Last year, the UK’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit launched an effort to “hijack” adverts on sites suspected of supplying illegal downloads. One year on, and a freedom of information request has revealed the extent of the endeavour — it’s more than doubled over the last 12 months.
Over 150 sites have now been targeted by PIPCU’s tactic — more than double the number originally approached. Domains that have been reported by rights holders can have their onsite ads overtaken when accessed from a British IP address. Visitors then see banner ads displaying warnings that the police are aware of the site, and reminding them that illegal downloads are a crime. Site owners are also given an opportunity to “correct their behaviour” and begin operating legally.
PIPCU told TorrentFreak that there are currently 151 sites being targeted by the ad replacement initiative, up from an initial 74 in 2014. Known as “Operation Creative”, the deal has involved engaging marketing agencies to stop serving ads to the sites. The number here has also increased, up to 134 participating companies from 84.
The leap shows a massive increase in activity for the copyright programme. However, the actual sites being investigated remain undisclosed, with PIPCU saying that “this is an ongoing investigation” and to name them “would raise the profile of those sites”.
Perhaps noteworthy, PIPCU’s hijack efforts don’t seem to be universal. We have checked a number of potentially infringing sites, and found “normal” adverts still in place. Exactly how many ads are being replaced, or how often, seems hit and miss at best.
Where the effort is likely most effective is diverting illicit ad-spend from the pockets of illegal sites. PIPCU has concluded that the pirate advertising has decreased by 73 percent as a result of “Operation Creative”. Given that many illegal download sites monetise their efforts through selling adverts, a decrease in income could hypothetically be more effective than threats of incarceration.
WIRED.co.uk have contacted PIPCU for comment, and this story will be updated accordingly.