Websites of all kinds generally need a steady stream of revenue to keep them online. Advertisers, sponsors and affiliate schemes all play a part and the position is generally no different for pirate sites.
That being said, by their very nature pirate sites have a more limited number of options when it comes to advertisers.
Years ago, many would use platforms such as Google’s Adsense or similar mechanisms operated by various reputable third-party agencies but when advertising for mainstream brands began appearing alongside pirated content, copyright holders were quick to point out that household names should not be funding illegal activity.
This resulted in pressure on agencies around the world to stop doing indirect business with pirate platforms, with various coalitions creating their own pirate site ‘blacklists’ so that known pirate players could be screened out as potential advertising partners.
WIPO’s ‘Building Respect for Intellectual Property’ Database
In 2017, the United Nation’s World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) threw its proposals into the mix with its BRIP (Building Respect for Intellectual Property) database. The plan, which came to fruition in 2019, would see “Authorized Contributors” and “Authorized Users” from WIPO Member States and the advertising sectors building a list of websites that are known to infringe copyright, so they could be avoided.
Early contributors included Italian telecom regulator AGCOM and KCOPA, the Korea Copyright Protection Agency. Earlier this year it was reported that Brazil was also cooperating in the project but information on precisely who else is involved is currently scarce, barring the latest new entrant.
Russia Joins the Renamed WIPO ALERT Database
According to Russian telecoms regulator Roscomnadzor, Russia has also decided to throw its weight behind the scheme following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding earlier this month after a year-and-a-half of negotiations with WIPO.
“Roscomnadzor and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have signed a Memorandum on the provision of information to the WIPO ALERT database,” the announcement reads, referring to the new name for BRIP.
“The WIPO ALERT database is a mechanism that allows WIPO Member States and their institutions to share lists of infringing sites in order to discourage advertisers from placing advertisements on such sites.
“Roscomnadzor will provide for placement in the WIPO ALERT database information about sites on the Internet, on which information containing objects of copyright and (or) related rights have been repeatedly and illegally posted.”
Who is Participating and What Are Their Criteria?
The above announcement by Russia indicates that the country’s participation in WIPO ALERT is based on its established guidelines for local site-blocking. Sites that are reported multiple times due to the placement of copyrighted content on their platforms appear to be prime candidates for inclusion in the WIPO ALERT database. This is in line with the published aim of the project.
“WIPO ALERT is a secure, online platform to which authorized bodies in WIPO member states can upload details of websites or apps which have been determined to infringe copyright according to national rules,” it reads.
What we can conclude from “national rules” is that sites can be added for ad-blocking when a local law is breached but, thus far, and based on information currently made public, participants other than Russia aren’t so clear on their parameters.
In respect of AGCOM, for example, the regulator merely states that the memorandum it signed allows it to contribute to a list of websites “compiled at national level that violate authors’ rights.” (pdf)
The System Still Lacks Transparency
Visitors to the WIPO ALERT portal hoping to learn more are given very little information to go on.
“Advertisers, advertising agencies and their technical service providers can apply to become authorized users of WIPO ALERT in order to access aggregated lists of infringing websites from around the world,” the site reads.
“They can use this information in their automated advertising systems to avoid placing advertisements on such sites. In this way, they can avoid subsidizing copyright infringement and protect their brands from the negative reputational effect of association with illegal activities.”
That sounds effective in theory but who is checking for errors and overreach, and who is responsible for ensuring that everything is kept up to date? Not the WIPO, that much is certain.
“WIPO does not assess whether any website is infringing and does not take any responsibility for the contents of the national lists hosted on the WIPO ALERT platform,” the organization writes.
So if a site gets added to a list erroneously or even maliciously (we only need to turn to Google’s Transparency Report on DMCA notices to see thousands of instances of both), how can that be rectified? The WIPO offers the following advice:
“Warning – any concerns as to the inclusion or omission of a website from a list must be pursued with the national agency concerned,” it states.
The problems here are obvious. There is no public list of “national agencies” that are able to contribute to the project and even when those are known, they won’t share their lists with the public. This means that it’s not only impossible for parties to examine the lists for errors but owners of domains that are wrongly included will not even know they are being blacklisted. All they will see is a reduced ability to generate revenue from advertising.
Avoiding Pirate Sites is Understandable But Business Works Both Ways
That many if not most advertisers would prefer for their brands not to appear alongside pages of pirated content is completely understandable. Advertising is all about perception and in the same way that big companies wouldn’t like their carefully cultivated imagery appearing alongside crazy conspiracy theorists on YouTube, association with pirated copies of Tenet or Mulan would probably be a no-no too.
However, some companies operating in the anti-piracy space, hired by copyright holders that are comfortable with their standards, are just as comfortable blacklisting news articles that simply report on leaks of Tenet as they labeling the BBC a piracy portal. Or, as we revealed this weekend, labeling a French ISP and phone manufacturer Huawei as running two of the world’s Top 50 piracy portals.
Not placing advertising on these sites, for example, could mean lucrative advertising deals lost, with brands, agencies, and potential platforms all coming out poorer.
Unfortunately, however, those who run national advertising blacklists such as the UK’s PIPCU (Infringing Website List) and AGCOM, for example, have absolutely no intention of making these available to the public. Why not is a complete mystery since all of the major pirate sites are public knowledge due to Google’s Transparency Report and the invaluable Lumen Database.
That leaves the possibilities that third-party scrutiny is undesirable, either because contributors prefer not to justify their decisions and/or mistakes could prove embarrassing and undermine credibility. Nevertheless, it would make for more accurate blacklists, which must be the goal overall, surely?