Another nail in the coffin of piracy sites

In the early days of the internet, and still today to some degree, in ill-informed parts of the media the organizations  or individuals who run or ran piracy web sites somehow managed to project themselves as being modern day Robin Hoods: brave and selfless, cyber Che Guevaras heroically, disinterestedly  “sticking it to the man” on behalf of the little guy.

Perhaps in the not-too-distant future a raft of PhDs will trace how this remarkable falsehood ever gained currency.  In these putative doctoral theses I am sure we will find many references to research recently carried out by Incopro.

It won’t win a prize for the snappiest, catchiest title of 2015 but “The revenue sources for websites making available copyright content without consent in the EU” shows just how money-focused the piracy web sites are. The only little guys  being helped are the pirates themselves, in particular their personal bank balances. Incopro looked at 250 sites in each of five different countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.

Why does this matter to someone like me who is primarily concerned with the welfare of children and young people when they go online? It matters because while piracy web sites are dangerous and unsavoury places for adults they are far worse for kids.

When you go to these sites you are not only offered access to pirated material you are also tempted with adverts for a range of different types of products or services. You can even buy certain things directly through some of the sites.

Incopro identified nine different categories of adverts and activity. Here are the top three:

Trick Button/Malware: 31.5% (1,118 instances)

Gambling: 18.1% (642 instances)

“Adult”: 10.4% (368 instances)

The “adult” category wasn’t broken down further but in other, similar  reports we can see that it embraces not only hard core porn – stills and videos –  but also, thanks to the internet’s geo-location capabilities, to locally-based prostitutes. In addition some of the links strongly suggested a connection to child abuse images (child pornography).

Whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of copyright theft, any way you look at it these are not the sort of sites kids should be visiting. Parents and teachers need to know. It ain’t smart and it ain’t clever.

But here’s the thing:  the piracy sites are being aided and abetted in their illegal activity by advertisers and  ad networks, to say nothing of the companies that provide online payment facilities. Visa and Mastercard figured most prominently. Astonishingly even Google Wallet and Pay Pal featured. This cannot be right.

The ad networks and payments providers are helping to sustain the core illegal activity on the sites and in the process  they are also putting kids at risk by exposing them to a range of materials  or possibilities with which they are singularly ill-equipped to deal.   These intermediaries cannot claim they don’t know  what is happening and how they are helping it so what are they now going to do about it?

And what about the  companies whose brands are being associated with this grubby,illegal environment?  They need to get on the case.

Not that long ago in the UK several household name businesses woke up to a storm of protest as their ads started appearing on the web site of a deeply racist but well known political organization. The businesses  concerned acted swiftly and the problem was promptly resolved. It has never happened again – at least not with those brands.

That’s how it should be. It’s easy to do and every self-respecting business that advertises online should do it. Pronto. I’ll even save a bit of time by drafting the email for them.

Dear Ad Network,

We are happy to continue placing our online advertising business with you but please be aware that we do not want our company name or any of our products  to be found  or placed on any web site that is engaged with or linked to online piracy of any kind. This is such an important issue for us I think it is only fair to tell you that should you fail to comply with this request we will have no option but to terminate our contract with you. Please confirm by return that you have understood  this instruction and that you are willing and able to comply forthwith.