Pirate sites earn cash from networks like California’s Google

Google says it can’t be helped. A new study from the University of Southern California says the right effort could stop it.

Advertising generated by Google and other networks shows up on websites that may be guilty of copyright infringement. Advertisers appear to be funding companies that break intellectual property laws.

The Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC spent a year checking Google and nine other ad networks’ advertising participation with suspected website violators. Researchers traced codes attached to the ads to their originators. Google, Yahoo and OpenX ads appeared heavily on sites accused of piracy.

Google officials admitted network ads could end up on questionable websites, but only because the algorithms used to place ads are open for use by third-parties out of the company’s control. Ad agencies, traders and digital publishers have access to the technology.

A Google representative said the company’s ad network was “grossly overcalculated.”

The head of Innovation Lab believes networks have more advertising control than they’re willing to admit. Google and other ad networks have been accused of knowing which sites engage in piracy practices without pulling ads from them.

The researcher wondered how networks could avoid placing ads on porn sites while not bothering about retracting ads from other sites. Blacklisting suspected sites only stirs up “antitrust issues,” according to advertising executives.

Media companies lose an inestimable amount of revenue due to piracy. Their representatives have expressed disappointment with unenforced Internet policies. The U.S. government was unable to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act last year amidst a storm of protests over Internet users and companies’ privacy rights.

The second part of the USC study, due later this month, will name advertisers on pirate sites.

If Google can be blamed for ads that fund pirate sites, can individual advertisers be held accountable, too? Companies concerned about pirate site advertising can consult with an intellectual property attorney for clarification of copyright laws.

Source: nytimes.com, “Playing Whac-a-Mole With Piracy Sites,” Ben Sisario and Tanzina Vega, Jan. 28, 2013