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City Of London Police’s IP Crime Unit talks up progress so far

By | Published on Tuesday 10 December 2013

City Of London Police

The City Of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit, officially launched back in September and now using the acronym PIPCU because, well, why not, has issued an update on the progress of Operation Creative, which has been targeting 61 websites identified by the content industries as being rampantly involved in copyright infringement.

The police unit has confirmed there have been three stages to its operation to date. First, once “analysts” had confirmed copyright infringement was indeed occurring on the 61 sites, the owners of them were contacted and encouraged to get in touch with the authorities and demonstrate how they would stop infringing copyright.

Second, the names of those sites which failed to get in touch (which was probably most of them) were distributed to the ad industry, encouraging advertisers, ad agencies and ad networks to ensure they didn’t post any advertising on these sites.

And third, the registrars of the offending sites’ domains were alerted to the fact said sites were likely in breach of the domain firms’ terms and conditions, and that there might be grounds to suspend their domains.

According to PIPCU, as a result of the operation the number of ads from well-known brands on piracy sites dropped by 12%, resulting in an increase in the number of ads for porn sites and dodgy software, which copyright owners hope might make said sites less attractive to mainstream users, or at least make their unofficial status more apparent.

Commenting on the operation so far, which is being treated as a pilot by the new police unit, PIPCU’s Bob Wishart told CMU: “Operation Creative is being run by PIPCU and the digital and advertising sectors to really get to grips with a criminal industry that is making substantial profits by providing and actively promoting access to illegally obtained and copyrighted material”.

He went on: “Together we have created a process that first and foremost encourages offenders to change their behaviour so they are operating within the law. However, if they refuse to comply we now have the means to persuade businesses to move their advertising to different platforms and, if offending continues, for registrars to suspend the websites. The success of Creative thus far is evidence of a growing international consensus that people should not be allowed to illegally profiteer from the honest endeavours of legitimate business enterprises”.

While welcomed by the trade bodies of all the content industries (and if you don’t believe me, just check out the quotes fest below), Operation Creative has not been without its controversy.

Some have questioned whether police should be actively taking moves to hinder the activities of targeted sites – in depriving them of ad revenue and requesting domains be suspended – without the alleged copyright infringement being confirmed in a court of law. And while most if not all of the sites being targeted clearly are involved in or are enabling copyright infringement, skipping the judicial stage could be consider bad process.

Meanwhile one of the domain registrars contacted by PIPCU has argued that if any domain company suspended a user’s domain without a court order and then refused an application to transfer that domain to an alternative registrar, then the original domain firm would likely be in breach of the rules of global domain overseer ICANN.

But for the time being, at least the copyright brigade are happy…

Geoff Taylor, CEO at record industry trade body BPI: “The early results from Operation Creative show that through working with the police and the online advertising industry, we can begin to disrupt the funding that sustains illegal websites. These sites expose consumers to scams and malware, deny creators their living, and harm brands by associating them with illegal and unsafe content. We hope to broaden the initiative to include more brands, advertising networks and other online intermediaries, to support innovation and growth in the legal digital music sector”.

Frances Moore, boss of the International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry: “This pioneering partnership between PIPCU, rights holders and the advertising industry is a welcome development that has the potential to help make the internet a better place for legitimate businesses. Brands do not want their advertising misdirected onto sites where it may harm their reputation and Operation Creative will help address this problem. I believe that this issue needs to be tackled worldwide, and this initiative will be watched closely by both law enforcement agencies and the private sector in other countries”.

Kieron Sharp, Director General of the movie and TV industry’s Federation Against Copyright Theft: “FACT is delighted to be working with PIPCU and partners from the advertising, music and publishing sectors to protect UK consumers from websites that promote illegal content and also provide an unsafe platform that puts themselves and their families at risk. Many of these sites have no content filters and contain material that is unsuitable for children. The UK’s creative sector is a vital driver of the economy, employing over 1.5 million people and driving £36 billion pounds of GVA (gross value added) to the UK economy. Film and TV production in the UK is looked upon as the best in the world and FACT continues to work on behalf of its members to protect jobs and future investment”.

Guy Phillipson, CEO at the Internet Advertising Bureau: “We welcome the Operation Creative pilot as a major step in understanding how the advertising industry can assist in tackling the issue of advertising appearing against sites under investigation by police for copyright infringement. This unprecedented collaboration with PIPCU across rights holders and the digital advertising industry will help us as we continue to work towards protecting brand reputations within digital environments”.

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