Google: "follow the money" to fight piracy

3 Jul 2012
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Google advises governments to target other advertisers in battle against copyright infringment

Advertisers and payment firms should be involved in the fight against piracy, according to a new report - sponsored by the world's largest ad server, Google.

While the UK government focuses on website blocking and sending warning letters to individual pirates, the battle against online copyright should instead "follow the money" and target advertising and payment card firms, according to research from music licensing agency PRS for Music and Google.

Google argued that government should leave web users alone and target less "reputable" advertisers - while working with ad networks such as its own.

"How best to combat this danger?" asked Theo Bertram, UK policy manager, in a post on the Google blog. "Instead of imposing blocks or filters that might damage fundamental freedoms, governments should construct coalitions with reputable advertising networks, payment processors and rightsholders. Together, these coalitions can crack down and squeeze the financing behind online infringement."

The report found most advertising on piracy sites isn't via major channels such as Google's network, with 86% of ads on the sites examined "out of the mainstream". That's defined in the report as any advert that doesn't show the "Ad Choices" logo, a kitemark developed by the Internet Advertising Bureau - a UK agency that can hardly be expected to reach to peer-to-peer sites hosted in Russia, but counts Google as a member.

PRS defended Google's involvement in the research, saying it was "absolutely right" for the web giant to take part. "They’ve done quite a bit already to try to help rights holders, people like us and the record industry to try to combat piracy... I think it shows a willingness to work with people," said PRS for Music spokesman Barney Hooper.

PRS argues that advertising - regardless of who controls it - should be shifted to legal music sites, claiming 15 times as much marketing money is spent on illegal download sites. "Advertisers are wanting to reach music fans, and both legal and illegal are competing for them," said Will Page, PRS for Music's chief economist. "So, if we were able to reallocate resources so that more of that ad spend was to be directed away from illegal sites and towards legal services, then those licensed services would be able to compete for more fans - and that can only help improve the climate for copyright online."

However, Saskia Walzel, Senior Policy Advocate at Consumer Focus, pointed out that there needs to be proof that a site is illegal before services can be pulled. "Ultimately it is for courts to decide whether a service infringes copyright," she noted. "Without court orders there is a risk that credit card companies and advertisers choke off revenue streams for entirely legitimate businesses."

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PRS said more than one tactic was required to reduce piracy. "From our perspective, there’s no one-sized fits all [solution] for piracy," said Hooper.

"There needs to be lots of different kinds of measures to try and tackle it," he added, saying a "carrot and stick" approach - offering legal alternatives and discouraging infringement - was the right tactic.

Indeed, Google's Bertram said "legitimate" online content sales were already growing, citing stats from the BPI that showed digital music made up more than half of record industry revenue for the first quarter, while ad-supported and subscription music services were both posting growth.

"Even though revenue from compact discs fell, the music industry’s overall market value grew by 2.7%," Bertram said.

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