First USC-Annenberg Brand Supported Piracy Report and Google Response

Professor Jonathan Taplin of the USC-Annenberg Innovation Lab released the first monthly report on brand supported piracy that demonstrates how major brands make pirates rich (not to mention the ad networks that take a cut–or some might say a vigorish–along the way.

[The USC Annenberg Lab Advertising Transparency Report details] the Online Ad Networks support of the major pirate movie and music sites around the world. The top ten ad networks placing the most ads to Pirate sites are:

  1. Openx
  2. Google (including Double Click)
  3. Exoclick
  4. Sumotorrent
  5. Propellerads
  6. Yahoo (including Right Media)
  7. Quantcast
  8. Media Shakers
  9. Yesads
  10. Infolinks

The list of top infringing sites was compiled using the Google Transparency Report ( of domains with the most DMCA Takedown requests.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Levi’s is one brand that responded immediately:

Jeans maker Levi’s took swift action when Taplin presented evidence that the clothing company’s ads had appeared on file-sharing sites.

“When our ads were running unbeknownst to us on these pirate sites, we had a serious problem with that,” said Gareth Hornberger, senior manager of global digital marketing for Levi’s. “We reached out to our global ad agency of record, OMD, and immediately had them remove them…. We made a point, moving forward, that we really need to take steps to avoid having these problems again.”

Google, of course, had a carefully parsed response to the Times:

“To the extent [the study] suggests that Google ads are a major source of funds for major pirate sites, we believe it is mistaken,” a Google spokesperson said. “Over the past several years, we’ve taken a leadership role in this fight. 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.” (emphasis added)

Right.  Of course, this may well be a true statement–except the issue isn’t only about “Google ads”, that is, ads for Google products like this ad for Google Play on a pirate lyric site.

google ads sponsored links 2

And even if they meant any ad served by Google for any product, what if Google ads are a minor source of funds for major pirate sites?  Or are a major source of funds for minor pirate sites?

And what if the “mere presence of Google code” includes the Google ad publisher account number for the pirate?  Does that still count as “mere”?

Isn’t this called a nondenial denial?

Lyrics007 Google Ads Code 1

2 thoughts on “First USC-Annenberg Brand Supported Piracy Report and Google Response

  1. Nice to see further documentation/validation of the fact that piracy today is often incentivized and subsidized by the business practices of established, legit companies. The “profit motive” is a big carrot for web pirates, large and small, who steal content and disseminate it online. Ad dollars are the engine that drives the engine of online piracy.

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