Some of the music available for download via Bit Torrents on the Pirate Bay site.
Some of the music available for download via Bit Torrents on the Pirate Bay site. David Stuart

Tech companies target piracy sites by blocking ad revenue

IN an effort to impede piracy websites by targeting their finances a consortium of tech companies including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have created new rules to block advertising appearing alongside illegal content.

New 'best practices' guidelines have been created in a partnership with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), an  organization responsible for developing industry standards and providing legal support for the online advertising industry.

The guidelines seek to address the difficulty ad networks have in in controlling where their advertising appears as well as their inability to "remove websites from the internet".

Websites that carried pirated media or that sell counterfeit items will have their advertising removed, "reducing the flow of ad revenue to operators of sites engaged in significant piracy and counterfeiting."

A new takedown system is also being established, allowing rights holders to request that websites remove content or risk legal action. How exactly such a system would differ from takedowns processed via the current Digital Millennium Copyright Act is as yet unclear.

The White House have officially commended the new initiative, commenting that: "It is critical that such efforts be undertaken in a manner that is consistent with all applicable laws and with the Administration's broader Internet policy principles emphasizing privacy, free speech, fair process, and competition."

The move follows recommendations from Google that the industry should "follow the money to fight online piracy": "Instead of imposing blocks or filters that might damage fundamental freedoms, governments should construct coalitions with reputable advertising networks, payment processors and rightsholders."

In the same blog post Google also reference profit figures from the music industry as an example of the success of digital content. Despite consistently crying foul and claiming piracy is destroying legitimate music sales, the music industry's overall market value in the UK grew by 2.7% to £155.8m in the beginning of 2012.

However, despite the apparent consensus over the practicality of the new guidelines, many are still unsure how sites will be policed. Dave Jacobs, AOL Networks Senior vice president of publisher sales, described the best practices as "intended to encourage and supplement, not replace responsible and direct independent actions".

Another worry is that although big advertisers are on board, there are many smaller companies that are less visible, less responsible to public scrutiny and less scrupulous. Such organizations could quickly fill the void left by the larger network if, as some suggest, they aren't already.

A study by Google examining the advertising models used to support piracy-centred sites found that "86% of advertisements did not display the Ad Choices logo suggesting that the advertisers do not associate themselves with the online advertising self-regulation scheme." The 'Ad Choices' scheme is administered by the IAB.

The upshot of all this seems to be that despite the endorsement of Silicon Valley giants and the White House, the newly proposed guidelines may be less effective than they appear. The disagreement over the source of advertising revenue for piracy sites (is it 'mainstream' or not - and how do you define the two?) as well as the lack of changes to the site-takedown system mean the IAB's system is well-intentioned but lacking any clout.

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