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New effort looks to directly take away a top source of pirate booty

Top piracy websites like The Pirate Bay are often surprisingly savvy at monetizing their own product of sorts (stealing the products of others).  That money has helped the sites secure competent legal representation, good server support, and find other ways to stifle enforcement efforts from content owners.

I. New Strategy to Fight Pirates -- Block Their Ads

Anti-piracy groups have focused much of their efforts on either targeting customers who pirate with threat schemes, or by looking to force or cajole internet service providers into trying to filter/block popular piracy sites.  The former approach was largely a failure due to the costs and the public backlash.  The latter approach proved largely ineffectual as well, given clever use of technologies such as proxy networks.

But the City of London Police has come up with a clever new scheme to bleed the pirates dry.  They call their creation "The Infringing Website List" (IWL), a directory that it described as an "up-to-date list of copyright infringing sites".  They're dubbing the IWL effort "Project Creative".

City of London

The enforcement agency's goal is to provide the list to third-party advertisers like Google Inc. (GOOG), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), and Apple, Inc. (AAPL), pressuring them to ban the listed sites from advertising eligibility.

The project is currently tied intimately to London law enforcement, but if successful pcould be adopted by other groups and jurisidictions.

The City of London's Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) is enthusiastic about the project.  Detective Chief Inspector Andy Fyfe comments in a press release:

If an advert from an established brand appears on an infringing website not only does it lend the site a look of legitimacy, but inadvertently the brand and advertiser are funding online crime.  Therefore the IWL also serves as a safety tool, ensuring the reputation of advertisers and brands are not discredited through association with illegal websites.

The Blacklist

The police claim they will avoid the mistakes of past enforcement efforts by the RIAA and others by properly notifying sites if they make the list, to allow for appeal.  Overzealous efforts have played a key role in scuttling past efforts, such as the backlash generated when the RIAA sued a deceased elderly grandmother back in 2005.

The IWL was tested in a pilot last year.  It brought relatively few complaints, but only resulted in a 12 percent reduction in branded product ads on targeted websites.  The question now becomes whether the police and private sector partners can convince more tech companies to refuse to advertise to priates.

But a bigger question, perhaps, is whether the police can prevent the effort from devolving into the desparate, heavy-handed efforts of days past (and present).

II. Piracy is Big Money Business, but Police Aren't Doing Themselves Favors With Secrecy

No one is questioning that some small artists have suffered from rampant digital piracy.  While figures of piracy are often overestimated, exagerrated, or misunderstood, it's hard to believe that no artist big or small has lost revenue to pirates.

A UK affiliate of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) -- the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) -- in a recent study suggested that piracy sites such pull in $227M USD in piracy revenue per year.  In Q3 alone, large torrent sites (the highest earners) pulled in an estimated $23M USD.  That survey claims that the top 30 bittorrent sites earn an average of $4.4M USD annually, while the top few (e.g. The Pirate Bay) can early $6M USD or more per year.

But the London police and DCA's promises of fairness seem questionable, given that they aren't even making their list public.  A spokesperson admitted to TorrentFreak:

All sites on IWL are identified and evidenced as infringing by rights holders and then verified by PIPCU. We are not making the IWL public. The List will be ever changing as new sites appear and older sites comply.

That begs the question -- if this is supposed to be a public "hall of shame" to admonish pirates and is supposed to be an honest, lawful, transparent boycott effort against brazen theft, why make the decision of keeping the list secret?

London Police
London Police aren't exactly known for their friendliness to the public. [Image Source: China Daily]

Public support has always played a key role in fighting crime, as illustrated by the success of the "most wanted" list in the U.S.  If law enforcement turns its back on public sentiment by refusing to share information on enforcement efforts on them, it raises fears of corruption and/or incompetence.

As TorrentFreak and BBC News suggest, the lack of transparency is troubling as it raises the risk of innocent websites being misclassified and suffering financial damages.  To that end the piracy lobby may once again fall victim to its Tarkin Doctrine of sorts.

Sources: City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), Torrent Freak, BBC News

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By SteelRing on 3/31/2014 2:27:34 PM , Rating: 3
The argument against piracy is flawed. It was created by the content owners who feel wronged or think they deserved more payback than what they already got (or did not get) and then stupidly coded into law treating digital/copyable material as if it's tangible physical property. You see, when I have digital materials on my hard drive and some thieving actors (via bitTorrent or whatnot) decide to help themselves to them, how am I going to feel any loss from it and subsequently make any effort to prevent my loss of personal property? I don't lose anything and perhaps even make someone else a bit happier and as long as I'm not harmed why should I help the content creator make more money, especially since I paid for it in the first place.

Is it a robbery when you just open your house and let people take anything they want and you don't even feel any loss from it to do things differently?

You see, the argument against piracy has only been one-sided which assumes there is only a demand side of it where there are "bad" actors struggling mightily to steal from the "legal corporation" thus punishable by law. But there is also the supply side of it where content purchasers have no qualms about giving access to their "properties" because it absolutely does them no harm when they do so. So how do you fault someone who pick up a heaping of money on the street when it's just there lying around, plus everyone can get the same access to it and nobody felt any loss either. Clearly you cannot, and the reason you cannot is because digital stuff is entirely not comparable to the physical items.

If you want to apply laws pertaining to physical item then you should only produce physical item that is not copyable, then you might have luck with piracy, which ironically is a term about as old as the human civilization, sadly no longer applicable to the digital age.

RE: Bullsh1t
By Reclaimer77 on 3/31/2014 2:46:20 PM , Rating: 2
I'm rather alarmed that "piracy" is falling under the purview of Law Enforcement. This is essentially a victim-less crime and I would think their time would be better spent protecting actual citizens and prosecuting real crimes that harm people.

