Home > posts > New Study: Digital Thieves’ Profits from Ad-Supported Content Theft Reached Quarter-Billion Dollars in 2013
February 18th, 2014 4:57 pm
New Study: Digital Thieves’ Profits from Ad-Supported Content Theft Reached Quarter-Billion Dollars in 2013
Posted by Print

An alarming new report from the non-profit Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) calculates for the first time the sheer advertising revenue improperly gathered by online thieves who pirate copyrighted material:  a quarter of a billion dollars in 2013 alone.

These content thieves flagrantly steal others’ artistic creations and offer them on low-cost sites, making for a low-risk/high-reward crime that deprives creators of the fruits of their efforts and imagination.  It’s a large and growing racket, and the advertising revenue at the center of this study is merely one way that online thieves obtain profit.  Content theft sites in many cases also profit from subscription fees that often dwarf ad revenues illicitly obtained (the illegality sometimes unbeknownst to the advertisers).

Among the new study’s findings:

  • Content theft sites reaped an estimated quarter of a billion dollars in ad revenue alone in 2013.
  • The largest content-theft sites in the sample made more than $3 million in ad revenue in 2013
  • The 30 largest sites that make revenue exclusively through ads averaged $4.4 million in 2013.
  • The most heavily trafficked BitTorrent and P2P sites, which rely exclusively on advertising revenue, averaged a projected $6 million per year in 2013.
  • Even the smallest content theft sites were projected to average $100,000 in ad revenue in 2013.
  • 30% of the most heavily trafficked content theft sites carried premium brand advertising and 40% carried secondary brand advertising
  • The sites studied in the sample had a profit-margin of 80-94%.  Content thieves rely on stealing the rights-protected work of others, and distributing on low-cost sites.  It’s a low-risk, high reward business.”

Fortunately, solutions exist.  Legitimate advertisers can boost their existing best practice standards, as the technology used to identify and stop rogue sites already exists.  After all, legitimate companies and brands don’t place ads on pornography or racist/hate websites, and they can similarly increase efforts to ensure that they’re not advertising on thieves’ sites. Although no single, simple, foolproof, immediate solution exists (just as no such solutions exist to any other crime afflicting society), well-meaning and legitimate Internet participants should unite and implement voluntary, reasonable and technologically-feasible efforts to cut into online piracy.

As the new DCA report demonstrates, copyright thieves profit enormously from improper ad revenue.  The harm they inflict, however, stretches far beyond that particular method ill-gotten gain.  The works they steal cost billions to create, and such crimes deprive the innovators who pour their time, resources and hard work into creating them of the rightful rewards for their labor. Hopefully, DCA’s new data can help bring an end to that.

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