Scammers Use Harvard Education Platform to Promote Pirated Movies

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Spammers are using Harvard's educational sharing tool H2O to promote pirated movies. Thousands of links to scammy sites have appeared on the site in recent weeks. Copyright holders are not happy with this unintended use and are targeting the pages with various takedown notices.

harvardlawH2O is a tool that allows professors and students to share learning material in a more affordable way.

This is very welcome in a time where textbook and other educational costs continue to rise year after year.

Developed by the Berkman Center and the Harvard Law School Library, the H2O platform is mainly geared towards law professors but anyone with an .edu email address is allowed to join.

“H2O allows users – faculty or students – to develop, remix, and share online textbooks and casebooks under a Creative Commons license,” Harvard Law School explains.

H2O is a welcome system that’s actively used by many renowned scholars. However, in recent weeks the platform was also discovered by scammers. As a result, it quickly filled up with many links to pirated content.

Instead of course instructions and other educational material, the H2O playlists of these scammers advertise pirated movies. Below is an example of one of these dubious entries, but there are thousands more.

The scammers in question are operating from various user accounts and operate much like traditional spam bots, offering pages with movie links and related keywords such as putlocker, megashare, viooz, torrent and YIFY.

A “pirate” H2O playlist

hardvardspam

While most students won’t mind free access to the latest blockbusters, the links provided are not leading to regular pirate sites and services.

Instead they point to scammy portals, many of which require a credit card to signup, which undoubtedly leads to disappointment. These kinds of scams are nothing new, but seeing them listed on a Harvard website is a new development.

Access?

scamsignup

With links from the official Harvard domain name, the pages are an SEO goldmine and do very well in Google’s search results. This is something copyright holders have noticed too..

Over the past few weeks movie studios including Lionsgate, Sony Pictures, Columbia and Magnolia Pictures have sent dozens of DMCA notices trying to get the pages removed from the search engine.

Interestingly, Google has thus far chosen to take no action, which means that the pages remain indexed in search results. Whether the movie studios have sent DMCA notices to Harvard directly is unknown, but since the H2O playlists are still online this seems unlikely.

Although the movie link pages don’t meet the standards of a typical Harvard course, they do serve as a crash course on how to recognize piracy scams and avoid them in the future. That’s worth something too.

Update: Harvard Law School informed TorrentFreak that several of the spam pages were already removed, but that some remain cached. They are doing their best to address the issue and prevent similar spam in the future.

“We take these issues seriously. It’s not what H2O is intended for, but this is one of the challenges of trying to maintain an open system. We’ve taken action recently to restrict new accounts and to remove spam accounts and inappropriate content,” H2O’s Adam Ziegler says.

“We’re taking steps to clear [the cached pages] out, to dig for other material that should be removed and to further limit opportunities for abuse.”

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