How Madison Avenue Can Stop Funding Piracy

Recently, a study by Digital Citizens Alliance and MediaLink revealed that ad revenue generated for content that appears on pirate sites, or sites that illegally stream movies and TV shows, was $209 million in 2014. An amount that was roughly unchanged from the year before.

In the UK, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit estimated that if we take the revenue away from sites that host illegal content, as much as 95% of all infringing Web sites could be eliminated. This figure may be lower in reality since there will always be pseudo anarchists who want to facilitate illegal file sharing for free, but we can all agree that stopping criminals from getting access to revenue would make a large dent.

During my post as IP Advisor to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, I authored a report called “Follow the Money,” which outlined three strands to winning this part of the piracy battle:



1) Find a good mechanism, such as whiteBULLET to allow brands to control where their ads are placed to avoid promoting inappropriate messages and getting caught in uncomfortable situations like the one MI6 – an organization aimed at fighting piracy - found itself in when its own ads were appearing on a pirate site  

2) Once we have a voluntary code in place for reputable brands, find a way to stop those that just don’t care where they advertise

3) Ensure all the payment providers stop facilitating payments for illegal products

These initiatives are already being implemented in the UK, with initial signs of success. The UK Intellectual Property Office has established an Advertising Working Group, which has identified further research and educational activities to tackle piracy.

Ministers have also written to the top 100 brands seeking their commitment to piracy causes like the Digital Trading Standards Guidelines and the Infringing Website List. The Minister for IP has also chaired a number of meetings between rights holders and search engines aimed at identifying voluntary measures to deal with demotion of infringing sites in search results. Google has since changed its algorithm and Bing and Microsoft are expected to follow suit.

In addition to voluntary measures, we also need to consider legislation to tackle those that won’t adhere to agreed voluntary advertising guidelines. Also, there needs to be more attention paid to the payment providers and their role in facilitating piracy.

Progress is taking shape in the UK, and there is much that can be done with the US working with the UK in this global fight on piracy.  As to next steps, can I ask everyone reading this article (and yes, this does apply to everyone reading) to adopt two calls to action.

First, please push your trade body to get directly involved to get a coordinated “Follow The Money” program between the US and UK. Silence equals leaving it to someone else -- and we do need to get all the advertisers and legislators to take action.

Raising your voice and concerns to your official bodies will motivate them to put some extra determination behind the plan.

Second, look at your organization’s policy on Internet advertising. Are your ads appearing on the wrong sites? Are you doing an ‘MI6’ and supporting illegal sites unknowingly? Please check. And if you are doing everything correctly, tell the others who are not to get on-board with the fight against piracy! Let’s give the $209 million to those that are not ripping us all off.

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