For a year, City of London Police have been working with the music and movie industries on initiatives to cut down on the consumption of pirated content online.
Operation Creative employs a multi-pronged approach, seeking to educate consumers while making life difficult for sites that operate unlicensed services.
Many unauthorized sites generate revenue from advertising, so the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) informs potential advertisers on how to keep their promotions away, thus depriving sites of cash. Another key aim is to stop users from getting the impression that pirate sites have “big brand” support when household names are seen advertising.
Today, PIPCU officially announced the launch of another angle to their ad strategy. As reported by TF in April, police are now placing their own ads on pirate sites to warn users that the site they’re using has been reported.
“This new initiative is another step forward for the unit in tackling IP crime and disrupting criminal profits,” said Head of PIPCU, DCI Andy Fyfe.
“Copyright infringing websites are making huge sums of money though advert placement, therefore disrupting advertising on these sites is crucial and this is why it is an integral part of Operation Creative.”
Sample police ad
As shown below, the BBC has published a PIPCU-supplied screenshot of how the ads look on an unauthorized MP3 site known as Full-Albums.net.
In our tests we couldn’t replicate the banners, despite dozens of refreshes, so it’s possible the site took action to remove them. Needless to say, we did see other advertising, and very interesting it was too.
Ironically, by clicking album links on Full-Albums we were presented with ads from BearShare, a music service that struck deals with the RIAA in the last decade. As can be seen from the screenshot below, the service places the major labels’ logos prominently to attract customers, even when accessed from a UK IP address.
TF checked with the BPI on the licensing status of the service in the UK and will update this article when their statement arrives, but as can be seen from this quote from the BearShare site, they claim to be legal.
“Using BearShare is 100% legal. The service employs state of the art filtering technology, and is approved by the major record labels and RIAA. Downloading from BearShare is entirely legal, and will not get you in any kind of trouble whatsoever,” the service says.
If Bearshare is licensed, this raises the possibility that the labels are indirectly financing ads on pirate sites themselves, something they’ll want to quickly remedy.
Ads on other sites
PIPCU, who have partnered with content verification technology provider ‘Project Sunblock’ to place the warning ads, say their banners are “now replacing a wide range of legitimate brand adverts on infringing websites.”
So, determined to find examples of the police advertising, we began moving through sites with the most copyright complaints as per Google’s Transparency Report.
Unfortunately we were unable to view a single PIPCU banner. However, as shown in the screenshot below, we did get some interesting results on MP3Juices, a site for which the BPI has sent 1,206,000+ takedowns to Google.
Skybet is not only a subsidiary of broadcasting giant BSkyB, but the company is also a leading member of the Federation Against Copyright Theft. In turn, FACT is a key Operation Creative partner. While Sky Bet wasn’t the only gambling advertiser on the site, this ad placement means that BSkyB are currently helping to finance the very sites that PIPCU are trying to close down.
There’s absolutely no suggestion that Sky or the major labels via Bearshare are deliberately trying to finance pirate sites, but the above examples show just how difficult it’s going to be to keep major brand’s advertising off these sites, even when they are acutely aware of the problems.