Rat Farming: How The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s “Best Practices” Incentivizes Piracy.

There is a famous story about the French Colonial authorities in Vietnam trying to reduce the rat population in Hanoi. They offered a bounty for each rat pelt turned into the colonial authorities. However instead of reducing the rat population it exploded. Why? The vietnamese did what any logical group of people would do when faced with such a financial incentive. They started farming rats!

Anytime you give people an financial incentive to do something they will do it. This is the case with Ad Supported Piracy. If Ad Networks don’t screen the websites on which they publish their ads the websites will do anything to generate page views to receive more revenue. One of the easiest ways to generate pageviews is to host popular infringing content.

Faced with this problem the White House tried to broker a deal with the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Recently they announced a “best practices” intended to address the problem of Ad Supported Piracy. Unfortunately The White House despite their best intentions was totally duped on this. As Bill Rosenblatt has so clearly spelled out in his Copyright and Technology Blog, the best practices will for many reasons NOT make the situation better:

So how will compliance be enforced? Consider this: the companies that have signed on to these guidelines are 24/7 Media, Adtegrity, AOL, Condé Nast, Google, Microsoft, SpotXchange, and Yahoo!. These companies have agreed to have the Internet (Interactive) Advertising Bureau (IAB, the trade association for internet advertising) monitor them for compliance. The largest six of these eight companies have seats on the IAB board. In other words, this is rather like foxes agreeing to be monitored by the American Fox Association for compliance with henhouse guarding guidelines.

I’ve now had some time to dig into this best “practices” document and here are my observations:

At best it attempts to legitimize the illegal status quo whereby companies Google and AOL “try” not to advertise on bad sites.

At worst it creates a DMCA whack-a-mole like process whereby individual creators and rights holders assume the burden of telling the online advertising networks exactly who are their bad (as in criminal) customers. Further it then seems to creates a new Kafkaesque process whereby the creator would (among other things) have to learn to use highly specialized packet logging and data tracing tools to even file a complaint. I quote from the document:

(prove) (ii) that the advertising appearing on the participating website containing the illegitimate activity is provided by the Ad Network. This can be done by providing, for example, a Tamper Data trace and relevant screenshots showing that the participating website is making ad calls to the Ad Network for the advertising reflected in the screenshots.

How many indie musicians do you know that know how to use packet logging and data tracing programs?

Even if you know how to use this software it’s time consuming to find the exact “call” associated with a particular ad. (see screenshot).

Finally the “best practices” allow the copyright infringing website in question to challenge the creators claim setting up a never ending cycle of claim and counterclaim.

This document is so heavily weighted in favor of powerful (Editor note and Obama supporting?) corporate interests it’s absurd.

The creative community should reject this “best practices” for what it is: A tacit legitimization of current illegal and unethical practices.

Fortunately the “best practices” are voluntary and have no legal standing. Further they are a gift to people like me. It should make it even easier to name and shame Fortune 500 brands. Why? I’m sure their online advertising networks will be telling their brands that “the problem is now fixed.” Amusing. I look forward to the next few months.

But what does this have to do with Rat Farming?

The online networks – no let’s face it mostly Google wants to be able to push ads onto any website without the burden of screening any of the sites. Without even screening who they are paying. It’s like they are putting out bowls of yummy pest attracting food out in the garden. What happens if you leave bowls of food around your garden? Eventually you get rats. Lots of rats. It’s rat farming.

The IAB/White House “best practices” absurdly burdens the creators with the task of finding the rats, proving they are rats, DNA testing the rats, packet tracing the food the rats eat and finally getting rid of them but not before the rats initiate an endless loop of claims and counterclaims that it has not been proven definitively that they are always rats.

Once gain this is a SUBSIDY from creators to Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue. We work for free to clean their networks. They make the money.

Here’s a much simpler and effective “best practices”. The IAB should ask their members not to create the incentives in the first place.

After all advertising is THEIR business not ours.

Do they teach packet logging and data tracing at Berklee School of Music?

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About Dr. David C Lowery

Platinum selling singer songwriter for the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven; platinum selling producer; founder of pitch-a-tent records; founder Sound of Music Studios; platinum selling music publisher; angel investor; digital skeptic; college lecturer and founder of the University of Georgia Terry College Artists' Rights Symposium.

2 thoughts on “Rat Farming: How The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s “Best Practices” Incentivizes Piracy.

  1. David,

    First of all, thanks for the props (and for the correction, which is now made).

    Your point about packet logging and data tracing is a good one, though it deserves a bit of elaboration. These are among the techniques routinely used by piracy monitoring services, companies like MarkMonitor, Attributor, NetNames, Irdeto, Muso, Friend MTS, and a few others. These are the folks that big media companies hire — reportedly at hundreds or thousands of dollars per content item per month — to seek out infringing content and create data for takedown notices.

    In other words, the data types listed in the IAB document are those that the MPAA and/or RIAA would have suggested to them because the firms that they hire collect it. This reflects the fact that no individual content creators or small label folks — like yourself — were not part of the back-room process that led to this accommodation.

    • ah. thanks for the explanation. makes more sense. oddly though tamper data trace is not as robust as some of the other programs i’ve used. and may actually be harder to use!

      but excellent point. People forget that most working artists aren’t on major labels and can’t afford afford to hire people with this kind of expertise.

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