GoDaddy: DMCA Overreactor Extraordinaire

GoDaddy LogoRecently, a photographer named Jay Lee discovered that a picture he took of Houston was being used all over the Web without his permission or attribution. Lee then did what many other photographers do and began filing takedown notices against that image.

However, what started as a case of simple copyright infringement took a strange turn when one of the sites involved happened to be run by an attorney named Candice Schwager. Schwager, who had all 14 of her domains shut down due to the notice, at least initially believed that the takedown was an attack by political opponents and lashed out at Lee both via email and her blog.

The case has now degenerated to legal threats from Schwager, who, according to her blog, has appointed attorneys to represent her in this matter and plans to sue Lee for libel, harassment and more.

Though the Internet at large seems to be siding with Lee in this matter, even though he has pulled down his posts and asked others to avoid contacting Schwager on his behalf, the case went viral after reaching the front page of Slashdot.

However, through all of this there’s a difficult question that has not been answered. Given that Lee was filing a DMCA notice on just one image on one domain, why were 14 different domains shuttered? The answer lies not with Lee’s notice, but GoDaddy’s insane DMCA policies.

How to Overreact to a DMCA Notice

For hosts, the DMCA is a fairly straightforward concept. In exchange for legal protection from any infringement done by their users, the hosts agree to “expeditiously” remove infringing material when they receive a proper DMCA notice. However, hosts respond to DMCA notices in different ways, ranging from simply ignoring them to, as in the case with GoDaddy, simply shuttering the entire account.

Most hosts, however, try to take at least something of a mediated approach. This usually involves either informing the client and letting them remove the content or surgically removing small infringements themselves. Most will only shutter a whole domain if it’s found that the domain contains a large amount of infringing material or if the user is uncooperative at removing the allegedly infringing material.

In short, it’s rare for a single site to be completely shuttered on the basis of a DMCA notice for one file, let alone 14.

However, GoDaddy’s policy is different. Rather than remove the infringing material or notify the client of the issue, the entire account is suspended, even for an extremely minor infringement. This means that all of the domains on the account, including non-infringing ones, are shuttered pending a resolution to the matter.

This means that one infringing image or one page with infringing material can result in the suspension of an entire network of sites, most of which were unrelated to the infringement.

For the client and DMCA subject, this is an obvious disaster as they can be left scrambling to get back online dozens of sites that were taken down needlessly. However, this also creates significant problems for the filer, who often gets blamed for the excessive disruption and has to work with the subject to try and get the non-infringing sites restored.

Even worse, in many cases GoDaddy will cut off the client’s FTP and backend access (at least as reported to me by subjects of my DMCA notices) preventing the client from removing the infringing material and getting their sites restored.

In short, both filer and client have to scramble to fix a bad situation created by GoDaddy when the situation didn’t have to be anything further than a minor inconvenience.

Why Does GoDaddy Do This?

Though I don’t know for certain why GoDaddy does this and my previous conversations with the host haven’t been particularly enlightening, I suspect it’s just because this is the easiest way for GoDaddy to handle DMCA notices while protecting themselves from liability.

Basically, their entire DMCA policy seems to flow as follows:

  1. Receive DMCA Notice
  2. Check That it Seems Valid
  3. Suspend Account

GoDaddy’s hosting plans start at about $5 per month and, as such a large host, the company likely gets thousands of notices per day. They simply don’t have the motivation to spend any more time keeping a single customer.

If a client who was suspended following a DMCA notice walks away, that’s only a few dollars per month lost. Far less than the cost of what it would take to properly process and handle the case.

However, other shared hosts handle DMCA notices relatively well and other giants, including Hostgator, Dreamhost, etc. don’t have similar policies. This seems to be exclusive to GoDaddy and it appears to be a policy they aren’t eager to change.

My Advice

My first piece of advice is simple (if extremely uncommon on this site): Do not host with GoDaddy.

If you have to host with GoDaddy, place only one domain on a single account and only put content that you created on the server. Though GoDaddy does “sanity check” the notices it receives, it will not wade into fair use questions either.

This policy is a big part of why I steer all of my friends away from GoDaddy and am in the process of moving the last of the domains I have with the company to another registrar (even though their DMCA policy does NOT affect domains).

Second, if you’re filing a DMCA notice against GoDaddy you should expect this to happen, even if the notice is over something relatively minor.

I also encourage people filing DMCA notices to include a statement that they are only requesting the content listed to be removed and that any further suspensions are the work of the host. It may even be appropriate to include a link to this article or others talking about GoDaddy’s policies.

That way, the recipient of the notice will at least know why all of his or her sites are offline and may be a little less hostile about the closure (at least with the filer).

Of course, this assumes that GoDaddy forwards on the DMCA notice in whole which, as I’ve been told by those I’ve filed against, is not always the case.

