pskl.us

We got a takedown notice from LifeShield for our positive review

by on May.10, 2012, under Group News, Security, Whining

Yes, you read the headline correctly.

Our 95% glowing review of the LifeShield products and services earned me a DMCA takedown notice from a “Digital Content Protection” company on behalf of LifeShield. You’re saying “OK, that sure sounds dumb, but what are the grounds for a takedown notice in the first place?” I had the same question.
The content of the notice was:

It has come to our attention that your website or website hosted by your company contains links to LifeShield, Inc website (www.lifeshield.com) which results in financial losses by the company we represent, because of search engine penalties.

I request you to remove from following website (pskl.us)
all links to www.lifeshield.com website as soon as possible.
In order to find the links please do the following:
1) If this is an online website directory, use directory’s search system to find “LifeShield” links.
2) If there are hidden links in the source code of website, open website’s main page and view its source code. Search for “lifeshield.com” in the source code and you will see hidden links.

I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by LifeShield, Inc, its agents, or the law. Therefore, this letter is an official notification to effect removal of the detected infringement listed in this letter.

I further declare under penalty of perjury that I am authorized to act on behalf of copyright holder and that the information in this letter is accurate.

Please, inform me within 48 hours of the results of your actions. Otherwise we will be forced to contact your ISP.
LifeShield, Inc will be perusing legal action if the webmaster does not remove the referenced link within 48 hours.
LifeShield, Inc will be forced to include the hosting company in the suite for trademark infringement.

Makes perfect sense, right? Trademark infringement. Because of links. As part of a review.

As you would assume, I was furious. I forwarded the email to a sales manager at LifeShield and then called them and left a message. I got a call back later that night from the sales manager. She apologized and said I didn’t have to remove the links. I said I was pretty annoyed at being threatened with a BS takedown notice and a simple apology wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted to know that this isn’t how they do business.

I got an email from her later that night:

I didn’t want to call you because it is so late, but I wanted to go ahead and contact you about this. I did hear back from my manager via email and she said that they are contacting the gentleman who sent the email, and they will have this taken care of immediately. There will be no further action that you have to take and you will not receive any more emails like this. I apologize about this and if you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

I got another email from upper management:

I am the svp interactive for lifeshield.com.  Please ignore the dmca email you received.  We hired them to protect our trademark and your site was accidentally included in our list of sites.  I just sent them a note to take you off their list.  Please keep our links on your site.  We apologize for the inconvenience.

I was no longer really worried about the “inconvenience” so much as I was worried that I was supporting and endorsing a company with unethical business practices. I replied with this:

While I appreciate the apology, I have a bigger question: are you OK with how this guy is going about “protecting your trademark?”
Telling people you are going to sue them (and their ISP) if they don’t remove LINKS to your website is unethical at best and quite possibly fraudulent use of the DMCA. Did you read the email he sent me? Here are a few of my favorite parts:

It has come to our attention that your website or website hosted by your company contains links to LifeShield, Inc website (www.lifeshield.com) which results in financial losses by the company we represent, because of search engine penalties.

I’m sure this isn’t news to you, but this is 100% BS. You can’t claim losses via poor SEO and leverage a law suit against somebody else to fix it.

I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by LifeShield, Inc, its agents, or the law. Therefore, this letter is an official notification to effect removal of the detected infringement listed in this letter.

Once again, I’m sure you know that permission is not needed to provide links to a publicly-available website. This guy identified himself as the head of “anti-piracy.” He is basically equating a link to intellectual property. This is fallacious on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin.

Please, inform me within 48 hours of the results of your actions. Otherwise we will be forced to contact your ISP.
LifeShield, Inc will be perusing legal action if the webmaster does not remove the referenced link within 48 hours.
LifeShield, Inc will be forced to include the hosting company in the suite for trademark infringement.

Finally, the threat. Remove the links or we’ll sue you and your hosting company. For trademark infringement. You’ve got to be kidding me.

This is not how you protect a trademark, Evan, this is how you ruin it. Am I to understand that the people intended to be on your “list” (bad reviews?) are also getting letters like this? Have you heard of the Streisand Effect?
Now, if there are people out there legitimately infringing on your trademark, by all means, pursue them and shut them down… but do it with legitimate DMCA takedowns, not this thug-style intimidation BS. We all know how these work: people will do as you ask because it isn’t worth the trouble (or possible legal fees) to put up a fight, even though they know you have ZERO legal ground to stand on.

Please tell me you are straightening this out with the IP protection company (or cutting off your business relationship with them). I’m willing to accept the explanation that you hired this company thinking they were above-board and you didn’t know they’d be up to these shenanigans, but now you DO know. This isn’t how you want to handle your business on the Internet. I can tell you I don’t want to be involved with or endorse a business that does so.

