Is online ad industry becoming more accountable?  Yep, but there’s still (much) more to be done.

TAG MGroup ad sponsored piracySome good news on the ongoing fight against ad sponsored piracy.  Today, Group M, a major player in global media investment announced efforts to ensure that their media partners become certified providers of, or follow anti-piracy advertising guidelines established by the Trustworthy Accountability Group’s (TAG).  John Montgomery, Chairman, GroupM Connect, North America and Co-Chair of the TAG Anti-Piracy Working Group characterized the move as a big step forward in the fight against ad-sponsored online piracy:

We’re in the business of giving the world’s most valuable brands marketing advantage with smart media strategies. This inherently means we’re vigilant for clients’ brand safety. Our work with TAG in the development and now full adoption of anti-piracy guidelines is a major leap forward…Fighting pirates of copyrighted content required every ounce of our tenacity and ingenuity, but with the advent of TAG’s Brand Integrity Program Against Piracy, we have powerful new tools and safeguards.”

TAG’s announcement of its anti-piracy initiative last February was received as positive news by those leading the battle against online theft.

“We are glad to see brands taking the initiative to deploy validated tools and technologies to keep their ads off of infringing sites…While this is an important first step, ultimate success will require widespread adoption by advertisers, ad agencies, and ad placement entities. Consumers and creators should continue to monitor this issue and encourage brands and ad tech companies to do the right thing.” -Sandra Aistars, Chief Executive Officer of the Copyright Alliance,

It’s also worth noting that TAG’s certification process–included as part of GroupM’s new standards–will require actual proof of compliance to standards in order to be validated.

Through the program, providers of anti-piracy tools and services will be validated as Digital Advertising Assurance Providers (DAAPs) by independent third-parties including Stroz Friedberg and Ernst & Young, working with TAG. To be validated, DAAP companies must show how they identify risky sites, prevent ad placement, disrupt site transactions, monitor and assess the safety of ad placements, and/or prevent payment to sites that are deemed likely to offer pirated content or counterfeit goods. The first validated DAAPs are expected to be named in Q3 2015, and GroupM will require that all of its partners receive such validation by Q1 2016.

When it comes to the fight against online piracy any news is good news, but unfortunately there’s still much work to be done.  As I’ve argued for more than five years, cutting of the blood supply that incentivizes and sustains online pirates is crucial if we are going to turn the tide against out of control online theft for profit.

What about the other online advertising elephant in the room?

How to profit from piracy on YouTubeStopping advertisers from putting cash into the pockets of notorious pirate websites around the globe is one thing, but what is TAG doing about ad placement on supposedly legit sites like YouTube?  Is YouTube considered a “risky site” and if not, why not?

This past month I’ve questioned why major advertisers are so lackadaisical about ad placements on questionable YouTube content that includes pirated movies, clips of live-TV murders, (RATS) spyware, or terrorist recruiting videos.

At the time of TAG’s announcement last February, Linda Woolley, its President and CEO,  was quoted in a press release: 

It is critical that online advertisers be able to protect themselves from potential brand damage from piracy, fraud, and malware and safeguard their marketing investments. This initiative will help marketers identify sites that present an unacceptable risk of misappropriating copyrighted content and selling counterfeit goods, and it will help them remove those sites from their advertising distribution chain.

In that same press release, GroupM’s Montgomery noted:

“An advertiser’s brand is its most precious possession, and this program will help us ensure that our clients’ brands are not put at risk through unintentional placement on sites that promote pirated content, counterfeit goods, or other illegal activities. We look forward to working with TAG on this and other programs to help strengthen the advertising ecosystem by addressing systemic problems like piracy, malware, fraud, and lack of transparency.”

If protecting an “advertiser’s brand” as its “most precious possession” is truly a priority perhaps TAG-certified providers should also expand its focus to include sites like YouTube, a virtual cornucopia of monetized garbage that makes major brands look bad.  Not only is placement of ads next to questionable content routine, but both the uploaders of questionable content AND YouTube are making money off it.

In June of 2014 I wrote a post, “Enough Playing Nice with the Advertising Industry over Ad Sponsored Piracy” in which I made this observation in response Creative Future’s letter to ad industry executives praising their efforts against ad sponsored piracy:

Of course some action against ad-sponsored piracy is better than none, but news flash, ad-sponsored piracy is not news.  Every few months it seems some new initiative is announced, yet in reality, in the land of the online pirates and their quest for profits, nothing much has changed.

Perhaps I’m too impatient, too demanding….Certainly today’s announcement by Group M isn’t bad news, but talk only takes us so far.  I’m waiting for more progress–for days when I don’t visit YouTube and see this:


Ads for major brands on clips of LIVE-TV murder


Ads for major brands on pirated movie on YouTube