Hitting the revenue streams of infringing sites has been a recurring theme in recent months.
Companies like PayPal have refused to do business with certain kinds of file-sharing sites, while payment processors and credit card companies have agreed to make life more difficult for controversial domains.
A key source of revenue for many sites is advertising and critics have been swift to attack companies that place ads on torrent, file-hosting and other similar sites for allegedly funding copyright infringement.
As such there has been pressure mounting for companies to be more choosy over where they try to attract business, and for advertising networks such as those run by Google to take better care over who they accept work from. Behind the scenes the voices have been heard.
Just a few moments ago David Jacobs SVP at AOL Networks revealed that together with Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, 24/7 Media, Adtegrity, Condé Nast and SpotXchange, his company has established a set of self-regulating best practices to address known infringing sites in their respective ad networks.
However, they also make a number of things abundantly clear from the start.
“Ad Networks do not control the content on third-party websites and are not able to remove websites from the Internet. Nor can Ad Networks engage in extensive or definitive fact finding to determine a particular party’s intellectual property rights,” the best practices document reads.
“Nevertheless, we believe it is useful for Ad Networks to maintain policies intended to discourage or prevent, to the extent possible, websites that are principally dedicated to selling counterfeit goods or engaging in copyright piracy and have no substantial non-infringing uses from participating in the Ad Network. The signatories to this Statement have individually decided to adopt these voluntary best practices in furtherance of that goal.”
The document says that signatories will implement procedures consistent with applicable laws, and will be mindful to balance copyright interests, including fair use, privacy and fair process. To this end, dialogue with content creators, rights holders, consumer organizations, and free speech advocates will be maintained.
The companies acknowledge that rightsholders are best placed to assess infringements of their own intellectual property rights but also note that if their word is to be acted upon, high standards of reporting are required.
“Accordingly, intellectual property holders are expected to be accurate in demonstrating infringement of their copyrights and trademark rights and to target only infringing conduct,” they explain.
Rightsholders will be expected to file correctly formatted complaints with the ad networks that show evidence that the allegedly infringing sites are indeed engaging in illegal activity.
In addition to identifying specific URLs where unauthorized activity is taking place, evidence must also include time-and-date-stamped screenshots and other technical information which shows that advertising from the ad network appears alongside the infringing activity.
In common with DMCA notices, the complaints must be accompanied by a statement that the person submitting the notice “has a good faith belief that the Illegitimate Activity is not authorized by the rights holder.” Whether that will encourage rightsholders to improve their accuracy and not misuse these new tools remains to be seen.
Valid notices will trigger an investigation and sites targeted by the infringement notices may well be asked to cease and desist from their infringing activity.
“An Ad Network may take steps including but not limited to requesting that the website no longer sell counterfeit goods or engage in copyright piracy, ceasing to place advertisements on that website (or pages within that website) until it is verified that the website (or pages within the website) is no longer selling counterfeit goods or engaging in copyright piracy, or removing the website from the Ad Network,” the agreement reads.
Websites affected by complaints will have a chance to appeal complaints via the filing of a counter-notice.
The advertising companies conclude by making it clear that aside from trying to deter infringing sites from advertising in the first instance, this is not a proactive arrangement.
“This Statement is not intended to impose a duty on any Ad Network to monitor its network to identify such websites,” the companies note.
“Similarly, it is understood that the voluntary best practices reflected in this Statement should not, and cannot, be used in any way as the basis for any legal liability or the loss of any applicable immunity or ‘safe harbor’ from such liability,” they sensibly conclude.