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New PIPCU initiative aims to invade the piracy ad spots

By | Published on Tuesday 29 July 2014

City Of London Police

The City Of London Police’s IP Crime unit has announced a new initiative which aims to replace advertising on piracy websites with warning notices telling users that the sites are under investigation for copyright infringement.

As previously reported, targeting the revenue streams of copyright infringing online operations has become a key element of the fight against piracy, and a top priority for the police’s IP specialists, or PIPCU.

Because of the way online advertising works banner ads for legit brands often appear on piracy sites without the brand really knowing, because the advertising has been placed by outsourced ad networks. Those ads generate income for the people running piracy platforms, but also give the services a sense of legitimacy in the eyes of many web-users, who can’t necessarily tell legit content services from the illegal ones.

PIPCU hopes that if it can replace those big brand ads with stern police notices, users will be encouraged to go looking for their online content elsewhere. Quite how the ad invasion will work technically speaking isn’t clear, though PIPCU is working with a company called Project Sunblock on the initiative.

Of course, concerns have been expressed in the past that PIPCU has a mandate to target piracy sites in this way without there necessarily being a court order confirming that a website is indeed infringing copyright.

Though in its announcement about the new ad invasion tactic the police unit stresses that its internal team properly investigates the operations of any piracy sites before acting, and that operators of such platforms are given notice before any action is taken, allowing them to dispute infringement claims, or put their houses in order.

In the vast majority of cases the sites being targeted are clearly prolific infringers, though presumably PIPCU can’t afford to accidentally take down a site that is legit, or even where the legalities of the operation are uncertain.

Confirming the new initiative this morning, PIPCU boss Andy Fyfe told CMU: “This new initiative is another step forward for the unit in tackling IP crime and disrupting criminal profits. Copyright infringing websites are making huge sums of money through advert placement, therefore disrupting advertising on these sites is crucial and this is why it is an integral part of Operation Creative”.

He went on: “This work also helps us to protect consumers. When adverts from well known brands appear on illegal websites, they lend them a look of legitimacy and inadvertently fool consumers into thinking the site is authentic”.

Meanwhile Project Sunblock CEO Duncan Trigg added: “Protecting brands online is at the heart of what we do, so we’re delighted to be selected to help the police tackle online piracy and bring about a safer marketplace for advertisers in the UK”.

He went on: “Without realising it, advertisers are allowing their brands to be associated with illegal sites, and regrettably, this happens more often than it should. But each time it does, brands are effectively putting money in the back pocket of criminals. As advertisers funnel more money into online spend, initiatives like this are crucial to safeguarding their brands as well as their budget”.