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Movie and tv piracy sites earn big ad bucks despite industry efforts

The largest movie and tv piracy sites raked in more than $200 million dollars in ad revenues in 2014, according to a study from Digital Citizens Alliance and MediaLink.

A review of 589 top piracy sites found these sites earned $209 million from ads running alongside stolen movies and TV shows the sites offer.

Key findings from the study–Good Money Still Going Bad: Digital Thieves and the Hijacking of the Online Ad Business–include:

  • The demand for streaming video to computers and mobile devices has fueled a big growth ad revenue for content pirates. The number of video streaming sites was up 40 percent in 2014, allowing content thieves to benefit from higher video ad prices;
  • Researchers found more ads for premium brands on piracy sites in 2014 than in 2013, despite industry and public efforts to crack down on content piracy; and
  • Sixty percent of the ad impressions served by piracy sites were “laundered” – delivered through phony “front” sites that obscured the ultimate destination of the ad. For 15 percent of the piracy sites, all of the impressions were laundered.

“The advertising industry is working hard on many fronts to block the ad revenue that is the lifeblood of the content theft business. It is apparent from this research that more needs to be done,” said Wenda Harris Millard, president and chief operating officer of MediaLink.

The industry group taking the lead on preventing advertising revenue from flowing to criminals who steal copyrighted material and and place it on pirate sites is the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), a coalition created by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

“One of the TAG’s top priorities is the development of effective programs to keep legitimate advertising revenue from lining the pockets of criminals, including content thieves,” said Mike Zaneis, evp and general counsel, Interactive Advertising Bureau. “We are gratified that the report today recognizes this commitment and that industry solutions are the right approach to fighting piracy.”

The report highlights how resilient the content piracy industry is. New sites quickly replace those that authorities and content owners manage to shut down. A 2013 review of the top 596 sites found they earned an estimated $227 million in ad revenue. While some 40 percent of the 2013 sites were shut down or shrunk, year-to-year ad revenues for piracy sites remained comparable.

Earlier this week researchers for the European Commission found that shutting down piracy sites had little effect because once a site is taken down, users shift to other sites or create new ones.

The Good Money report also profiled the threat to consumers from malware associated with piracy sites. One-third of the sites included links to viruses and other malware. The links are often hidden behind Download or Play buttons, and in some cases, the site can deliver the malicious download without a deliberate click on a link. These downloads earn site owners millions in annual revenue.

“What this report shows is that content theft sites can make something while creating nothing while posing real dangers to Internet users who are subjected to malware and other viruses,” said Tom Galvin, Executive Director of the Digital Citizens Alliance. “Despite the intensified efforts of law enforcement and private industry, the content thieves had another banner year, and that’s bad news for both content creators and consumers who got their computers infected.”

Coincidentally, Endgadget is reporting today that a popular TV piracy site has been taken over by what they term as “potentially bad actors.”

If you enjoy getting the latest TV shows from EZTV, you may want to stop that now, and not just because it’s illegal. It’s also more risky, because the hugely popular torrent site is now in the hands of potentially bad actors, according to TorrentFreak. Former staffers said that EZTV’s founder “NovaKing” was the victim of a hostile takeover by a for-profit group, following a series of wacky (and ironic) events. The problems started when Italy’s .IT registry suspended the original site’s domain name, and what followed was something out of a high-tech Kafka novel.

… other torrent sites like Pirate Bay and KickAss torrents have severed ties, and TPB is even warning users to “stay away” from EZTV.ch. And if a site where you go to get “internet herpes,” (as my colleague put it), tells you to stay away, we’d advise you to listen. Just to protect yourself from these “internet herpes”, make sure to use a good free vpn that will protect you from getting any unnecessary viruses. Better still, just avoid using EZTV.ch as there are plenty of similar sites and of course, lots of legal options.