Podcast Hijacker Says Business as Usual

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2005-12-05

Podcast Hijacker Says Business as Usual

According to George Lambert, creator of the Podkey redirection service that allegedly hijacked a Podcast and held it for ransom, the alleged victim registered with his service to begin with and the "ransom" simply represents fees that would be required to do the custom coding the Podcaster has demanded.

The alleged victim, Podcaster Erik Marcus, recently found that Apple Computer Inc.s iTunes and Yahoo Inc. were using a URL and RSS feed that were not his in order to direct traffic to Marcus Podcast: Vegan.coms "Eriks Diner" show.

Yahoos Podcast page gives an RSS feed belonging, not to Vegan.com, but to Lamberts Podkeyword.com.

Marcus contacted Lambert to ask that his listing be removed. Lambert did so. This, however, caused Marcus listenership to crash by some 75 percent, he claimed. Marcus then asked that his listing temporarily be reinstated on Podkeyword while he worked to fix things with Apple Computer Inc.s iTunes.

Lambert responded that it would be reinstated only if Marcus provided an unspecified payment or agreed permanently to his terms—a description that sounds like hijacking and extortion and that has resulted in Lamberts being harassed around the clock by profane e-mail and phone calls.

However, as Lambert told Ziff Davis Internet News and also explained on a Podcast by David Lawrence, the request for reimbursement was simply to compensate him for the custom coding that Marcus reportedly demanded.

Specifically, Marcus reportedly requested that Lambert allow individuals to find his feed via keyword but not to allow OPML directories to have the feed any longer.

"He wanted me to make sure no other directory services got the information from me, but I cant tell who are directory services, because were not submitting anything," Lambert said. "People are coming to look at our list. I have a choice: I remove it from anywhere or I [dont] remove it. You cant restrict who comes to look at your Podcast. So his request wasnt technically practical.

"If you want me to come up with a solution, I can try, but thats consulting," he told Ziff Davis Internet News. "That doesnt fall within the bounds of a free service—one thats there to make peoples lives better. Is that extortion?"

"I met his [original] request immediately and without reservation," Lambert said. "I said Id reinstate it for free if he met my terms. If youre asking me to do something custom, you have to pay me to do [it]. Thats not unreasonable, and thats not extortion."

Lambert has posted on his Weblog what he claims is the complete, unedited e-mail conversation between himself and Marcus.

Click here to read about how Yahoos Podcast search operates.

Marcus referred questions to his lawyer, Colette Vogele. She said in an e-mail exchange that she was unsurprised that Lambert saw the facts differently, adding, "With many new technologies, different people see the facts in different ways."

Podcaster David Lawrence claims that Marcus, in fact, told him in a phone conversation that he couldnt remember whether he or his Webmaster had registered with Podkey—a lapse of memory that often afflicts Podcasters, Lambert said.

Could somebody else have registered Marcus keywords and RSS feed without his permission or knowledge? Its possible. As it stands, Podkey uses a Web form to allow Podcasters to register their keywords. Thus, the only way to determine if the people registering are who they say they are is to track back their IP addresses—not a routine practice for the service.

Lambert still might have been able to track it back, except that he deleted Marcus record after his first request to be de-listed, he said.

Following the brouhaha, Lambert has made it so that he can remove people from the indexes without deleting their contact information.

Next Page: Podcasters defend Podkeys service.

Podcasters Defend Podkeys Service

While Marcus is seeking legal redress for what he refers to as a new form of Internet extortion, Podcasters happy with the redirection service provided by Podkey arent hesitating to come to its defense.

One such comment demonstrates the possibility of a user having registered with Podkey and then forgotten about it: "From my own experience, I have to say, my dealings with George have always been on the up and up," Podcaster Kevin Devin wrote on Lamberts blog.

"I too had created a Podkeyword for my Podcast WAY back in late 2004. Interestingly, I had actually forgotten about Podkey until iTunes hit with their Podcast directory, which ended up including two different listings for my feed. The Podkey one, and my actual."

When Devin discovered the listing, he wrote, he discussed with Lambert what the impact would be of deleting the keyword altogether. Devin planned to have Lambert redirect what was listed under the Podkey feed to another special feed that contained only a single "special" Podcast providing listeners information on what was happening.

This way, Devin wrote, listeners would receive notice in his own voice as to what was going on and could then be redirected to his actual feed, which he preferred to use.

"Additionally, it would be simple to include in that special feed the tags to tell iTunes NOT to list that feed," he wrote.

While it would have created an interruption of service similar to what Marcus experienced, thats just what happens when a service such as iTunes collects data from numerous directories, Devin said.

"That act by Apple is what has caused most of this problem ALONG WITH our own willingness to list ourselves with services like Podkey," he wrote.

"I have no doubt that had [Marcus] asked [Lambert] to do the same thing for him, for all of his keywords, the results here would have been far different than what is happening now," Devin wrote.

Click here to read about Podcasting usage tools from Audible.

As it is, Lambert runs the service free of charge, on funds that flow out of his own pocket. "I went and did something, I was volunteering," he said. "They took my free service and now they called it extortion, hijacking. And to be threatened to be sued, and harassed … why would I ever want to do something for people on the Internet again?"

Beyond the profane response to Lamberts alleged wrongs, calmer minds are pointing out that the heart of the problem is this: Once the wrong RSS feed gets into a directory, its extremely difficult to find out and to fix it.

"I have that problem with one Podcast where some of the listings point to a staging server and not the real server," wrote Dan Bricklin, well-known blogger and the developer of VisiCalc.

"I think in the early days someone subscribed to the staging server while I tested out the Podcast series and some list picked that up and other lists copy from each other.

"This is a big problem. Its not like Google where things are somewhat self-correcting as people point to the one the owner points to," Bricklin wrote. "Once this points wrong it just perpetuates itself and you cant fix it. In this case, the RSS feed owner [Podcaster] got into a bad situation."

Yahoo declined to comment on this specific incident but provided a statement about the general issue. "Yahoos goal is to help grow the industry by providing a valuable service that brings Podcasters and listeners together," the statement said. "We are committed to working with the community to help identify solutions for broad industry challenges like this."

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