UK Music Tank debate: Legal advertisers on illegal sites hurt music biz

UK Music Tank debate: Legal advertisers on illegal sites hurt music biz

UK music industry trade body BPI is to launch an initiative to address the problems piled on the music business thanks to legitimate brands advertising on pirate websites.

BPI disclosed its plan at a robust debate on advertising-financed piracy organized by industry think tank Music Tank in London yesterday.
“We’ve a structured program that we shall be announcing soon,” BPI CEO Geoff Taylor told the Music Tank audience at Follow the Money: Can the Business of Ad-funded Piracy Be Throttled? Taylor admitted he could not disclose too much, when asked by to give more details. But, he said, the new initiative “will address the problem of advertising on pirate sites and will be announced in the coming months”.

Although the BPI collaborates with other interested parties such as search-engine giant Google and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), stamping out the practice of brand-sponsored piracy has turned out to be complex.

“It seems some advertisers might not feel that bad about their ads appearing on illegal content because they reach the right demographics, therefore we have a long way to go to dealing with it,” Taylor added during the panel debate.

“I think we’ve been slow getting to grips with this issue. It has been difficult to figure out how big a problem it is and who the offenders are. But we can reduce the value of those (illegal) sites by depriving them of the value of the big brand advertisers.”

The IAB, which is responsible for setting standards in digital and web advertising, says legitimate online services generate about £5.4 billion a year from ad revenues in the UK.

However, it has been a challenge estimating the amount of advertising revenues earned by websites that use music, movies, TV shows and other copyrighted content without permission, IAB UK public policy manager Alexandra Scott admitted.

She said it is not easy for a single party to have total control over the complex online-advertising eco-system, which includes advertisers, online publishers, ad agencies plus the ad networks and ad exchanges responsible for placing ads on millions of websites.

“It is difficult to identify what is an infringing ad. Take one down and it will appear somewhere else,” Scott said in advertisers’ defense. “You must teach the advertising industry what an infringing site is. We are raising awareness among advertisers so that they can inform their agencies. The problem can cause advertisers great reputation damage in millions of pounds. So they don’t want to be associated with illegitimate sites.”

Search engine giant Google is frequently accused of not doing enough to banish pirate websites from consumers’ search results. And Theo Bertram, Google’s UK policy manager, did admit: “We could do a better job.”

But he pointed out that the search-engine behemoth has every incentive to kick illegal sites off its system. Google generated more than $42 billion from its search-ads revenues last year and does not want to jeopardize such windfalls.

Advertisers working with Google’s AdSense and AdWords platforms to place ads on pirate sites would, therefore, be breaching Google’s code of conduct, he added.

“Search advertising represents the bulk of our business’ revenues and, generally, we do a good job (placing the right ads next to the search results). It is the big pirate sites looking for large-scale advertising on the sites that are the main problem. The only way they can function is if they get big brands.”

For advertisers to know which sites might be doing illegal business, Bertram referred to Google’s Copyright Transparency Report search index. It receives requests for about 20 million URLs to illegitimate sites to be taken down every month. “Of the pirate sites Google deals with, two-thirds are advertising funded, and of those, 14% are served ads by search engines (not just Google’s). That means, a much larger proportion of websites are adhering to the code,” he said.

Music Tank’s keynote speaker was Dave Lowery, singer/songwriter and editor-in-chief of Trichordist, a community blog on artists’ rights protection in the digital age. He urged all interested parties to encourage advertisers not to support illegal sites. “Have the major advertisers say, ‘If we don’t know where the ads are going, let’s not use it.’ Advertisers don’t want to be part of high-risk inventories,” he said.

The debate took place at the University of Westminster, London