Sums up my feelings well, I think. They were not impressed with my righteous indignation, however, and replied thusly:

I appreciate your feedback.  However, we had a site cloak lifeshield and generate over 700K back links to our site without our knowledge.  Google stepped in and slapped us with a search ranking penalty to which our business has suffered major losses.  Understood that the links on your site to LifeShield.com may be legitimate (and we rectified this) but we needed to be aggressive to rectify the situation and protect our business.  We are a legitimate home security brand with hundreds of employees and had to layoff great employees due to this and our business is still down significantly. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience; however, as a business owner yourself, you can imagine our loss.

So I said:

So you’re saying that somebody went out and bought 700K back links for you, knowing that it would get you penalized by Google? So does that mean you had (Company name) send out 700K DMCA notices? Talk about throwing good money after bad. Report the linkspam to the spam team at Google, then spend that money on an SEO expert rather than on trying to bully people with intimidation.

I understand that it sucks when people mess with your business, but it doesn’t excuse slimy tactics by you. If your house catches on fire, you don’t put it out with manure. How many other innocent people got your pit bull’s strong-arm, unethical (borderline fraudulent) DMCA takedown notice? Do you care? Or are you just scorching earth?

I want to be on your side, but you are making it difficult by standing behind a practice that represents all that is wrong with the internet. I really, really believe you should rethink this methodology.

No response. 2 days later, I got ANOTHER takedown notice, identical to the first one. I informed LifeShield:

I received another takedown notice this morning from the brilliant minds of (Name of company), identical to the last.

If you’d like to call him off, I’d like to be CC:’ed on the emails for my records, and I’d like to receive an email from him stating that he will not be taking legal action against me or my hosting service.

I got no response from LifeShield, but I got this from the genius at the IP protection company:

I have received a complaint from our customer LifeShield.com about you not satisfying our business practice.

While I have some objections I must accept that you are right and would like to apologize for any inconveniences caused.

As a  justification of our good intentions I’d like you to realize that we’ve been put on a very tight deadline and had to remove over 5 thousands links within 10-14 days and we had no ability to check the quality and the nature of those links. Our client hired an SEO expert requiring to remove links in the list before they go ahead and submit a reconsideration request with Google.

As a result we’ve got it done in that way. Again I do apologize and would like you to reconsider your opinion about us and our client.

Please let me know if you have any questions, I’d be happy to explain.

P.S. We are like the police dealing mostly with online criminals and sometimes we forget that there are a lot of good people around, honestly doing their online business.

Yes, everybody, have some sympathy for these heroes, these “internet police.” Brilliant. I like that he admitted that I’m right, though. My response:

My problem with your business practice is very simple:

A party creating large quantities of backlinks to a site in order to generate SEO (or, in this case, destroy SEO) is unethical.

It is not illegal.

Threatening legal action against this party (and making the spurious claim of “trademark infringement”) for doing so is even more unethical (since you are supposed to be the good guys) and short-sighted, in my opinion.

Any “SEO Expert” who recommends this course of action is just as misguided and, in my opinion, not very good at their job.

His response to this was very telling, I think:

I got your idea. All this “link removal” thing is quite new to us. It is our second order of this kind, but we have already processed more them 30k links. And what we find is that people not react when we kindly ask them to remove the links. We tried to contact huge amount of website and ask them to get rid of those links, but didn’t get any response at all. And on the opposite email which you got from us first time worked really good. :) I felt like this is not the right thing to do, but you know we had to finish our business. However, I apologize once again for any inconvenience we caused. And in case you will ever need any Intellectual Property protection service just shoot me an email. I’ll give you a discount for our services.

So they knew it was “not the right thing to do,” but it worked, so who cares! Those are some high-quality business practices.

While all this was going on, I had one other little issue with LifeShield. They weren’t paying me for referrals I had earned. When I originally wrote my reviews of the LifeShield products and services (March, 2010), they had a referral system in place. If I got 5 referrals, I’d get free security system monitoring for life. They provided a link to give to possible customers. I used it all over my reviews. I personally knew 3 parties that had purchased systems via my referral link, but I figured there were more that I didn’t know about (based on the amount of traffic my post was getting and the comments/questions I received). I called them up one day and asked what the status was of my referrals to see if I had earned my free monitoring yet.

They said I had zero referrals. Zero. I asked to speak to a manager immediately, and the manager basically told me that the referral system wasn’t working. Thanks so much for telling us, folks. I told them I was pretty upset about that and I felt confident that I had provided them with 5 customers and I’d like my free monitoring. She spoke with management and got back to me quickly to tell me that they agreed. They gave me the free monitoring for life. Great, right? At that point, the referral system became useless to me so I removed the links and just left the review stand. I updated it from time to time and answered any questions people posted as comments or emailed to me. I was grateful for a product I really like and for the free monitoring.

