In a positive development for the creative community, several key advertising leaders converged at Advertising Week in New York City to sound the alarm about the harmful effects of digital piracy.

Wenda Harris Millard of MediaLink moderated a panel discussion called “Digital Media Value Under Attack: It’s Worse than You Thought.”  The panel featured Rick Cotton, Senior Counselor for IP Protection at NBCUniversal, Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers and Scott Meyer, the CEO of a leading digital technology company called Evidon.

The takeaway from the panel was clear: piracy not only undermines the economics of creativity, it’s a growing threat to brand value and there is an urgent need for leadership from within the advertising ecosystem to stem the problem.

“We have to create a level of collaboration in order for the [advertising] industry to own the issue,” said Bob Liodice of the Association of National Advertisers, adding that collaboration on it must be “systematized” and that the industry must make it  “personal.”  The comments made clear that legitimate advertisers do not want their brands associated with illegal sites, and they do not want to fund the criminal activities of the website operators.   “We have theft going on here,” Liodice added.

As we know, advertising revenue is the lifeblood of many, if not most pirate sites.  We also know that pirate site operators feed off of millions in advertising dollars from mainstream, legitimate companies that, for the most part, have no intention or desire to support illegal websites.

Panelists were in agreement that more industry self-regulation and collaboration would benefit both the brands that advertise online and content creators.

“No one has asked the blunt question of whether you want your ad associated with a pirate site,” said Cotton.  “Advertisers should not want their ads to be in that environment. It’s getting more risky to be in business with criminal websites.”

Bob Liodice, head of the ANA concurred, “It [piracy] makes us all shake our heads, wondering how we can wrap our arms around this. We have theft going on here.”

Liodice believes one problem is that no one has taken “ownership” of the piracy problem. “We have to create a level of collaboration in order for the [advertising] industry to own the issue.  The simple message is that we need a systematic approach to this problem.  Otherwise it’s bad news for the industry.”

We couldn’t agree more.

The best way to stop piracy is to shut off the faucet and stop the flow of advertising dollars to large-scale, for-profit criminal enterprises who profit from someone else’s creativity and hard work.  The digital advertising community has taken steps to address piracy, but more needs to be done.  To that end, we are particularly encouraged by the call from the head of the ANA for a collaborative cross-industry effort to focus on piracy and threats to the value of digital media and creative products – because piracy hurts advertisers, too.

But, what’s important to remember is that advertisers are only one slice of a complex Internet ecosystem.  If we are to prevail in slowing down piracy and making the Internet a safer place for business, innovation and creativity, all responsible parties must do their part – including search engines, payment processors, internet service providers, and domain name registrars.

There’s a lot of work to do, but with efforts like the one discussed at Advertising Week, things are heading in the right direction.

To read more about the panel, follow him on Twitter at @PrivacyNet.