Are blue-chip companies unknowingly supporting pirate music sites?

Pirate-music sites offering free music downloads are being indirectly funded by a wide range of blue-chip companies. A survey conducted by Music & Copyright in the UK has found that all of the companies whose advertising appeared on a selection of pirate sites were unaware of the ads’ presence. Should these companies know where their ads are going?

Internet advertising takes many forms, ranging from simple banner ads placed on websites to more-complex targeted advertising systems, which track Internet users’ preferences and tailor online advertising on websites specifically to the unique visitor.

Earlier this month Music & Copyright monitored advertising in the UK on a few randomly selected illegal-music sites. All of the sites operate a simple advertising system including banners that rotate among company ads when the page is refreshed. Music & Copyright contacted several of the companies whose advertising was displayed, and all that replied said the placement of the advertising was either a mistake or an oversight and that they would endeavor to have the advertising removed as quickly as possible. Most of the companies also offered an explanation of how their advertising process worked and why their advertising found its way to the sites.

British Telecom (BT), which is at odds with the music industry at the moment over the Digital Economy Act, acted quick to remove its ads when notified. In fact their ad disappeared within the hour. BT explained that it has an extensive list of terms and conditions and a blacklist of sites on which it tells media owners its ads must not be placed. Included on the list are sites showing adult content, violence, pornography, weaponry or any other content considered inappropriate, such as those offering illegal downloads. But BT did say that although it was adding to its blacklist on a daily basis, new sites can appear and cannot be blacklisted until they have been identified or spotted.

A similar explanation was given by a representative of Centrica, owner of energy company British Gas (BG), who said that BG was unaware that its ad was on a pirate music site. The company confirmed to Music & Copyright that the wheels were in motion to take the ads down. BG did say that it was common practice to buy advertising space across blind networks, meaning that the company cannot identify all of the websites on which its advertising appears.

A number of other companies contacted also said they maintained a blacklist of sites that had been brought to their attention. For example, British Airways said it was unaware that its advertising was featured on the pirate music site monitored by Music & Copyright. A representative for the airline described the presence of its ad as an oversight and it was subsequently withdrawn. The latest issue of the Music & Copyright has more comment from several other companies.

Rights-holder responsibility
Combating recorded-music piracy online has largely become a process whereby rights holders must first seek out where their content is being illegally hosted or distributed and then take the necessary legal action to close down the offending site. But should rights holders really be forced to monitor advertising activity on pirate music sites and notify companies that have advertising on them?

There is little doubt that the companies contacted by Music & Copyright were genuinely unaware that their services were being advertised on the pirate music sites. But should this absolve them from blame? Music & Copyright understands that none of the companies contacted have a dedicated team that scours the Internet looking for misplaced advertising. But rights holders make the point that all of the companies benefit from click-throughs via their ads on the pirate music sites and in doing so indirectly help keep the pirate websites going. Rights holders argue that each time an illegally acquired track is added to any of the these pirate sites, the companies that advertise on the sites benefit at the expense of the track’s rights holders. Sadly, the only party in the advertising chain not to benefit is the rights holder, whose content the entire website is based on.

Music & Copyright
If you like this blog then Music & Copyright might be just what you are looking for. It is a fortnightly research service covering global copyright and legal issues affecting the music industry. It is unrivalled in its coverage of this complex and fascinating area of the music industry. It is also why our extensive client list includes companies and organizations from all sectors of the music industry operating all around the world. But don’t take our word for it, please get in touch and we will send you the latest issue.

Music & Copyright is published by Informa Telecoms & Media.