UK Police Battles Illegal Websites With Anti-Piracy Ads

A special unit of City of London Police in the UK has started an ad-replacement campaign against websites that provide illegal access to copyrighted content. The move augments the UK government’s initiative to combat the theft of IP (intellectual property) by cracking down on the sale of counterfeit goods and online piracy.


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The police is placing anti-piracy advertisements on these websites, which will appear instead of paid advertisements, and will ask users to discontinue their browsing session. This action is a part of the effort to curb the earnings of piracy sites through advertisements. The police believe that the ads would make it difficult for piracy site webmasters to make their sites look authentic.

Andy Fyfe, Detective Chief Inspector at City of London Pipcu (Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit) said:

“When adverts from well-known brands appear on illegal websites, they lend them a look of legitimacy and inadvertently fool consumers into thinking the site is authentic.”

“This new initiative is another step forward for the unit in tackling IP crime and disrupting criminal profits.

“Copyright infringing websites are making huge sums of money though advert placement, therefore disrupting advertising on these sites is crucial and this is why it is an integral part of Operation Creative.”

The operation will utilize technology provided by Project Sunblock, a British ad-tech firm specializing in stopping brand advertisements appearing alongside questionable content.

Specifically, the technology will identify websites on the police’s list of suspicious websites that are displaying advertisements, and replace them with a police notice, a message that simply explains that the site is under investigation and encourage users to close the browser. The flagged websites will not receive any earnings from Sunblock or the police to display the warning notice.

Once a site has been verified as a domain offering unauthorized access to copyrighted content, the police unit will get in touch with the website owner and present an opportunity to engage with the authority and fix their behavior. If the website owner doesn’t respond, the police may take a variety of tactical actions, including advert replacements and seeking suspension of the website from the registrar of its domain.

The UK’s Ongoing Battle Against Piracy

The UK police is looking to step up its fight against piracy after the UK business secretary Vince Cable called for international collaboration to battle counterfeiting and piracy, stating national efforts are insufficient to protect intellectual property.

“Cross-border leakages are now enormous, and there is a recognition of the potential losses as a result of cross-border piracy,” Cable stated at the International IP Enforcement Summit in London.

He said that though piracy was associated with prison time of up to 10 years and legislation in the UK allows regulatory and enforcement authorities to seize counterfeit goods and obtain search warrants, more action is required. Advertisers and payment service providers should avoid dodgy websites, and alternatives need to be created to encourage people browsing the Internet to use legal routes.

The battle against online piracy has led many content creators to adopt a variety of strategies to stop the flow of illegal downloads. The courts in the UK have ordered ISPs to block 50 different websites offering access to pirated content, either through peer-to-peer sharing or as direct downloads. While filtering is effective in lowering the traffic received by these websites, it is a flawed tactic method; many Internet uses are aware of using different technologies such as proxy URLs to bypass the restrictions imposed by the court.

Nevertheless, the authorities are doing their best to stop piracy at least in the country. A new warning system known as Creative Content UK will also see ISPs issuing warning letters to Internet users who persistently share and download pirated content. The initiative comes after several years of negotiation between the Motion Picture Association, The British Phonographic Industry, and the ISPs.

Sanctions were heavy-handed in the Digital Economy Act created in 2010; anyone caught downloading pirate material would have their Internet connection suspended temporarily or slowed down.

Though the new initiative of displaying anti-piracy advertisements may not hit the users in a more painful way, it could do a great job in hitting the owners of piracy-promoting websites financially by putting an end to advertising revenues coming in – from which these websites make a major chunk of their profits.

IP theft costs an estimated one percent of the UK economy’s GDP, which accounts for £1.7bn. The initiative is a step in the right direction to stop IP crime as well as disrupt the massive profits criminals make.