Prior to my previous blog post, I had sent the “author” of the Paint.NET rip-off an e-mail asking and telling him to remove the software, and why. People suggested that I sue him, but I didn’t think it was necessary to start with that. I am happy to report that I have been successful at having the software taken down and discontinued. So as another tip for freeware authors, I am going to document how I dealt with the situation.
NOTE: This does not constitute, and should not be taken as, legal advice. I am merely documenting what I did as an example of what worked for me, and my thoughts on the matter.
1. I fumed for a few hours. Don’t underestimate the power of letting yourself cool off before sending e-mails. On a side note, I also try to avoid sending e-mail at all until I’m at least past my first cup of coffee in the morning. I am not a morning person, and I found myself sending out snappy replies!
2. I sent him the following e-mail. Notice that I did not attack or insult him, and stuck mostly to a strict “just the facts” writing style. I made no threats of legal action, nor any promise that I would not take legal action. That last part is key – you don’t want to promise yourself into a corner by way of a technicality. Maybe they remove the scam software, only to put it up the next week with a new name (“oh hey look it has an exclamation mark at the end, it’s a totally different name!”).
So we meet again. Once again (this is the 3rd time at least) you are blatantly violating the licensing and copyright of Paint.NET, and ripping off plugins from the Paint.NET forum. The software in question is called “<Name Removed>” located here:
You have also plagiarized content from the Paint.NET website, and have removed the copyright and permission notice from what you are distributing. Not only that, but your software removes Paint.NET when you install it and also tries to use the same installation directory (C:\Program Files\Paint.NET). It incorrectly claims to be based on “PaintDotNet” which is a program that does not exist (it’s called Paint.NET). Throughout the program itself it also claims to be Paint.NET (“Choose Tool Defaults”, for instance).
I also don’t think the various plugin authors will be happy to hear that you are blatantly ripping off their plugins without their permission, and without giving them any credit. This is a blatant violation of United States copyright law, and is not just a matter of etiquette.
So, this is another cease-and-desist notice. You must remove the “<Name Removed>” software from your website immediately, and also discontinue the product. I will check back on Thursday and if this is done then I will consider the matter settled.
Here’s the response I got the next day (which was Wednesday)
program will be removed sometime today
It actually took until the next day for it to be removed, but whatever.
3. I found various download sites that were hosting it, such as SoftPedia and Foto-Freeware, and sent them a notice about the software. In fact, I used the links on the page for “Report Spyware” and “Send us update information,” anything that I thought would end up being read by a human being and taken seriously. I informed them that it was a rip-off of Paint.NET and was violating copyright laws, etc. and that they should kindly take it down. Remember, these guys want to be on your side and they deal with a LOT of software updates every day, so it makes NO sense to let any of your anger bleed into your conversations with them. Both of the sites I just mentioned were very understanding and accommodating, and removed the software quickly (thanks!).
4. Since the software was still on download.com, I requested members of the forum to submit civil, articulate reviews stating that it was copyright violation, rip-off, etc. etc. (Yes this means that if you go dig on the forum you will indeed find out more about the culprit’s name, etc.) Thankfully, the reviews they have submitted are tasteful and do not attack download.com itself. Here’s an excerpt from one of them:
“CNET- if you do not remove this illegal and distasteful software from your servers, your reputation among the software community will forever be associated with the aid of copyright violators and warez downloads. Don’t allow your name, which has heretofore been known as a great source of software, become a synonym for theft.”
Unfortunately, their policy on copyright violation is heavily weighed down, no doubt by their lawyers. I have to send an infringement notice by regular mail. It’s ridiculous. Please just let me send you an e-mail and let it escalate through your customer support staff. Or, since I have an account on upload.com so I can manage my own freeware listing, give me an e-mail or contact form for this type of stuff.
Update: The offending software has been pulled from download.com.
Since I started with a [mostly] civil tone and was patient about compliance, I probably saved at least $5,000 in legal costs (that’s a very uneducated guess, mind you). I didn’t see the need to start by threatening a lawsuit, especially because only three things can occur then: 1) they comply, or 2) they don’t comply, and successfully call your bluff and their backspaceware is still online, or 3) they don’t comply, and you have to spend lots of money on lawyer stuff and actually sue them.
By not threatening legal action up-front you leave your options open while you consult with friends and real legal advice as to what you should do. Do not assume the person you are dealing with is a mature, intelligent, respectful adult. You have to treat them like a teenager who would like nothing better than to flaunt in your face the fact that they are pissing you off and that there’s nothing you can do about it. Threatening a lawsuit will just make them more excited!