In the Case of Online Piracy, Crime Does Pay

This February the Digital Citizens Alliance released their “Good Money Gone Bad” report, detailing the profitability of ad-supported content theft.  Content thieves operate and profit off the work of others, and are detrimental to the Internet as we know it.

Content theft websites, or pirate websites, reaped an estimated quarter of a billion dollars in ad revenue.  These content cites rely solely on the illegal distribution of copyrighted content, and have profit margins from 80% to 94%.  So in the case of online piracy, crime does pay.

Online advertising is big business, and content thieves (pirates) are capitalizing on the revenue.  Ads by top brands like AT&T and Toyota have been found on offending websites, further incentivizing those sites to maintain operations.  But trying to figure out how top tier ads end up on piracy sites is difficult, at best.  The rise in automated ad buying oftentimes takes humans out of the equation. 

However, there are steps that advertisers and their agencies can take to prevent their ads from supporting piracy websites.  Site-blocking mechanisms should be employed and improved to prevent ads from showing up on content theft websites, just like ads can be kept off pornographic websites.

Cracking down on ad-supported content theft isn’t the end of piracy, though.  Content theft sites also profit from subscriptions, which can in some cases be greater than advertisement revenue.   Online piracy is more entrenched than ever in our economy, and it’s going to take a combination of efforts to lift its burden.