Fast forward to late 2011: they launched a new referral system that offered $150 per referral for new customers! Great deal, especially since the referred party also would get a free network camera. After verifying that I could take part (since I had used the previous referral program), I signed up immediately and added the new referral links and info to my reviews. I also updated the review to reflect some of the changes they had made to their service (such as requiring a contract). They would email me when people used my referral link so that I could send a personalized link to the new customer to help make sure the referral was recorded properly. I didn’t understand why this was necessary, but I did it anyway. Every time.

I noticed that the referral tracking system was (once again) showing that I had not earned any referrals. I had email and phone conversations with sales reps and sales managers over and over, checking to make sure that I was, in fact, getting credit for my referrals. They assured me that I was. “The system only updates once a month,” they told me. A month later, still nothing. “I’ll make sure they get put in immediately,” they’d tell me. Still nothing. Around this time is when the first DMCA takedown notice shows up. Nice timing, eh?

At this point, I had $1350 worth of referrals that I could document (and that LifeShield had confirmed…who knows if there were more, perhaps?). I was told at one point:

I just heard back and was told that all the credits should be processed by the end of the day today. If there is any change in that I will let you know.

And that was the very last email I ever received from LifeShield. As you would probably assume, I never received my referral payout. Combine this with the shady DMCA takedowns and you have a very unhappy blogger. The sad part is that I still love the products and service. That’s the only reason I left the reviews up. I emailed LifeShield to let them know I was removing all my referral links (and why) and that I’d be eventually writing a blog post (like this one) explaining the whole ordeal. I’d like to let customers read my review and also read this description of their business practices and then make up their own minds as to whether or not they’d like to do business with LifeShield. If you think I’m being a whiny turd about all this and the product sounds great: go ahead and buy it. If you think the product sounds great but you don’t like the way they work: move on to the competition. Regardless, let me know what you think in the comments below.

Oh, one last thing. The “SVP Interactive” of LifeShield inexplicably cc’ed me on a recent email to the IP protection company with a new list of sites to harrass over “trademark infringement.” That doggone “reply to all” button will get you every time, eh? Seriously, learn how to internet.

:, , , , ,

29 Comments for this entry

  • John Hakes

    Not sure if you have been following the news, but Google Penguin update has hit sites based on links going to their site. Many major brands are using this method to remove links so I would not worry as it is a frantic world in search right now. It is unfortunate that your site was caught up but I wouldn’t fret if they said it was a mistake given how many spam links need take down. My blog got hit as well and am now very cautious about any link pointing to my site. I am not certain that I would write something like this online given that you will see much more of it and webmasters are likely to support take down requests in mass now and more often. There was an article today on WebProNews about companies now taking legal action and Google’s unfair guidelines. I am not sure how you tie a product review to SEO but I can understand how you would be annoyed. Look for more of this in the future. It was funny how Google came out and said last week to start a new site if you can’t recover from Penguin. I am not sure Google truly understands the implications of its changing guidelines.

    • jeremy

      I’m not sure who you are talking to…

      • K

        Google “Google Penguin” – apparently there was a recent new spam-filter applied to google search results and some sites have seen their page rankings drop. But based on what I read about the update, I’d guess LifeShield was engaged in some shady SEO practices too.

    • jeremy

      Yeah, I get the Google Penguin stuff the poster is talking about… but I don’t understand what they are saying with the “I am not certain that I would write something like this online…” part…

    • Eric Hacke

      “Not sure if you have been following the news, but Google Penguin update has hit sites based on links going to their site. Many major brands are using this method to remove links so I would not worry as it is a frantic world in search right now.”

      You are entirely missing the point. You cannot legally use the DMCA to take down links you don’t like. Period.

      This is just an intimidation tactic with absolutely no basis in law.

      In fact, it actually exposes the company serving the DMCA’s to substantial legal risk, because the target could legitimately counter-sue if their business is hurt by your bogus and ILLEGAL DMCA takedowns.

      Also, it doesn’t even qualify as trademark infringement in any case, because that only applies if they are attempting to use your trademark to sell a similar product.

    • Jesse

      This smells of a post designed to turn attention away from the issue, probably from an employee of one of the company’s involved.

  • Dan T.

    The DMCA applies only to copyright violations, not trademark violations, so it’s hard to see how a hyperlink to the alleged victim’s site would in any way fall under that law’s purview.

    Perhaps you should sue them for copyright/trademark abuse (along with cheating you out of commissions)?

  • Scott

    “learn how to internet.”

    This.

    :)

  • Robert

    One of the fatal flaws of DMCA is that it doesn’t provide much recourse if the claim is not in good faith.

    As a result, it’s to a lawyers financial benefit to carpet bomb the internet to the best of their technical abilities.

    The worst that can reasonably happen is they loose the contract.

  • Jim

    You put referral links in positive reviews? That’s fairly dodgy.

