Many American companies still have their fingers in the Piracy Profit Pie

While Bitcoin, the shady crypto-currency,  may be emerging as a potential new not-so-legal tender in the black market of online piracy,  the fact remains that mainstream companies like Google, Visa and Mastercard still play a major role in facilitating the flow of money that’s exchanged (and earned) in this illicit underground economy.

There’s no question that cloud-based pirate cyberlocker havens took a hit after the demise of big daddy Megaupload with many of the biggest once scattering like cock roaches when the feds took action.  Despite that much-needed house-cleaning, offshore cyberlockers continue to be a major source of pirated content thanks to the profits they generate with little risk and much reward.  Unfortunately, despite lip-service to the contrary, ad networks like Google’s AdSense and payment processors like Visa and MasterCard remain an integral part of the system, acting as unseemly middlemen–earning income for themselves and the content thieves. Here’s how it works.

  • Pirate uploads stolen content (movies, music, books, etc) to cyberlocker (usually to multiple sites)
  • Pirate advertises the file’s download links on forums far and wide to attract “customers” to earn cash incentives from cyberlocker
  • Cyberlocker offer incentives to pirates to upload and “share” popular (pirated) content to attract traffic
  • More traffic means more income for Cyberlocker  via advertising (from services like Google AdSense) and premium subscriptions (paid for with Visa, MasterCard, etc)
  • Cyberlocker pays cash rewards to pirate uploader based downloads, referrals, and premium subscription sales
  • Everyone makes money in this system EXCEPT the content creators

Below are a series a graphics illustrate the pirate business model at work.  Pirate forum x264-bb is a web “forum” in the business of promoting pirated download links to a variety of  pirated movies and TV shows.  The site boasts strict guidelines for users to follow when posting links to their pirated content–ironic to say the least, particularly the admonition not to make more downloads (mirrors) “unless authorized by the original encoder.”  I guess there’s honor among thieves after all…

voxindiex264 guidelines for pirates1

Below is an example of a typical post on the forum, advertising download links for the movie “Despicable Me”  by a user aditkhan (who boasts over 6,899 posts).

Pirate movie forum post

Pirate uploaders generally post “mirrored” links (identical files on multiple sites) so that downloaders aren’t disappointed if the first set of links disappears.  In this case he has posted identical links on cyberlockers FileParadox.com and RyuShare.com.  Note that the movie file offered in multiple parts to increase page views and profits.


Below is one of the downloads link on FileParadox.  Note the inducements to purchase “premium” subscription as well as a Google-served AdSense advertisement at the bottom of the page that ironically promotes AdSense.


If downloaders do want to sign up for premium service (and access to high-speed downloads of stolen files) they can pay using Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express and more.


Even if the downloader doesn’t choose to become a premium member, FileParadox still earns income thanks to Google’s AdSense advertising.

Google Adsense on pirate site

I created an account on FileParadox in order to show you what their reporting page looks like.  There are various ways uploaders can earn money by uploaded stolen content: # of downloads, # of premium accounts sold, and referrals.

Piracy profiteers

Aditkhan reminds forum members to “support” him by creating an account (referral) and upgrading (premium sales).  It doesn’t seem like a stretch to guess that aditkhan wouldn’t be so busy stealing, uploading and sharing links if he didn’t make money doing so.  Clearly Google, Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express apparently don’t mind adding to their coffers and taking a cut of the action either.   Their voluntary “best practices” agreements seem–at this point–to be full of holes.,,