Warner Bros., Viacom Among Brands Pledging to Fight Pirate-Bolstering Digital Ads

The Warner Brothers water tower
Todd Williamson/Invision for 3D And Advanced Imaging Society/AP

The Warner Brothers water tower photographed at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California on Jan. 28, 2014.

Sites like The Pirate Bay make their money off digital advertising, and these guys aren't having it.

The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), an initiative by a collection of giant corporations that hopes to bring a measure of oversight to digital advertising in order to curb online piracy, has announced the first group of "validated anti-piracy service providers" as well as a long list of companies including Warner Bros., Viacom, Comcast, NBCUniversal as new signees to its "anti-piracy pledge."

The announcement comes on the heels of a court loss in Sweden by the three major labels', where they had attempted to force internet service provider Bredbandsbolaget to block access to The Pirate Bay.

TAG's pledge holds companies to the agreement that by Jan. 1 2016 the signee will make "commercially reasonable steps" to minimize its contribution to piracy by not advertising on sites known to offer infringing and counterfeit material. The pledge is not legally binding.

The group's validated service providers are those who have agreed to abide by its framework for weeding out pirate sites as hosts of advertising, allowing companies to secure advertising without fear of any reprisal (usually in the form of public relations) from copyright holders.

TAG cites a study released by the less-than-objective Interactive Advertising Bureau -- a consortium of companies that sell advertisements -- and conducted by Ernst & Young which claims that "malvertising" and infringing content cost advertisers and media companies $8.2 billion a year. For some perspective, Northern Irish newspaper Derry Journal reported that a single pirate in that city was said to have made about $424,491 in advertising revenues while operating a pirate site for films.

The hope is that, through these pledges, anti-piracy verification and public outreach, the revenues of sites like The Pirate Bay can be winnowed down to zero. Regardless, there will always be unscrupulous advertising providers on the web ready to tout physical enhancement potions and bad video games. Those ads make far less money for their hosting sites, of course. But an unintended side effect of TAG's efforts could be to bolster that "grey" market of advertisers, who will still offer pirate sites their malware-rife (and exceedingly annoying) advertising.


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