After writing yesterday about a malicious hacker taking advantage of the open source system, a news item this morning caught my attention.
Yahoo! News reports on a new kind of scam.
Erik Marcus is a vegan and an animal activist. Since 1997, he has operated the www.vegan.com website. From Vegan.com, you can access his podcast, Erik's Diner, which he currently records three times a week. According to Yahoo, "Marcus discovered that downloads of his podcast had suddenly diminished after he had gradually won an audience of 1,500 regular listeners."
Marcus began to investigate. He checked the Yahoo directory for RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds. The directory (www.podcasts.yahoo.com) had a listing for Erik's Diner, but it directed listeners to www.podkeyword.com instead of to www.vegan.com. Marcus found that Apple's iTunes also used the podkeyword.com address for Erik's Diner instead of the vegan.com address.
Marcus contacted podkeyword.com to demand that they make the directory changes. And, this is where the story gets interesting. According to press reports, the site allegedly made demands for money to release the podcast.
Refusing to yield to extortion, Marcus sought legal assistance. Colette Vogele, head of the law firm Vogele & Associates, says that they are investigating Marcus' legal options.
"'I do think this is a classic situation of a new technology trying to fit into existing legal structures," Vogele says.
On Vogele's website, Marcus explains that the scam did not involve swiping passwords or any overtly illegal method. "Rather, it merely involves finding a target podcast, and creating your own unique URL (address) for it on a website you control. You then point your URL to the RSS feed of the target podcast. Next, you do what it takes to make sure that as new podcast search engines come to market, the page each engine creates for your target podcast points to your URL instead of the podcast creator's official URL."
I went to the Yahoo directory and searched for Erik's Diner. I found two listings: One for www.cooking.podkeyword.com last updated 11/4, and the other for www.vegan.com last updated 11/30. It appears that Marcus has started all over again from scratch.
For its part, Yahoo expressed dismay. Their spokesperson said, "Open content formats provide tremendous benefit to podcasters and their audience, and it's disappointing that individuals are abusing the technology that the emerging podcasting industry is built on."
The Sydney, Australia Morning Herald did a story on RSS extortionists today. They tell of another podcaster who claims a similar thing happened to him with podkeyword.com. They also indicate that Marcus' attorney explained that "(w)hile there was currently no specific legal remedy, . . . there were other channels that could be investigated including unfair competition, trademark infringement/dilution, computer fraud and abuse, trespass, right of publicity and misappropriation."
This story illustrates two things: that an open source approach can be twisted by nefarious persons for their own purposes; and that our copyright laws have fallen behind our technology. We already know that the Google Print situation is headed for court. At some point, our legal system will have to address the pirating of podcast content, too.