By Justin Sanders

In a world rife with existential threats to the creative economy, we tend to, by necessity, sound a lot of alarm bells here at CreativeFuture. But every now and then, we also get to share some good news – and today is one of those days!

We’re pleased to announce that our partners at the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) have released Winning the Fight Against Ad-Supported Piracy, a white paper that could prove to be creatives’ best weapon against digital content thieves who make money by running legitimate advertisements on their very illegitimate websites.

Now, why would we be so excited about an offering that is essentially a technology playbook for advertisers? Well, because advertising is one of the most reliable sources of revenue for pirate sites – indeed, it is one of their only sources of revenue. And all too often, the ads that pop up on these illegal operations come from widely known brands. They have no idea their paid online marketing campaign is helping support criminals. This is bad for creatives, who are getting their works stolen, and it’s bad for brands, that suddenly, by unwitting association, look like they are actually endorsing sites that traffic in stolen films, television shows, songs, books, and more.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. By working proactively, brands and their advertising agencies can prevent their ads from appearing on or adjacent to pirated content on infringing sites. And that’s why we’re so excited about Winning the Fight Against Ad-Supported Piracy – because it offers a concise, user-friendly collection of methods for doing exactly that.

“The fight against ad-supported piracy does not have to be a painful one,” reads the paper, before laying out five simple best practices: Responsibility, Partnerships, Strategy, Accountability, and Tools. Each one features easily incorporable tips such as, under Responsibility, “Consider the creating of a brand safety team,” and, under Strategy, “Stay involved once campaigns are launched.”

Then there’s Accountability, where the paper suggests writing contracts with publishers, ad networks, and vendors that “require nonpayment for any client activity that appears on domains that deal in the illegal distribution of content.” And then in Tools it offers the stunningly good idea for brands to keep both a blacklist and a whitelist of sites and apps where they do and do not want their ads appearing.

All of the above advice feels revolutionary in its simple effectiveness – and it’s only the beginning of the riches therein. The white paper even offers case studies demonstrating how different, existing companies have put these best practices into action, and provides information on dealing with the growing threat of mobile app piracy.

CreativeFuture has seen firsthand how the guidelines laid out in Winning the Fight Against Ad-Supported Piracy can have hugely positive ramifications across the digital supply chain. We began our Follow the Money campaign in collaboration with TAG in 2015, an ongoing effort to work with agencies to revise their digital media practices and stop the flow of ad money to online outlets that participate in digital piracy. It’s been an incredibly successful project, with our outreach compelling many major brands to virtually eliminate their impressions on pirate sites. In fact, in 2018 – just two years after the program began, no premium advertisers could be identified at high volumes on pirate sites.

This stuff works! 

It really, really does – and now, TAG has honed in on precisely how it works and bound all that crucial intel up in one, easily digestible package that could not be coming out at a better time. Because sure, we’ve had some success here in the States, but this fight has only just begun. Piracy has no borders, after all. Creatives around the globe are threatened by criminal operations that siphon billions of dollars from the revenue streams their livelihoods depend on. We have to strike while this iron is hot – which is why, along with the release of its white paper, TAG announced the launch of Project Brand Integrity, a similar effort to Follow the Money but focused on the European market, where some ad industry executives believe ad fraud is worse than ever.

Yes, there are many more countries and continents to go, but Project Brand Integrity is a great step forward in stopping the worldwide spread of ad-supported piracy. And, with the publication of Winning the Fight Against Ad-Supported Piracy, more steps are sure to come – as more and more brands across the globe realize it’s not so difficult to keep their good ads off bad sites, to protect their carefully cultivated reputations, and, always, to protect the creative communities that help make it all worthwhile.