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

"This is about the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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