ISPs, the UK government and ads on pirate music sites

pirate2The world of online advertising is a pretty complex business. Media agencies buy advertising space on behalf of clients through ad exchanges with automated processes matching advertisers’ criteria to inventory offered by online publishers. This enables advertisers to gain placements and reach their target audience across a much broader selection of websites. From the loading of a web page to an ad being displayed, an auction has taken place and the winner’s ad is presented, all in just a few milliseconds. However, the process can sometimes result in ads showing up on sites they shouldn’t. Some brands take steps to avoid this and others act quickly when notified. But some don’t, and that is a big problem for content rights holders.

Big brand ads funding pirate music sites
Ovum has just published Music & Copyright’s fourth annual survey of ads on pirate music sites. This time around, the survey focused on the popular site Hulkshare and a search for the Rita Ora track Will Never Let You Down. Big name brands with ads found on the site included Lloyds Bank, Eurostar, Ford and Scottish Power. However, most troubling from UK rights holders’ point of view was the presence of so many ads for ISPs and mobile operators. Even an ad from a UK government department made it onto the site.

Equally concerning was the inability of some of the service providers to offer up any explanation as to why the ads were there. For example, when Music & Copyright contacted mobile operator Vodafone about its ad, the company’s press office said it was unable to comment because it was the holiday season and there was no one available.

TalkTalk and Sky repeats
A couple of ISPs promised an explanation, but never delivered. TalkTalk, which has figured in the past three surveys, and Sky in the past two, both said they would reveal how their ads made their way to Hulkshare, but sadly never did. Anyone lucky enough to have a TalkTalk cookie on their computer and a little knowledge online advertising will know how the ISP and Hulkshare are linked. Sky told Music & Copyright this time last year that it invested more than two billion pounds each year in content. However, the multibillion dollar satellite broadcasting, broadband and telephone services giant just couldn’t muster a comment this year.

The biggest surprise in the survey was ads linking to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). Somewhat ironically, NOMS is an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice. A NOMS spokesperson told Music & Copyright that the agency had “robust measures in place to ensure adverts do not appear on inappropriate or illegal websites.” Believe it or not, the ads were part of a recruitment campaign for prison officers.

Right to question commitment
The timing of this year’s survey comes just a month or so after the UK’s creative industries and the four ISPs BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media launched Creative Content UK, a partnership aimed at boosting consumer awareness of licensed online content services and reducing online copyright infringement. The government is providing £3.5m ($6m) in funding for the education awareness component of the campaign. Later next year, the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP) will swing into action and Internet account holders will start receiving notices from their ISPs, advising them that unlawful filesharing may have taken place on their connection. However, Ovum understands VCAP does not include any provisions for subscribers to send notices to their ISPs warning them of the damages caused to rights holders from misplaced ads on pirate music sites.

Difficult to be optimistic
Seriously though, rights holders will find it difficult to be optimistic about the likely success of plans and initiatives to clamp down on brand advertising on pirate sites, when those taking part in the initiatives are either unable or unwilling to act proactively to stop their ads from appearing on the likes of Hulkshare.
Although the wheels of proactivity are starting to turn in rights holders’ favor, so many brands are still unaware where their ads are going and what they are contributing too. Worse still, is that too many are apathetic to do anything about it.

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 Ovum.

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