Which ad networks are — deliberately or inadvertently — contributing to piracy of movies, TV shows and music by running ads on the sites that enable the illegal distribution of this copyrighted material? Answering that question was the aim of a USC Annenberg Innovation Lab study released today that found that Google, Yahoo and Quantcast are among the top ten networks placing ads on well-known pirate sites.
The researchers used Google’s transparency report related to copyright violation sites to identify pirate sites, then crawled them to determine what ad networks were serving ads on those sites.
In looking at the top 10 networks, the researchers included DoubleClick in with its owner, Google, and Right Media with Yahoo.
The study’s authors suggest that online advertising networks self-police by blocking these domains from their ad serving, to avoid contributing to piracy.
“We do not believe that government regulation alone is the answer to the piracy problem, but rather that the self-regulation of major sectors like the online advertising industry could make it harder for the ‘Kim Dotcom’s’ of the world to unfairly exploit artists,” said Jonathan Taplin, director of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. “We look forward to working with advertising agencies and networks in the coming months to address this issue.”
The report notes that another recent study found that advertising financed 86% of the peer-to-peer search sites that feature illegally distributed content.
The Annenberg Innovation Lab plans to release a similar top 10 list every month and is also working to determine the top brands whose ads appear on those piracy-associated sites.
UPDATE: A Google spokesperson has reached out with a statement on the study, disagreeing with its conclusions:
“We have not seen a copy of this report and don’t know the methodology, but to the extent it suggests that Google ads are a major source of funds for major pirate sites, we believe it is mistaken. Over the past several years, we’ve taken a leadership role in this fight, partnering with industry organizations to cut off the flow of money to piracy sites, as well as investing significant time and money to keep copyright-infringing content out of our network. The complexity of online advertising has led some to conclude, incorrectly, that the mere presence of any Google code on a site means financial support from Google.”