Piracy police hijack ads on copyright-infringing websites

British police have come up with a new way of cutting off funding to websites that illegally share music and movies.

"The Expendables 3", starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was leaked for illegal download ahead of its official release in August. Phil Bray/Lionsgate

Anti-piracy police have come up with a scheme to strangle the flow of money to online pirates by hijacking adverts on websites accused of copyright infringement.

Britain's Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has begun a scheme of cutting off advertising revenue to websites that enable the illegal sharing of movies and music and other copyright materials. Adverts on offending sites will be replaced by anti-piracy warnings.

Most websites make space on their pages for adverts, for which they charge money from the brands placing the advert. Advertisers may choose to put adverts on websites that involve copyright infringement because lots of people use them and so will see the ad, but in many cases advertisers place ads through agencies on a range of sites and may not know their brand is associated with illegal activity. To avoid that, a firm called Project Sunblock checks the content of websites, and has now been recruited by PIPCU to target dodgy sites.

A website under investigation for copyright infringement has its adverts replaced by police warnings. PIPCU

The process begins when copyright holders -- such as movie studios or record labels -- report websites to the police. Officers evaluate the site and, if copyright infringement is taking place, give the site the opportunity to "engage with the police, to correct their behaviour and to begin to operate legitimately."

If that doesn't work, the police can attempt to suspend the site from the domain registrar, or go after the site's advertising revenue by replacing the adverts. If you go to a site that's been identified by PIPCU, ads are replaced with warnings that the site is under criminal investigation and a suggestion that you stop using it. This is done at no cost to the police or the taxpayer.

If a website is added to an official Infringing Website List (IWL), it's blacklisted by marketing agencies and advertising companies so brands stop advertising on the site in question. The question, as with any blacklist, is whether legitimate sites will be inadvertently affected, cutting off vital funding to sites that are not committing copyright infringement.

Piracy is in the news this week with a leak of upcoming action throwback "The Expendables 3", while TV shows like " Game of Thrones" are consistently downloaded illegally.

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