Facebook's role in profiting and promoting online piracy

It’s time to “un-like” Facebook’s habit of turning a blind eye to the flagrant piracy for profit on its pages

There’s been a lot of breaking news lately about online piracy.  This past week, two new studies were released that document the scope of online piracy and search engines’ role in leading consumers to infringing content.  Yet there’s another area, in addition to search, that should be drawing more scrutiny–the role that social media sites like Facebook play in leading consumers to illegal downloads.

Ads that appeared on Filmes Online Facebook PageI’ve blogged about Facebook’s link to piracy in the past, but today came across a Facebook page promoting pirated content that has 1.3 Million “Likes.”  The page also features advertising from entities like the Oklahoma Department of Commerce , Coach Handbags, and Petco.   Apparently Facebook has no problem collecting tainted income from advertisers who likely have no clue that their ads are adjacent to a pages linking to pirated movies.

I found this particular Facebook page when I happened upon a pirate website,  “Filmes Online Gratis” (Films Online Free) while researching illegal streams to a colleague’s film.  It’s a Brazilian site (Portuguese language) that offers more than 393 pages of streams for pirated movies and TV shows.  The site also features a link promoting its companion Facebook page that, as of today,  apparently has 1,305,449 “likes.”


This pirate website promotes its offerings via a companion Facebook page

I checked several of the movies featured on the site and found that the infringing streams were indeed active.  Of course this particular pirate entrepreneur’s business model, like the majority of them, is based on earning revenue from advertising so its pages–and the embedded streams — are plastered with ads.   The infringing streams are hosted via a variety of sites known for offering pirated content including the Russian Facebook wannabe Vk.com and a favorite pirate cyberlocker site, Putlocker.


What’s troubling is that the Filmes Online Gratis Facebook Page also features direct links to  these same pages (and infringing streams).  Spin it any way you like, but the fact is, Facebook is profiting from, and helping promote, pirated content.


Its Silicon Valley neighbor, Google, has been under (justifiable) scrutiny for its connection to the pirate economy; now it’s time to hold Facebook accountable.  One should also take note that in terms of this pirate’s FB page, Facebook doesn’t share any of its ad revenue with the pirate–the company gets to keep all its dirty money for itself (and its shareholders).  For Facebook, ad income on this page = pure piracy profit.

Last April, when I attempted to get a response from Facebook about this issue for an earlier blog post,  this is the email response (see below) I ultimately received.  I’ll try to contact them again, but I would guess that not much will have have changed since my last effort to communicate, save for the price of its stock.

Facebooks non-response to online piracy promoted on its pages

Seems a tad disingenuous to “prohibit” activity, yet do nothing about it.   This Filmes Online Gratis Facebook page didn’t get to 1.3 million followers overnight.  One can only guess how much advertising income Facebook has earned from its visitors.

original image-iStock

Why do we let Facebook off the hook for making money off piracy on its pages?

Like other companies whose business models profit from piracy (search engines, ad servers, payment processors, etc.)  Facebook’s lack of response adheres to the popular “Three Wise Monkeys” principle of corporate PR-hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.   By the way, there is a fourth monkey from the proverb–the often forgotten Shizaruwho symbolizes “do no evil.”

Ironically that particular phrase is a well-known part of Google’s corporate code of conduct that reads, in part,  “…it’s [do no evil] also about doing the right thing more generally – following the law, acting honorably…”

While I wouldn’t characterize Google’s corporate behavior as being particularly “honorable,” at least the company acknowledges on some level that online piracy is a problem.  The time for Facebook to pull its head out of the sand and do the same is long overdue. Playing ostrich will only work for so long.


(original images credit: iStock)