Exposed: Bogus Law Firms Manipulate SEO with Fake DMCA Threats

Picture this: you’re running a small business and suddenly, you receive a legal notice from a solicitor’s firm alleging copyright infringement due to an image on your website.

The initial reaction might be to panic, followed by a hurried attempt to rectify the issue to avert any legal repercussions. This very response is what certain unscrupulous scammers are counting on with a worrying new trend in the digital world.

Ernie Smith, a curious journalist renowned for his exploration of lesser-known subjects through his newsletter, Tedium, recently found himself caught in such a dilemma.

In late March, he was issued a DMCA Copyright Infringement Notice by a so-called “Commonwealth Legal,” purporting to represent the “Intellectual Property division” of a company named Tech4Gods.

The image in question?

A straightforward photo of a keyfob from Unsplash, a well-respected free image provider, which Smith had used in an article about a peculiar Uber experience.

The notice demanded that Smith attribute their client on his website within five working days, cautioning that simply removing the image would not settle the matter.

Non-compliance would trigger their case against him, utilising the DMCA 512(c) statute. This law does provide some protection for site owners who inadvertently use infringing content if they act promptly to remove it.

However, a deeper look reveals that the credibility of Commonwealth Legal is nonexistent.

Allegedly based in Arizona—a state, not a commonwealth—the firm’s website is teeming with stock photos and a domain registered just weeks before the notice was dispatched. The physical address given leads to a fictitious location. The purported list of solicitors on their site, showing vacant expressions typical of AI-generated faces, raises further doubts.

Reality Defender, an AI detection company, confirmed that these images were probably crafted using a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) model.

The solicitors’ biographies are a bizarre blend of plausible legal jargon and outright fantasy. Some purport to have degrees from prestigious institutions like Harvard and Yale, while others boast qualifications from less known entities.

One solicitor, Sarah Walker, allegedly specialises in copyright infringement and high-stakes criminal cases—a curiously wide legal scope.

So, why create a fake law firm to issue baseless legal threats?

The motive is straightforward yet malevolent: backlinks.

Backlinks, which are links from one website to another, are crucial in search engine optimisation (SEO). They influence how Google and other search engines rank sites. By pressuring site owners to link to their dubious legal firm, these fraudsters aim to manipulate SEO rankings in their favour.

This strategy abuses the trust that search engines have in backlinks, despite ongoing enhancements in algorithms and AI to evaluate their quality.

It serves as a stark reminder of the persistent challenges in the SEO industry, where the boundary between shrewd optimisation and deceptive tactics often becomes blurred.

For small to medium business owners, this situation highlights the essential need for vigilance in managing your digital presence.

Working with a reputable SEO agency that grasps the subtleties of SEO can prevent you from becoming prey to such frauds. It’s just about boosting your online visibility—they’re also about protecting your site from exploitation by opportunists.

The tale of the phantom law firm serves as a warning for all digital entrepreneurs: in your pursuit to enhance your site’s SEO, remain informed and select your collaborators wisely.

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