That's the conclusion of several recent reports that shed light on Internet piracy's funding sources.
Content thieves attract visitors with the promise of free downloads and streams of the latest hit movies, TV shows and songs. Then they profit by pulling in advertising from around the Internet, often concealing their illicit activities so advertising brands remain unaware.
Pirate websites run ads that are sometimes covered up by other graphics. They automatically launch legitimate-looking websites as pop-up windows that advertisers don't realize are associated with piracy. At the end of the day, the pirate website operators still receive a check for serving up a number of views and clicks.
The illicit activity is estimated to generate millions of dollars annually. That's only a small portion of the roughly
"(Companies) placed their ads on the assumption that they were going to be on high-quality sites and they're not," said
The study, commissioned for the Digital Citizen's Alliance, a
"It's certainly fair to say that millions of dollars in revenue from premium brand ads are supporting content theft sites," Berns said.
That's similar to an estimate from DoubleVerify, an online fraud protection company. According to a DoubleVerify report released last May, rogue website operators cheat mainstream advertisers out of
"There's growing awareness of the unscrupulous tactics that sites will go to to collect their dollars," said DoubleVerify chief operating officer
Several advertisers and top technology firms that operate ad networks — like
Several companies listed in the report as having advertised on pirate websites declined to comment, including
Yet it is easy to find legitimate advertisers on websites that peddle in copyright infringement.
When The Associated Press typed in the Web address www.uploadhouse.com — a domain that
Content theft website operators are based all over the world in countries like
The AP received an anonymous response from the email address listed as belonging to the registrant of piracy website SevenTorrents.org. The respondent said that while some advertisers prevent their ads from going on the site, others don't.
"Famous advertising companies like RightMedia blocked this site, I just let other advertisers which do not use those services (place) ads," the respondent wrote. "They are paying."
The person did not provide their name or location. According to a search on Whois.net, the site is registered to "Mike" in the Adygea republic of
The respondent also directed The AP to look at the "About Us" section of the website.
The section reads: "We make it easy for those users who are looking for pirated movies to find what they are looking for." At the same time, the site disavows wrongdoing. "I do not encourage or support people who rip or upload these stuff."
The site displayed ads from companies including
Advertising industry groups are fighting the problem, with limited success.
"New sites are created every day, names change, URLs change," he said. "It's impossible to always stop the ads appearing in real time."
But he says GroupM and other advertising agencies need to get better at choking off the flow of funds.
"We're only one agencies group, accounting for 10 percent of (digital advertising) buying," he says. "If we had a more sophisticated list we could have withheld more."
Content owners believe more can be done.
"This is a solvable problem," said
Good Money Gone Bad: http://bit.ly/1k2qyZD
DoubleVerify Fraud Lab Report: http://bit.ly/1sEM4sw
Google Transparency Report: http://bit.ly/1k2qeKl
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