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How Pirates Generate Their Revenues from Copyright Infringement

The problem of online piracy is not one of sheer, random malevolence; that is, pirates don’t do what they do just for the sake of hurting people, and they don’t do it just because they can. There is something in it for them—a way to turn a profit, to rake money in without actually having to develop or market their own product. The question is, how are online pirates actually generating their profits from copyright infringement?

Ads Underwrite Piracy

Of course, the mere act of copyright infringement isn’t what is profitable. Profits come when pirated content is shared and distributed to consumers via various channels—foremost among those channels is the online torrent site where Web users can search for and download pirated content, usually free of charge.

Perhaps surprisingly, to some, torrent sites are often underwritten by ads—and advertisers pay good money for the traffic they can get on these busy, widely-visited sites. Because torrent sites are by their nature illegitimate and disreputable, the products being advertised often fall into those same categories. However, every now and again there is a well-known product that is backed by a well-regarded company being sold on the torrent site. Usually, the legitimate company doesn’t know its product is being advertised in this way; in most cases it has enlisted a third party broker to bring in some traffic, no questions asked, and the result is an ad slot on torrent sites.

Worth noting: Some of the most popular ad brokers that we see on torrent sites include Admxr, PropellerAds, Adreactor, and ExoClick—names worth keeping an eye on.

Beyond the Torrents 

Even beyond the use of torrent sites, of course, copyright violators find ways to get paid. Blog sites are often used to host illegally-swiped material, and blog sites certainly make use of ad space. However, blog sites will often sell premium accounts, as well, making them available to cyberlockers who function as affiliates or even get paid per download. (Here’s what that might look like.)

Pirates can earn revenues from standalone websites, too, which often use interstitial webpage ads that earn income per page view. These ads are displayed before the URL to the page that the user was trying to access; Adf.ly is one of the more commonly used tools in this category.

Pirates and Advertisers

You might be wondering: If pirates so often earn their revenues through the use of online ads, how exactly do advertisers respond? Frankly, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Not all advertisers are even made aware that their products are being advertised on pirate-related websites, and when they are, they react differently. Some will shut down their affiliate accounts and some will just disable ads from certain sites—while still others will continue their relationships with these affiliate sites, despite the connection with piracy.

There have, in recent years, been some interesting cases regarding advertisers and their liability, but nothing that removes liability completely and also nothing that clearly allows for advertisers to be liable. Legally speaking, this is still very much a grey area—something that online pirates are making the most of.

How Much? 

For those wondering how much ad revenue is generated from pirate-related websites, blogs, and torrents, some estimates put it in excess of $227 million each year—showing that there is a thriving economy for copyright violators. Frankly, with as many opportunities as there are for profiting from copyright infringement, that’s unlikely to change any time soon—but advertisers and consumers alike can be more aware of how pirates are profiting, which is a small but crucial step toward a solution.

Got questions about protecting your digital assets from copyright infringement?