Eight representatives of the online advertising industry, including Google, Condé Nast, Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo, have agreed on a common set of best practices in order to cut off revenue from websites “dedicated to selling counterfeit goods or engaging in copyright piracy.”
The “Best Practices Guidelines for Ad Networks to Address Piracy and Counterfeiting” document introduces ‘notice-and-takedown’ mechanisms to remove advertising, similar to the ones used to remove links to infringing content from Internet search results.
The initiative is supported by the White House’s Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator and the US Interactive Advertising Bureau, but it’s unclear if it will be able to make a difference since it mostly relies on self-regulation.
The economy of the Internet is a complex, twisted thing. A lot of it runs off advertising – from popular services like Facebook and Twitter, and down to shady “warez” websites, torrent search engines and of course, online porn.
Why are the big players advertising on unsavoury sites? Because much of the flow of advertising is automated. Sites can sign up to services like Google’s AdWords, and the adverts will be automatically placed on sites which Google’s algorithms determine are likely to be relevant. If readers click on the advert, the site owner gets a portion of the “pay-per-click” revenue. Other players have competing services.
Such an automated service is attractive to site owners who want to gather money with low overheads and (up till now) no questions asked about the content of their site.
The guidelines admit that advertising agencies “are not able to remove websites from the Internet” or “determine a particular party’s intellectual property rights”. However, they can “discourage or prevent” the existence of websites that have no substantial uses beyond copyright infringement.
In other words, the advertising networks have promised to cut off the money supply from websites that harm the industry as a whole, even if it means losing individual customers – and sources of revenue.
The guidelines will implement a ‘notice-and-takedown’ system for advertising, similar to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedowns for copyrighted content. Just like with the DMCA, the system will require rights holders to identify specific illegal content before advertising is pulled.
“As both a creator of copyrighted works and a provider of online services, including advertising services, Microsoft understands the problems faced by copyright owners subject to massive infringement and the need to ensure that innovation can flourish online. It’s been our experience that a notice-and-takedown mechanism like the one envisioned by these Best Practices can be an effective means to address online infringement,” wrote Fred Humphries, vice president of US Government Affairs at Microsoft.
It is not clear just how much of an effect this will have – after all, the Internet is full of smaller, less scrupulous advertising companies that will jump at the opportunity to fill the space.
Another weak point of the anti-piracy initiative is that failing to adhere to the guidelines will not be penalised in any way. “The best practices are intended to encourage and supplement, not replace, responsible and direct independent actions taken by intellectual property owners to enforce their intellectual property rights and are not intended to impose a duty on any Ad Network to monitor its network to identify offending websites,” explained Dave Jacobs from AOL, one of the organisations that signed up to best practices.
“By working across the industry, these best practices should help reduce the financial incentives for pirate sites by cutting off their revenue supply while maintaining a healthy Internet and promoting innovation,” wrote Susan Molinari, vice president of Public Policy and Government Relations at Google.
It is worth remembering that a week ago, Google had been accused of making a profit from harmful and even illegal content on YouTube.
The other firms signed up to the programme are 24/7 Media, Adegrity and SpotXchange.
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