Advertisers are being targeted by City of London Police in a crackdown aimed at crippling websites involved in digital piracy.
Last week police from the Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) visited eight advertising agencies, brands and ad networks to warn them about placing advertising on sites that illegally host copyright material.
The visits were part of Operation Creative, launched four years ago to disrupt advertising on illegal websites around the world. Police have put 1232 websites on an Infringing Website List (IWL) which is then shared with advertisers, agencies and intermediary networks.
According to a Digital Citizens Alliance report, piracy sites generated US$227 million (£185m) in 2013 from some of the world's leading brands.
City of London Police, which leads the initiative, claims to have achieved a 73 percent reduction in advertising from the UK's top ad spending companies.
This is one way of getting to the operators of these sites who are notoriously difficult to investigate, extradite and prosecute.
The Gambling Commission joined Operation Creative in 2015 and began encouraging gaming sites to observe the IWL which resulted in a 36 percent drop in the number of gambling ads on listed sites from March to June 2015.
Lead officer DC Steven Salway said that cutting off funding is the key to disrupting the sites.
“It is important we tackle this issue, not only for brands' and businesses' reputation, but for consumers, too,” he said. “When adverts from established brands appear on these sites, they lend them a look of legitimacy. By working with industry to discourage reputable brands from advertising on piracy sites, we will help consumers realise these sites are neither official nor legal.”
City of London Police said once the eight organisations were told that they were placing ads on websites that infringe copyright, they were “keen to support Operation Creative”, pledging to adopt the IWL.
Hosting copyright material without permission is criminal piracy. However, a City of London Police spokesman told SC Media UK that PIPCU doesn't view unintentional advertising on piracy sites as “a prosecution opportunity”, preferring to cooperate with them to remove their ads from these sites.
However, if a company continued to advertise on a piracy site, they could be prosecuted for money laundering offences.
The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) was a founding partner of Operation Creative. “PIPCU's IWL is the first of its kind and is a great tool for businesses to protect their brand reputation by ensuring their adverts don't appear on pirate sites,” said Kieron Sharp, director general at FACT. “Consumers need to be aware that not only are the criminals behind these websites making substantial amounts of money from adverts, but simply visiting the sites can put the public at risk of malware, viruses and click-through scams.”