RE: Bullsh1t
By HostileEffect on 3/31/2014 2:58:01 PM , Rating: 2
Speaking of police, I have yet to see them do anything good for me. All they seem to do is give good people bad memories and scars, completely useless bunch attracted by the power. One would think they would focus on real crime rather than being ticket vendors.

RE: Bullsh1t
By Aloonatic on 3/31/2014 3:49:43 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think piracy is victim-less, but it's certainly not as black and white an issue as corporations like to make out. But let's be honest, if there were no anti-piracy laws then who would really "donate" for any content, or at least donate to the level that people would see as worthwhile?

Anyway, the thing that really annoys me about it is how piracy is seen as theft. If you buy a Romex watch from the market, have you "stolen" a watch worth thousands of pounds? If you buy a knock-off designer handbag have you just stolen it? No, it's been counterfeited. Yes, sometimes digital copies can be as good as the originals but often they are lower quality versions. They are counterfeited films or albums, not stolen.

RE: Bullsh1t
By Reclaimer77 on 3/31/2014 4:40:11 PM , Rating: 2
But let's be honest, if there were no anti-piracy laws then who would really "donate" for any content, or at least donate to the level that people would see as worthwhile?

Well I don't want to pull numbers from my ass, but honestly, piracy is so rampant I doubt even a half of a percent of it gets any legal attention. You have a higher chance of being arrested for cutting the tags off your mattress than piracy.

So I doubt anything would change. Piracy is like the sales tax you're supposed to pay when you buy something off the Internet. It's the law, but nobody cares.

RE: Bullsh1t
By Aloonatic on 4/4/2014 1:46:29 PM , Rating: 2
Piracy may be rampant in your circle of friends, but I know lots of people who have walls full of DVDs and the like. People with iTunes accounts that are from genuine downloads. It does happen.

RE: Bullsh1t
By Solandri on 3/31/2014 7:04:39 PM , Rating: 2
Anyway, the thing that really annoys me about it is how piracy is seen as theft. If you buy a Romex watch from the market, have you "stolen" a watch worth thousands of pounds? If you buy a knock-off designer handbag have you just stolen it? No, it's been counterfeited.

It's interesting that you would choose designer handbags as your example. Designer fashion is one of the few creative industries not protected by IP law. You cannot patent or copyright a handbag design or fabric pattern. Literally anybody is free to copy it. It's that way because a long time ago a Supreme Court justice foresaw someone getting a patent on a particular button size, and preventing anyone from using similar size buttons (kinda like rounded corners). And he (and the court) decreed that clothing could not be protected by IP laws.

What the designers do is put their logo on their designs (in some cases like Gucci, they actually make the logo the fabric design). Their logo is protected by trademark, and so knockoff clothing and handbags cannot use it. The ones which do are counterfeit.

Evidently, even in the complete absence of copyright or patent protection, shoppers are willing to give money to the originator of the design if they feel he's earned it. Even when there there are dozens of knockoffs which perform the same function, look the same (minus the logo), and are considerably cheaper. Sure many of the less well-off "settle" for the cheaper knockoffs. But enough people pay for the originals to make fashion design a viable and (at the high-end) lucrative profession.

RE: Bullsh1t
By TSS on 3/31/2014 5:00:58 PM , Rating: 2
Depends on what piracy you're talking about.

Let us not forget the official name for piracy: Copyright Infringement, and it's a very big problem indeed. But it has to be seperated into 2 distinct catagories:

1. Consumer Infringement, or what most of us think of when we hear "Piracy". This is an almost harmless crime and often even benificial when traditional marketing channels are stuffed to the brim already. The problem here is the people you'll hear screaming bloody murder are often the people who benifit from piracy the most, or atleast lose the least. There are some smaller artists who are actually hurt by it, but often enough the name recognition they recieve for when they release a second product more then makes up for it.

2. Business Piracy, or, other business infringing on copyright wholesale. For example the indiegame Luftrausers that came out not too long ago was instantly copied then sold by chinese firms. That takes away a whole chunk of revenue. Or in a recent Q&A of a youtuber called Totalbiscuit where the guy gave an example of some russian fellow uploading his video to his own channel, which ended up getting more views then the original. That's alot of lost ad revenue, more then any end user with adblock could ever cause. He copyright claimed it on youtube, the russian guy counterclaimed it and actually won even though he couldn't speak any english. But any one youtuber isn't big enough to actually get a large company such as google to change their ways.

The latter is a big problem. It's also the one you'll least hear about and hardly anything can or is done about, as the people it happens to either aren't big enough to throw their weight around or cannot afford the lawyers needed to act as a deterrent.

I'll happily support increased penalties of copyright infringement of the latter cases. In the youtube example i'd even support youtube being liable for said lost revenue in order to get them to change things for the better. It has a tangible effect on people that are often enough struggeling as it is. But consumer piracy, i just cannot feel bad about.

RE: Bullsh1t
By splatter85 on 4/1/2014 11:38:29 AM , Rating: 2
Are you serious? Content creators go to work to create content, if it available for all to download for free, then they basically worked for free. Content = potential money. Product = potential money. If someone steals your content or your product before you sell it, you don't make money. What's the point of staying in business if everyone can have what you worked for, for free?

Why don't you go to work for a full year, and instead of getting paid, someone is going to steal the cash you worked for before it comes into your hands. The company you work for will say "oh well, we didn't give you the money yet. Someone stole it before we gave it to you so deal with it."

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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