Police crackdown on illegal pirating sites

Will new scheme placing warning banners on illegal sites work?

Updated: 

pirate flag with skull and bones

The City of London Police has slapped banner adverts on sites offering illegal downloads. They read 'This website has been reported to the police. Please close the browser containing this website." The aim is twofold: to stop these sites earning money through advertising, and to discourage people from using them.

But will it work?

How it works

The process starts when the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) receives a report that a site is infringing copyright. Before the banner is placed, they will evaluate the site and contact the site owner to give them the opportunity to operate legitimately instead.

Only if they fail to comply will it bring in the banners. It is working with a content verification technology provider, Project Sunblock, to automatically replace paid-for adverts with a pop up warning users.

At the same time it will seek suspension of the site from the domain registrar, and place the site on the Infringing Website List - used by advertisers to assess whether a site they are planning to advertise on is operating legally.

Head of PIPCU, DCI Andy Fyfe, said: "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."

He adds: "This work also helps us to protect consumers. 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."

Will it work?

This marks a change in approach by the police and Ofcom. The old policy relied on punishing people who broke the rules - usually by suspending or slowing their internet connection temporarily.

The new rules take a duel approach: making it difficult for the sites to make money, and encouraging people not to use them.

The education and encouragement side came into force this month, under a new system called Creative Content. If someone regularly downloads or shares pirated content, they will receive four warning letters every year explaining they are breaking the law and damaging the creative industries. After that there will be no more action taken: they are relying on people to do the decent thing.

The other prong of the attack was trialled in April - targeting Game of Thrones illegal downloads. The show was the most illegally downloaded for both series two and three, so it was seen as a vital test for the process. The police specifically targeted sites offering illegal downloads of the shows and added a warning banner. The result was considered successful enough to roll out for all illegal downloads.

It's unclear how successful this approach will be at this stage. Illegal downloads cost the music, film and gaming industry £1.5 billion in lost sales, as around 7.7 million people illegally download music alone. Some may be put off by warnings and letters, but others will understand that their chances of being prosecuted remain vanishingly small, and will continue to rip the creative industries off.

However, just because success cannot be guaranteed, it's no reason not to try. In announcing the new rules Vince Cable said: "It's a difficult industry to pin down and it's also difficult to protect. But unless you protect it then it's an industry that cannot function."

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