UK Police ‘Hijack’ Ads on 251 Pirate Sites

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Data obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveals that City of London Police have targeted the ad revenue of 251 suspected pirate sites, replacing their banners with anti-piracy messaging. The police won't reveal the domain names as that would raise their profiles, but the most prominent pirate sites are believed to be included.

cityoflondonpoliceOver the past two years City of London Police’s PIPCU unit has been working with the music and movie industries to target sites that provide unauthorized access to copyrighted content.

Under the banner “Operation Creative”, last year they struck a deal with online advertising companies with the goal of replacing ads on suspected pirate sites with police banners.

The banners in question inform users that “illegal downloading is a crime” and stress the site they’re browsing has been reported to the authorities.

Police banner


The campaign has been active for more than a year but PIPCU only selectively releases information about its scope. However, thanks to a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request we now know how many sites are on the “Infringement Watch List.”

PIPCU informs TF that 251 domain names are being targeted by the advertisement replacement effort. These domains have been reported to the police by copyright holder groups, which is also the case for PIPCU’s other anti-piracy initiatives.

Last year we sent a similar FOI request and at the time 74 sites were included, meaning that the number being targeted has tripled over the past year. Unfortunately, the police are not willing to share the actual domain names as this may increase the number of visitors to these sites.

“This is an ongoing investigation and disclosure to the public domain would raise the profile of those sites unlawfully providing copyright material. This would enable individuals to visit the sites highlighted and unlawfully download copyright material and increase the scale of the loss,” we were told.

PIPCU further informed us that 134 advertising agencies are participating in the program, up from 84 last year. All of these companies have a UK presence but many operate internationally.

It remains unclear what percentage of the total ads on pirate sites are being replaced. The banners appear rarely in the wild so we assume that the volume is relatively low.

A few weeks ago PIPCU released some statistics on the effectiveness of the campaign. Based on a small sample they concluded that the UK’s top ad spending companies decreased their ‘pirate’ advertising by 73%.

Whether this made any serious impact on the overall revenue of pirate sites is unknown, but PIPCU’s Detective Chief Inspector Peter Ratcliffe praised the collaboration.

“Working closely with rights holders and the advertising industry, PIPCU has been able to lead the way with tackling copyright infringing sites by successfully disrupting advertising revenue,” he said.

Next year we’ll see if the program continues to expand, and if so, at what rate.


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