Bottom Line

To be clear, I don’t think that GoDaddy’s policy is “evil” but I do think it’s sorely misguided and it shows an extreme lack of thought to the security of their clients and the wishes of DMCA filers.

While it makes sense for GoDaddy to protect its interest and find ways to make the DMCA process more efficient and reliable, doing so at the expense of their customers and of the people filing DMCA notices.

While the policy does seem to comply with the letter of the law, it doesn’t comply with the spirit, which was supposed to strike a balance between those who are infringed and those who are accused of doing the infringing.

A good DMCA policy is proportional and shows respect to everyone involved. This is not a good DMCA policy.

But while many hosts have questionable policies, this one is bad enough to make me discourage others from hosting sites there, something that has only happened a few other times and GoDaddy is by far the biggest host I’ve felt this way about.

My hope is that this incident and the attention it has focused on GoDaddy will be enough to push them to reconsider their approach to takedowns, but I’m not terribly optimistic about that.

19 Responses to GoDaddy: DMCA Overreactor Extraordinaire

  1. Why don’t you give the following advice: If you would like to use pictures on your website, either buy a stock photo, take one yourself, or try to find the rights holder of the image and ask for permission.
    As a business owner, you always are responsible for the fall out of your actions if these are not according to the laws written in your country. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree!
    I have no sympathy for the “victim” of the take down notice, as she was
    a) taken a picture she didn’t own any copyrights for, and use this one on the website for her company
    b) was hosting with GoDaddy (Yes, I DO agree with you this should be an essential part of the advice). She agreed with the terms of Godaddy, which clearly state what their actions will be in the case they receive a DMCA take down notice.
    c) was hosting charity and client websites on her own shared hosting account, which caused them to become victims of her bad judgement to use a copyrighted picture.
     
    If I would send a DMCA take down notice, which I have not done so far… yet, I couldn’t care less if all the websites of the person infringing on my photo were taken down. Why would I, as the copyright holder, invest more time in something and add a note.

    • plagiarismtoday says:

       @thenextcorner While that’s good advice (that I’ve posted many times elsewhere on PT) there is a pretty serious issue as the filer.
       
      First, it encourages a hostile response to the DMCA notice, similar to what we see here. DMCA’s handled properly rarely result in major blow ups. I’d much rather get the content removed WITHOUT threatening emails, phone calls, etc. I’m sure Mr. Lee would agree.
       
      Second, from a PR standpoint, this can make the victim look like the bad guy. I don’t think anyone wants to see the headline “Thenextcorner shuts down a dozen sites over one image”. 
       
      Finally, I want the blame for the bad policy put where it belongs, on GoDaddy. Yes, it was Shwager’s bad decision to host there, but inevitably many will believe that Lee was the one who overracted, not GoDaddy. If anyone is getting the angry calls, threats and bad press, it should be the host.

      •  @plagiarismtoday I agree with all your points with regards to who the rage will be pointed at, which is why I have never filed a DMCA request, yet, but always contact the site owner to get a link placed back to my website (a followed one!).
        This way, I can get credit for the pictures I’ve taken, and get a good boost in search engine rankings through the links.
         
        However, the pictures of mine which got republished were not my best work of arts. If any of my best ones were taken, I might file a DMCA notice.
         
        But now that I’ve read your comments here, I will rethink my position and the way I will act!
         
        Thanks!
         
        BTW> Yes I’m still hosting on GoDaddy, but like you, trying to move away!

        • plagiarismtoday says:

           @thenextcorner I think I better understand now. Sorry for the confusion. I understand about not wanting to file DMCA notices. The debate between DMCA and cease and desist is an ongoing one and there are times where either is the best tool. I understand that well. Keep doing what’s working for you.
           
          The other concern I have about GoDaddy is if they are willing to ixnay an entire accont over a minor infringement, they’ll also probably do it over anything else. Other abuse reports, resource usage, payment problems, etc.
           
          This lack of respect for your customers can not be limited to DMCA notices.
           
          Let me know if you need any help moving off of GoDaddy. When I get this new VPS, I may be able to offer a temporary home if needed. I’ve also worked with a lot of hosts over the years and hav reviewed many for other sites.

          • Dave Head says:

            YOU NEED TO READ GoDADDY’S POLICY AGAIN. They actually have *2* responses to a DMCA request:

            (1) Block the infringing photo or video, but leave the sit intact
            -or-
            (2) If the customer is a repeat offender, suspend all websites completely.

            It appears they applied policy 2, because Candice Schwanger was a repeat offender. Web history shows she’s had battles with other copyright holders in Fall 2011 and February 2012 (a photographer and a band). Hence she got suspension.

            Clear? :-D

        •  @plagiarismtoday Thanks for the offer.
          I already started and moving to another host. Taking domains with me as well. No more business from me for the GoDaddy!
           

