Flag of Edward EnglandWell alright, that’s not exactly what’s going on. But it could have that effect. For the UK Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), siloed in the City of London Police, has announced with some fanfare the launch of its “Infringing Website List (IWL) … [which] sets out to disrupt the advertising revenues on illegal websites globally.”

The principle of this initiative is to introduce “an online portal providing the digital advertising sector with an up-to-date list of copyright infringing sites, identified by the creative industries and evidenced and verified by the City of London Police unit, so that advertisers, agencies and other intermediaries can cease advert placement on these illegal websites.” The issue at stake is that ” advertising is a key generator of criminal profits for websites providing access to infringing content. A recent report by the Digital Citizens Alliance estimated that in 2013 piracy websites generated $227 million from advertising.”

I’m afraid that to me $227 million seems a fairly insignificant sum when set against – to take just one example – the Bertelsmann group profit of €870 million ($1.2 billion) for the financial year of 2013 alone. That’s just one rights-holding entity. Furthermore, as you might guess from its monicker, the Digital Citizens Alliance appears to be anything but an alliance of citizens, and rather more of a pressure group on behalf of tighter media controls and internet supervision. This sounds all too like the old familiar story of a special interest group co-opting law enforcement to pursue its own interests, regardless of the cost and the time involved, and dressing up its self-interest with a public-interest argument. After all, all those billions buy you a lot of lobbying time.

Creative Industries Minister, Ed Vaizey said in the announcement, “ The creative industries are a real UK success story. They are now worth £71.4 billion [$119 billion] a year to the UK economy and grew faster than all other sectors of UK industry in 2012. It is essential we protect our creative industries from people ripping off their content online. Disrupting the money unlawful websites make from advertising could make a real difference to the fight against copyright infringement.”

Once again, the amount supposedly earned by illegal websites through advertising appears totally insignificant compared to the revenues of the industry that is allegedly suffering from their depredations. Then there’s the question of whether the advertisers on illegal websites are liable to be law-abiding brands. I suspect not. So the register might be useful only for one thing: To direct people to the best and most popular file-sharing websites, and boost their traffic – and their advertising revenue.

“Wasting police time” is an offense under English law which “carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine.” I wonder if Big Media rights-holders should be prosecuted under this regulation?


  1. Contacting legitimate companies about their brands being advertised on pirate sites is a very successful and legitimate tool used by many authors. Google ads from these companies are the worst offenders. Google really doesn’t give a ****, despite their protests to the contrary, as long as they make money.

    As to the amount of money lost, you have to remember the small guys — the authors and the paid workers — are the ones harmed the most. A rich person isn’t hurt by the loss of a thousand dollars, a poor person may lose their house and their kids could go without food.

    And these sites do make a lot of money from advertising. They sure as hell aren’t doing this for altruistic reasons.

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