The City of London Police is looking at how to tackle cyber lockers that rent space to copyright-infringing websites, as it plans to expand its current illegal website crackdown to encompass gaming and hard-goods and software industries.
The news marks the latest step in the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) at the City of London Police's ongoing illegal website crackdown, created in partnership with the Federation Against Copyright Theft and industry bodies including the IPA, ISBA and the IAB, to root out all copyright-violating websites which are generating substantial, illegal advertising revenues.
The initative, called Operation Creative, first revealed by The Drum, began last summer and culminated in a 100-strong list of illegal websites (IWL) in June, which advertisers and agencies can now access and then feed into their trading desks to ensure their clients don't inadvertently appear on those sites. It has since seen a 12 per cent reduction in revenue generated by the perpetrating sites.
It has now begun replacing ad slots on copyright-infringing sites with official force banners, warning the user that the site is currently under criminal investigation, in collaboration with content verification technology provider, Project Sunblock. The site will then be contacted and if it doesn't comply it will be added to the register.
Detective chief inspector of PIPCU Andy Fyfe told The Drum there has been a good level of co-operation from some of the websites since the unit contacted them with cease and desist warnings, with several of them “giving up”, leaving the total on the list at 77.
This was partly achieved by also contacting the local registrars in the perpetrating countries – the equivalent of Nominet in the UK, with which PIPCU has a good relationship, according to Fyfe.
“Of the sites reported to us in this scheme, 99 per cent are abroad. But it is the UK ad industry that is most affected, with many major UK brands trying to reach out to potential UK audiences abroad, which makes this a big problem.
“When we wrote to the registrars and asked if they would consider suspending the websites that were infringing copyright, a fair few more assisted us. It’s all voluntary – there is no compulsion available to us to force people to do it as they are operated overseas. We are talking about website owners and registrars that are overseas, so to even have any positive response is a good thing.”
This has also “dovetailed nicely” with a parallel initiative called In Our Sites, which sees PIPCU officers meet regularly with overseas law enforcement counterparts at the Hague in Europol to discuss related issues, according to Fyfe.
“This meeting acts as a bit of a swap shop, which means if, for example, we are encountering problems in the UK with sites operated from Spain, we can tell our Spanish colleagues who then go and deal with their local version of Nominet to get them taken down,” he said.
Another major area PIPCU is actively looking to tackle is that of cyber lockers and the illegal sites they contain within them, having recently received a heavy wave of complaints from copyright trade bodies.
“Our current partners have been approaching us with the problem of cyber lockers, which has flagged the question of whether we need to deal with them with a different approach to Operation Creative. If, for example, 90 per cent of people who use rented space within a cyber locker are good, then how do we deal with the 10 per cent who aren’t? Do we tackle the whole cyber locker, which claim they are merely act as ‘safe harbours’, or try to distinguish between the good business and the smaller proportion of bad business?
“In simplistic terms – if you’re a storage company, is it acceptable to allow, say, terrorists to store materials in your place? Or if you’re Westfield shopping centre and allow one of your shops within to be dishing out drugs – that wouldn’t be permitted in real world. These are things we are looking at now, as these sites are causing major industry problems,” said Fyfe.
The most famous example of a cyber locker to face criminal charges was the popular file-sharing site Megaupload, which was shut down by the FBI two years ago.
Megaupload and its sister company Vestor was discovered to have generated more than $175m in "criminal proceeds” and caused more than half a billion dollars in harm to copyright owners through the piracy of “numerous types of copyrighted works,” the US Justice Department and FBI said in a joint statement at the time.