By continuing to use The Drum, I accept the use of cookies as per The Drum's privacy policy

Brand safety: Are you sure your online ads aren't funding illegal downloads of Game of Thrones?

Christie Dennehy-Neil

No reputable brand wants to feature in The Sun’s next exposé of household brand advertising discovered on unsavoury websites. Most will take steps as part of their ad placement processes to minimise the risk of their ads being published on such sites. But do you know whether your or your client’s ad spend is paying for ads to appear on sites offering illegal TV shows, films or music and unwittingly generating profit for those who are committing intellectual property crime?

The huge popularity of shows like Game of Thrones and Premier League football matches means that the market for downloads and streaming is extremely lucrative. This demand is being exploited by unscrupulous sites that are providing popular online content illegally and making huge profits by displaying advertising alongside it. The appearance of well-known household brands’ ads on copyright-infringing sites not only provides a revenue stream to sites that are breaking the law but also lends them a degree of authenticity that can trick people into unknowingly consuming illegal content – and so the cycle continues.

Fortunately there is a way to reduce the likelihood of your next ad inadvertently funding the activities of those who are committing intellectual property crime – and it is working. The Infringing Website List (IWL) is an online portal set up by the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), a specialist unit within the City of London Police. This unit is dedicated to tackling serious and organised intellectual property crime with a particular focus on offences committed using an online platform.

The IWL provides the digital advertising sector with an up-to-date list of copyright infringing sites, identified by the creative industries, evidenced and verified by PIPCU. This enables advertisers, agencies and other intermediaries to cease advert placement on these illegal websites. The launch last week of a new automated interface (API) for the IWL has made it easier than ever before for businesses to incorporate the use of the IWL into their contractual arrangements.

The latest figures demonstrate that since the introduction of the IWL there has been a 73 per cent reduction in the appearance of advertising from the UK’s top ad spending companies on copyright infringing websites. Since the Gambling Commission joined forces with PIPCU earlier this year to champion the IWL within their sector there has been a 36 per cent decrease in gambling ads appearing on IWL sites between March and June 2015.

The increasingly sophisticated nature of the online advertising supply chain means that brand safety remains an issue for the industry. Whether you’re an advertiser, an agency or an intermediary, everyone involved in the process is responsible for helping to ensure that the digital ad industry is not helping to fund content and services that infringe copyright. If you haven’t done so already, please sign up to play your part via the PIPCU website.

Christie Dennehy-Neil is IAB’s public policy manager