THE BLOG

Online Piracy, Following The Money

04/17/2013 02:17 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2013
Alamy

Earlier this month, Chevrolet announced that it was severing their advertising/promotional ties with Grooveshark, a file- sharing site that has been under prolonged legal attacks from major U.S. music companies and musicians for alleged copyright violations.

Even Google, who can be overly neutral in their response to expected pirate sites, has removed Grooveshark's App from Google Play along with Apple's App store and Facebook. Around the time Chevrolet removed their advertising from Grooveshark, Netflix, Progressive Insurance, AT&T, VW and Nissan were still advertising on the site.

This disturbing trend of major US advertisers supporting sites that offer artists' work without their permission has actually been going on for years. In 2011, Ellen Seidler, a college professor, filmmaker and blogger, produced "Pop Up Pirates", a video that traces the online distribution of her own independent film, "And Then Came Lola".

What Seidler discovered was that within twenty-four hours after being released, her film was already available on pirate sites; she stopped counting at 35,000. Seidler's video shows in devastating detail just what happens to films, or any copyrighted content for that matter, on the internet.

But it wasn't until a year later that a few pro-artist bloggers decided to join Seidler and others in a concerted effort to turn up the heat. Two blogs in particular, The Trichordist and Music Technology Policy, began to focus in on the story, posting numerous accounts featuring different artists and the advertisers that showed up next to their complete catalogues on sites where songs were being downloaded illegally.

Eventually, these posts got the attention of Jonathan Taplin, who oversees the Annenberg Innovation Lab, at USC. Taplin and his team set to work investigating the claims of the bloggers. Their first month findings, based on Google's Transparency Report, confirmed in detail the direct connection between the Online Ad Networks and the major movie and music pirate sites that violate the rights of musicians and filmmakers and use advertising to help fund their operations. In February, Taplin confirmed that Fortune 500 Companies were in fact funding infringing sites with their advertising dollars.

"A cursory view of this list would lead one to conclude that the young adult demographic found on infringing sites seems to be very attractive to the auto, auto insurance, mobile phone and credit ratings firms."

In recent months a handful of companies, in addition to General Motors, Levi's and BMW to name a few, have indicated that they will be more diligent in tracking their advertising. But then again, why are respected advertisers funding sites that openly abuse artists to make a profit?