Police advertising on pirate sites

The City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has started placing banner advertisements on websites believed to be offering pirated content illegally.

The messages will inform users that the site is under criminal investigation and ask them to close their web browsers. These banners will replace other legitimate advertisements that are used on piracy websites, as part of the continuing effort to disrupt the illegitimate access to copyrighted content.

As a spokesman for PIPCU pointed out, copyright infringing websites are making huge sums of money though advertisement placement, so disrupting advertising on these sites is crucial.

Many websites, including those offering pirated content, use syndication networks to place advertisements on their pages. As certain brands use the syndication networks like a wholesaler, they are sometimes unaware what sites their advertisement will eventually appear on.

The initiative will employ technology provided by Project Sunblock, a firm used by major brands to stop advertisements appearing alongside questionable content, such as pirated material or pornography. This is also intended to protect the consumer, as sometimes the advertisement of brands offers the pirate website an appearance of legitimacy.
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Project Sunblock detects the content of websites to prevent brands’ advertisements appearing where they do not want them. If a website on PIPCU’s Infringing Websites List tries to display an advert, Project Sunblock will instead present the police warning.

Until now, PIPCU’s most effective tool has been to obtain court orders directing internet service providers to block websites offering pirated content, either by direct download or through peer-to-peer sharing. Although this is effective in lowering the traffic to these sites, various technologies can be used in order to circumvent the court-imposed restrictions.

The loss of advertising revenue could therefore be a very effective way of closing pirate sites down, and safeguarding the funds that brands incur for legitimate online advertising.

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Nigel is the Managing Partner and Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution in the London office of Mackrell Turner Garrett.