSS listing and had also failed to return phone calls seeking comment
      for this story by the time it was posted.

      Marcus e-mailed Podkeyword directly in order to "nip this problem in
      the bud rather than let it grow," he said in his letter to his
      lawyer, Colette Vogele.

      Podkeyword honored his request, Marcus said, after which his listener
      numbers abruptly collapsed. Marcus came to find that Apple Computer
      Inc.'s iTunes service, which shields RSS information from its users,
      had also picked up the Podkeyword URL.

      "This has cost me more than 1,000 listeners per show," Marcus wrote
      in the letter.

      Marcus contacted Apple, which has to date not fixed the URL.

      Marcus then wrote back to Podkeyword to ask that his listing be
      temporarily reinstated on Podkeyword while he worked to fix things
      with Apple. Podkeyword reportedly responded that the listing would be
      reinstated only if Marcus provided an unspecified payment or agreed
      permanently to its terms.

      Click here to read about Podcasting usage tools from Audible.

      The manner in which the purported hijacking occurred exemplifies the
      fact that RSS feeds are far more vulnerable to squatters than Web
      site domains. The method doesn't require stolen passwords or other
      overtly illegal methods.

      Rather, it merely involves finding a target Podcast and creating a
      unique URL for it on a Web site that the hijacker can control. The
      hijacker then points his URL to the RSS feed of the target Podcast.

      Next, the hijacker does whatever it takes to ensure that, as new
      Podcast engines come to market, the page each engine creates for the
      target Podcast points to the hijacker's URL instead of to the Podcast
      creator's official URL.

      Vogele, a non-residential fellow at Stanford University's Center for
      Internet and Society and head of the firm Vogele & Associates, told
      Ziff Davis Internet News that she is mulling over a number of
      approaches to determine which laws might pertain in the case,
      including claims of unfair competition, trademark
      infringement/dilution, computer fraud and abuse, trespass, right of
      publicity and misappropriation.

      California's right of publicity law, for example, stipulates that an
      individual has a right to control his or her likeness and image,
      including, most likely, voice, she said. If Podkeyword is in fact
      making money off of Marcus' Podcast, it might be at risk of being
      found guilty of violating right of publicity, Vogele said.

      Next Page: Applying IP concepts to RSS.

      At any rate, it is unclear how existing laws pertain to such recent
      technology as Podcasts or RSS feeds, Vogele said.

      "I've been doing [intellectual property] law for quite awhile," she
      said. "Every time there's a new [technology], it's a little brain
      teaser. We know it's wrong, but how does law [respond] to that? It
      takes a while in the legal system, and technology changes [more
      rapidly than laws]."

      The lack of response from Apple and Yahoo may have to do with laws
      that shield such companies from copyright infringement, Vogele said.

      While they should be applauded for making part of the engine that
      enables Podcasting, she said, such companies would be better Internet
      citizens were they to make available a means for hijack victims to
      contact the companies, tell them what's happening and have the
      companies fix this in a reasonable time.

      This is particularly the case, Vogele said, "since they get financial
      benefits from all these Podcasters creating this content for free Š I
      think they need to think about what systems they can put in place and
      be good citizens in this process."

      Marcus suggested that Podcasters can protect themselves from
      hijacking by checking to make sure that all Podcast directories and
      search engines list RSS feeds that point to their official URLs/RSS

      Also, if Podcasters learn of a hijacking, they can write to the
      hijacker and demand that they cease and desist. Hijacked Podcasters
      should also write to the Podcast directories and search engines to
      point out the misconduct.

      Corporate Podcasts target the IT community. Read more here.

      Those who posted responses to Vogele's Weblog entry on the matter
      suggested other defensive strategies. One is to rename Podcast audio
      files on occasion and point to the new names in the legitimate RSS
      feed, thus causing the malicious site's RSS feed to stop working and
      hence to cease gaining popularity.

      Another tactic is to look at the referrer's tags for Podcast
      downloads in a Podcaster's Web server logs. Names of malicious sites
      that point to a Podcast will come up in the logs, and a large number
      of off-site listener referrals should raise flags.

      Another tactic proposed on Vogele's blog is to mention the site and
      feed URL in each Podcast. Those who take the time to notice what URL
      they're using may notice that the URL is in fact not the official one.

      Check out eWEEK.com's Messaging & Collaboration Center for more on IM
      and other collaboration technologies.

      Copyright (c) 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc.
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