      • Dave Head says:

        YOU NEED TO READ GODADDY’S POLICY BETTER. They actually have *2* responses to a DMCA request according to their published end-user agreement:

        (1) Block the infringing photo or video from downloading
        -or-
        (2) If the customer is a repeat offender, suspend all websites completely.

        It appears they applied policy 2, because Candice Schwanger was a repeat offender. Web history shows she’s had battles with other copyright holders in Fall 2011 and February 2012 (a photographer and a band). Hence she got suspension.

        Clear? :-)

        • While that may be true in Candice’s case, I personally have been involved in sending dozens, if not hundreds, of notices to GoDaddy. Every single time they have chosen route 2, regardless of whether the person was a repeat infringer, once over just a few paragraphs of lifted marketing copy.

          I’ve repeatedly seen this overreaction first hand and the Candice case may be a poor example, but it is a real problem.

  2. Anonymous says:

    GoDaddy is too dangerous to host with for the simple reason that someone could file a false DMCA notice as a very effective DoS attack against all sites hosted under one account.

  3. vikkiorlando says:

    I would add: Be sure that your web developer doesn’t use copyrighted pictures on your behalf. All reputable developers and designers know better.

  4. Adam Senour says:

    Hey Jonathan,
     
    Would  you mind terribly if I shared this story with a GoDaddy rep on a web design forum I’m a mod in just to see his take?

    • plagiarismtoday says:

       @Adam Senour Feel free. even use the CC license if you think copy/paste would help. Just pass along what he says. GoDaddy hasn’t been eager to talk with me directly about this policy.

      • Adam Senour says:

         @plagiarismtoday http://www.webdesignforums.net/threads/im-new-here.37367/page-2#post-236458
         
        This guy seems pretty on the ball.  If you don’t get an answer, you’ll at least get some insight.

      • Adam Senour says:

         @plagiarismtoday Based on the forum thread I posted (for some reason, the link’s not showing up here anymore), the guy said “let me see what we can do…”
         
        Not sure how I can post the forum link without it getting deleted again.

  5. Guess Who says:

    The flip side is that you have web hosting services that I won’t name because people intent on infringement will flock to it…

    THAT WILL HANDLE AT LEAST FIVE take-down notices containing several infringing images and still not cancel the user account.

    With Pinterest stealing my content left and right, and having sent these bozos nearly 4000 take down notices, I’m sick and tired of DMCA.

    I’m glad GoDaddy is taking a hard line approach.

    I don’t care if it’s fair to the infringers.

    Is there anyone out there worrying whether it’s fair to ME to have to send so many notices???

    • As I pointed out in the article and as I think the Jay Lee example shows, an overreaction to a DMCA notice causes MORE problems for the filer as well as the alleged infringer.

      It’s a policy that’s so over the top it is reckless to both parties.

      While I agree that it’s frustrating when hosts don’t take them seriously enough, the other direction is not much better.

    • Guess Who Else says:

      My partner has (had) a web hosting account with GoDaddy. He is not a developer, but a good sales man. When he hired an outside company to come in and do the SEO/AdWords on a development account, the third party ended up stealing the hosting for the client. The client then filed a take down notice for the original development area, citing copyright infringement. GoDaddy forwarded him a cut and slimmed down copy of the notice (2+ weeks after recieving it) and then shut down his entire server within 4 hours instead of the development site. He had 20+ clients sites go down because of the broad sweep by GoDaddy. In the take down notice, the client even said it was a development site by the original developer. GoDaddy seriously needs to revamp their policy

  6. typetive says:

    I’m a little late to this party, but I thought I’d log a real world experience.

    GoDaddy hosts a candy webstore that was using some of my photos. (Several of the photos they’d removed my watermark. So when a candy company then said that they got the unwatermarked photo from that site and was using it on their site, I had to get to source infringing removed.)

    I sent the website two messages. One to their general email address, then three days later to the “abuse” agent listed in their registration. After not hearing a reply to either of those (5 business days), I filed a DMCA with GoDaddy.

    I specifically told GoDaddy that it was the list of images (17 in all) that I took issue with. I just wanted the images removed. But they went ahead and suspended the whole account.

    In one way I feel bad because it’s obviously a small brick & mortar business that also has a web presence, but in another one, this lead to a major candy company thinking that these now unwatermarked photos were fair game. (Of course that doesn’t excuse the major candy company, you’d think they could just take some nice photos of their own candy instead of taking a lousy 400 pixel one off the web.)

    • Never late to this party! Seems to be par for the course. Some say GoDaddy only does that after multiple complaints but I’ve never once seen the *other* way of handling complaints they do. I just filed three more with GoDaddy, all complete suspensions.

      You did the best you could here (more than I probably would have done in this situation) so don’t feel bad for this company. They chose to ignore or not set up their email right and then host with a company that will run them into the ground like that. Their decision.

      And yes, you do think a large candy company would get their own images. Seriously, you’d think that would be standard for marketing any product…

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