An industry effort to stop advertisements from appearing on websites primarily devoted to piracy is winning applause from the White House, whose IP czar Victoria Espinel announced the news in a blog post on the White House website entitled "Coming Together to Combat Online Piracy and Counterfeiting." The announcement received modest support from the Recording Industry and some concern from the Motion Picture Association.
AOL, Condé Nast, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are among the companies that have voluntarily agreed to "best practices" on this front. Each of the companies will maintain internal procedures designed to ensure that third-party websites deemed to be bad actors on the piracy front don't benefit from ad revenue.
As spelled out in the guidelines, there's an informal complaint process that will be set up whereby rights holders will be able to inform an ad network of a troublesome website. After the notice is received, Google and other ad networks are supposed to investigate the flagged website and make a determination. Although there's no specific appeals process mentioned, the best practices hint that websites will be given the opportunity to make a counter-notice.
The multi-company effort to do something about pirate sites is similar to an industry cooperation that fostered the adoption by ISPs of the "Copyright Alert System" (aka the six strike system).
The effort comes in lieu of legislation. During the debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act, there was great talk about legislating an approach that would cut off the financial support of websites that facilitated copyright infringement.
The Obama administration is throwing its support behind the plan. "The Administration strongly supports voluntary efforts by the private sector to reduce infringement and we welcome the initiative brought forward by the companies to establish industry-wide standards to combat online piracy and counterfeiting by reducing financial incentives associated with infringement. We believe that this is a positive step and that such efforts can have a significant impact on reducing online piracy and counterfeiting."
In a statement from Google on the new initiative, the search behemoth lauded its own legal music sites, while acknowledging the problem of ad-sponsored piracy sites. "In addition to developing legitimate, innovative, and convenient content offerings (such as Google Play and YouTube, through which our partners together generate hundreds of millions of dollars)," the statement read, "we continue to develop solutions to help fight piracy and counterfeit online. We think one of the most effective ways to do this is to cut off the money supply to rogue sites that specialize in piracy or counterfeiting."
RIAA chairman and CEO Cary Sherman lauded the initiative saying in a statement that, “These best practices are another step in our ongoing collaborative efforts to serve consumers and prevent illegal activity." At the same time, however, he also took something of a wait-and-see approach: "The real test will come as these practices are implemented, and whether they have a demonstrable impact," he said. "We will be monitoring closely."
Meanwhile, MPAA chairman Chris Dodd has issued a statement that acknowledged that advertising shouldn't be used to support illegal activity. But he's concerned about the onus on copyright holders and fears that the establishment of "best practices" doesn't go far enough.
"An incremental step forward that addresses only a narrow subset of the problem and places a disproportionate amount of the burden on rights holders is not sufficient. Absent meaningful proactive steps by players in every sector – advertisers, ad agencies, ad placement services, online ad exchanges and rights holders – the results will be similarly incremental. It is our hope that all parties will work together and build upon today's announcement. We encourage the Administration to continue its leadership and convene a meaningful and transparent multi-stakeholder process, with a goal of developing a comprehensive and effective response to significantly reduce the presence of legitimate advertising on illegal Internet sites."