The Reseller Problem

If you want to become a Web host, it has never been easier. Most larger hosts offer a reseller package that lets you purchase a large chunk of server space, carve it up into smaller blocks and resell it for a profit. All you have to do is set up an account, create a site and recruit customers. You never have to see or touch an actual server.

It’s a low-cost home-based business that can generate a lot of revenue quickly with very little risk.

Those factors have attracted many entrepreneurs to this field. Though most are honest and take their responsibilities as a host seriously, some clearly do not. This has helped to create a second tier of spam, scraper and plagiarist-friendly hosts and large number of headaches for Webmasters and bloggers.

Sadly, it appears that the problem won’t be getting better anytime soon.

A Dead End Street

It’s a scenario that’s played out at least half a dozen times in my inbox. A blogger discovers they are being scraped or plagiarized. Using standard networking tools, they track down the host of the offending party, pull up their site and send an email to the DMCA agent, abuse representative or both.

The email, however, either bounces back or disappears into the darkness of the Web. No action is taken and what seemed to be an easy resolution turns out to be a dead end. With nowhere to go and seemingly no one else to turn to, these cases often go unresolved.

The problem is that, depending on the setup, many resellers will appear to be the host when looking at the domain’s information. However, resellers often lack the manpower, desire and/or ability to follow through on abuse complaints, including DMCA ones.

Despite taking money from their clients and being listed as their hosts, resellers often can’t or won’t fulfill their obligations to remove infringing content or sites that violate their own terms of use. This in spite of the DMCA and other laws that make such ination very dangerous.

Getting on the Right Path

The easiest way to spot a reseller is to look at the information on the IP address the infringing site is hosted at. If names and domains outside of the host appear in the information, there is a decent chance that it is hosted by a reseller account or, at the very least, on another company’s server.

Fortunately, most resellers are cooperative. Generally, they have a lower client/admin ratio and can actually better handle abuse complaints. That makes it worthwhile to at least attempt to contact the reseller in hopes that the matter can be brought to a quick and easy end.

Despite that, it’s important to be prepared in case the reseller isn’t willing or able to assist. Be sure to make a note of any other domains and email addresses listed in the information on the domain and keep them in reserve. If the reseller ignores your complaints or, worse yet, all emails to them bounce back, be prepared to contact the original host.

When looking at a reseller’s site, be wary of ones that look unprofessional, have just one email account for all types of communication (most set up at least a separate account for abuse, support and sales) and/or limited information about the company itself. Though the reseller may still be cooperative, these are traditionally warning signs of potential problems.

If the reseller does not respond in a timely matter, approximately 72 hours, simply refile your complaint with the DMCA agent or abuse team of the host they are getting their service from. Larger hosts generally have a system in place, though not necessarily a quick one, to handle such matters and can do so even if they are on a server operated by a reseller.

Very few hosts will refuse to get involved in such matters and those who do are mostly overseas where the laws are more vague.

Conclusions

In the end, uncooperative resellers are annoying, but they are not road blocks in most cases. In the vast majority of instances, it is trivial to go over their heads and get results from a larger, more professional, hosting company.

The hardest part in dealing with uncooperative resellers is determining who they are reselling for. Network information is already hard enough to read and digging through it to find information that is, at times, intentionally hidden can be a difficult challenge.

Sadly, that headache is likely to grow as more and more people get into the business of reselling, some seeking nothing more than the easiest dollar possible. Though hopefully those with less than pure intentions will be forced out of the reseller business due to poor service, that has not stopped others.

As more and more people become resellers and more sites are hosted by them, often without the customer realizing that their “host” doesn’t control the servers at all, the potential for problems will only rise.

In the coming days I will run another article about how to use these networking tools to both find the host and determine if the host is a reseller. Doing so is fairly trivial once one understands the basic principles behind such a search, but that is outside the scope of this article.

In the meantime, it’s important to remember that an uncooperative host may not be a host at all. They might either be renting a server from a larger company, or simply be using a reseller account.

[tag] Plagiarism, Content Theft, Copyright Infringement, Hosting, DMCA, Reseller, Copyright Law[/tags]
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