Good money still going badToday the Digital Citizens Alliance* released a follow-up to last year’s report that examined the connection between online piracy and advertising profits.  According to results documented in today’s release, Good Money Still Going Bad, not much has changed.  Tainted revenue totals from 2014 aren’t very different from 2013.  The 589 websites included in the report generated 209 million dollars from advertising.  This, despite the fact that many of the rogue sites included in the earlier report had been shuttered.

DoubleClick ad-sponsored piracy

Google’s DoubleClick leads the way serving ads to pirate websites

With mountains of evidence that ad sponsored piracy remains a hydra with many heads, why do supposedly legit companies like Google still find themselves intimately attached to this beast? According to the report Google’s DoubleClick “ad-revenue engine” leads the pack of illicit ad service providers ( AKA-piracy enablers and profiteers).  Per the report, DoubleClick was found to serve ads for 109 of the rogue sites included in the report. came it at number two with 63 sites.

Not only does Google continue to be a prime player in ad-sponsored piracy, but the study finds that major American brands remain hopelessly entangled as well.

There were 132 premium brands observed by MediaLink researchers on the sites, up from 89 the previous year.

Promises, promises…

YouTube ads on pirated movie

YouTube also profits off ads on pirated content

Over and over again we’ve heard promises from ad industry reps that advertisers were finally going to take serious action against ad-sponsored piracy.  During the summer of 2013 the White House trumpeted that the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) and various companies (including Google) had “committed to a set of best practices to address online infringement by reducing the flow of ad revenue to operators of sites engaged in significant piracy and counterfeiting.”  

Last summer Creative Future wrote a letter to ad industry representatives praising efforts  to thwart ad-sponsored piracy and in February the same IAB made announced formation of TAG (Trustworthy Accountability Group).  On its website the group cites 4 areas of work which include:

Prevent advertising revenue from flowing to criminals who steal copyrighted material and place it on “pirate” sites

ad sponsored piracy

Budget car rental ad on streaming copy of pirate movie

Catchy acronyms and new “initiatives” are nice y’all, but when do we actually get to see results?

Yet for all the praise and press release, has any progress really been made? I’ve been writing about ad-sponsored piracy for five years and, despite much lip-service to the contrary, the online advertising industry still seems to be in pretty much the same place.

Until advertisers, and ad service providers, transform words into action, online thieves will continue make money at the expense of creators.  Remember, ad money is the fuel that feeds online pirates and thieves:

Ad revenue is the oxygen that allows content theft to breathe. We know from new research by the online rights protection firm Incopro that 88% of the most popular content theft sites in Europe rely on advertising for some, if not all, revenues. Incopro called advertising the “predominant revenue source” for the top 250 unauthorized sites.

It took me only a couple seconds today to find a major brand, Budget car rental, advertising on a pirate site streaming our film.   It’s worth noting that the DCA report also finds video streaming sites are a increasing threat in this illicit ecosystem:

  • Video Streaming a Growing Model: As consumer appetites have shifted from downloading to streaming, content theft sites have followed suit. The number of video streaming sites in 2014 was up 40% from the original report, and revenue grew significantly due to video CPMs (cost-per-impressions) that are far higher than those for display ads. Video Streaming was the only segment to generate more revenue than the year before, even with half as many large sites. Aggregate annual revenue was up more than 50 percent. It made up 12 percent of all advertising revenue in last year’s sample. This year, it made up 21 percent.

For now it seems the mantra remains-More money for the pirate, more customers for Budget and less money for the filmmaker.

*Full disclosure, I’m a member of the Digital Citizens Alliance advisory board.