    • jeremy

      Really? they were labeled as such and I described the referral program in the review… I didn’t hide it. Also, the review existed for quite a while without them (and still does today).

    • Marc

      lame……

      He writes, he reviewed, he deserves to get paid. PERIOD

      If he was abusing reviews, sure its a paid for review kind of site…. but that isn’t the case.

  • pissed tooo

    Seems like that company was rightfully punished by Google. Take no sympathy on them man.
    Notice they did not mention the referral thingy in their complaints yet they didn’t pay you for referrals.

  • Nick Sergeant

    To add to LifeShield’s shady practices, it looks like most of their Twitter followers are spam accounts that they’ve created to boost their followers: https://twitter.com/#!/lshomesecurity/followers

    Every follower has no bio, around 10-15 “follows” and about 1,500-1,800 followers. All generic photos, generic usernames, names, etc.

    What a fucking joke this company is.

    (cross-posted from HN: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3970696)

  • Jim

    “This is my entirely uncompromised review of this product or service. Buy it, I get paid for it!”

    If you don’t see anything wrong with that then you shouldn’t be throwing around phrases like “ethical business practices”.

    • jeremy

      I disagree. I think a review with referral links is perfectly ethical as long as it is fully disclosed. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, though…as were the people who read the review. If they saw me as a shill, they didn’t have to read or believe my review.

      • Jim

        Nonsense. You can’t just shift the responsibility on to the viewer to determine that your review is compromised. You’re not just putting this information out there for people to interpret as they will, you’re benefitting from its interpretation in a certain way. It’s no better than the editorialising at Fox News. Just because it’s so commonplace doesn’t make it ethical.

        And you are a charming wee munchkin, YO-MF. Bless your little heart.

      • jeremy

        I’d argue that’s a terrible analogy because Fox News calls themselves “Fair and Balanced.”
        I made no such claim. I put my association/possible gains right on front street.

    • YO-MF

      Jim, you sound like a self-righteous jackass. Get off the Internet and do something constructive with your life.

  • Rei-chan

    What an unbelievable assholes.

    Regarding the unpaid referrals and idiotic DMCA notices, you should probably consult your lawyer and extract some money out of them in court.

  • Adam

    This Google update has companies scrambling. The fact is that cleaning up past poor quality link building campaigns is a difficult time consuming process. It doesn’t surprise me that companies who wouldn’t spend the time upfront to build high quality links the right way are now trying to use intimidation as a quick solution to cover up those mistakes.

    The more competitive the industry, the worse this will get.

  • L Mitchell

    First, GREAT JOB on threading the whole story for us. I love it when someone tells off a company that is just acting stupidly. Second, the language in the IP company responses is very telling. They are obviously not native English speakers. I’m not sure if this factors into their ignorance of DMCA, but it sounds to me as if they were just the lowest bidder and did the cheapest thing possible to get paid on their contract with LifeShield, keeping their fingers crossed their email wording would just scare people. Stupid.

  • Craig Payne

    There is quite a substantial penalty for filing a false DMCA. They can not use a DMCA for this purpose. Fight back. It will hurt them financially big time.

  • Markus

    Thinking about Jim’s point regarding referral links in a positive review… Would you place referral links in a negative review?

  • Dave

    Reminds me of the mid 90′s when many sites expected you to ask for permission to link to their site. Lol

  • Ross

    J, really glad you documented this so thoroughly, it’s important this kind of thing gets publicized, and is spread. I came here through Search Engine Land by the way.

    I’ve found that home security companies are some of the shadiest places I’ve ever done business with. About 6 years ago another big name company I wont name offered 2 “Free iPod Shuffles” with a 2 year contract. When they arrived they were cheap bootleg “Chi-pods” like you see on dealextreme or similar.

    Anyway, wish I could say I was surprised by your story at any point, but I wasnt.

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    lol Jeremy had any takedown notices for this post yet? I bet these guys love you fr giving them some what of bad review.

    Good post though dude, I really like how you ripped into the guy that was wrongfully sending out all those DMCA notices, just look at the publicity your post is getting http://searchengineland.com/in-wake-of-penguin-could-you-be-sued-for-linking-to-others-121449 And i will be posting this on the SEO chat forums to see what others think :)

    Bit of a shame the affiliate program don’t work though, $150 for new signups would be a nice little earning for a lot of blogs lol

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    Here’s that url of the convo at SEO Chat, I hope it becomes a great topic and brings you some more well earned traffic :)

    I also made a post on the subject at my blog http://www.nathanielbailey.co.uk/2012/seo/can-you-really-be-sued-for-linking-to-others-thanks-to-penguin/ I hope you like it and are happy with me linking here?

    If not just send me a DCMA takedown and I will remove the link lol. Seriously, if you would like the link changed just drop me a comment on the post and I would be happy to make edits for you.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!