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Digital Citizens News

New Study Shows Content Theft Sites Hijacking Online Ad Business to Make Hundreds of Millions in Profits

Published Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Large Content Theft Sites That Rely Exclusively on Ad Revenue Each Making More than $4 Million a Year

Non-Profit Calls on Online Advertising Community to Strengthen Best Practices Standards

Washington, DC - Content theft sites made nearly a quarter of a billion dollars last year from advertising on rip-off sites, according to a new report from the Digital Citizens Alliance. According to the study, the 30 largest sites that profit exclusively from advertising dollars by pushing stolen movies, music, and television programs will each make more than $4 million dollars a year for their ‘work.’

“Ad profits are the tip of the iceberg,” said Digital Citizens Alliance Executive Director Tom Galvin about the report. “These ad-supported rip-off websites are just a small sample of the sites that are profiting from theft, and with the Internet population growing so quickly we need to address this problem immediately. Let’s be clear, the quarter of a billion dollars that these sites make from ads in a year is a huge sum, but it’s only a fraction of the financial losses inflicted on the creative economy and its workers. This goes beyond the old adage that crime pays.”

The report, entitled, “Good Money Gone Bad: Digital Thieves and the Hijacking of the Online Ad Business,” examined hundreds of content theft sites that featured advertising. The research shows that a significant number of ads on these sites come from premium and secondary legitimate brand advertisers. Secondary ads are non-premium legitimate ads, mostly for legitimate gaming, gambling and content aggregator sites.

Digital Citizens, a consumer-oriented coalition focused on educating the public and policy makers on the threats that consumers face on the Internet, commissioned MediaLink LLC, a leading research firm, to identify and quantify profits from rogue sites offering pirated content.

The report came to several troubling conclusions:

  • The websites researched make a projected $227 million in annual ad revenue. The 30 largest sites that profit exclusively from advertising averaged $4.4 million annually, with the most heavily trafficked BitTorrent and P2P portal sites topped $6 million annually.
  • Even small sites studied could make more than $100,000 a year in advertising revenue.
  • Because they rely entirely on the works of others for their “product,” their profit margins range from 80% to 94%, underscoring that crime can pay when you steal other people’s content.
  • Nearly 30% of large sites carried premium brand ads.
  • Nearly 40% of large sites carried legitimate secondary ads

“This report confirms that content theft isn’t a cottage industry—it’s big business. Plain and simple, ad-supported rip-off sites are exploiting the Internet and advertising community to get rich. The result is a damage to brand value for advertisers and serious harm to people who work in the creative industries,” said Galvin. “We hope this report pushes the online advertising community to take additional steps to protect brand value and stop ads from appearing on content theft sites that are undermining the vibrancy and safety of the digital marketplace.”


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