Archive for the ‘Ad Supported Piracy’ Category

Why Artists Should Care About @AGSNYT: How The Times Thinks About Privacy

April 14, 2019 Comments off

The New York Times has started “The Privacy Project” and kicks off the story correctly with an introspective opinion piece from the boss, A.G. Sulzberger.  We should do the same.

Over the past few years, The New York Times has reported aggressively on the erosion of digital privacy, bringing information to light about the exploitation of personal data that Facebook amassed on its users, about companies buying and selling children’s data, and about phone apps secretly tracking users’ every movement. That reporting helped spur global debate about how society should protect privacy in digital spaces.

Yet all of this journalism was paid for, in part, by The Times’s engaging in the type of collecting, using and sharing of reader data that we sometimes report on. As with a politician railing against high drug prices while accepting campaign donations from big pharma, a news organization cannot talk about privacy on the internet without skeptical readers immediately, and rightly, examining its own practices for signs of hypocrisy. So, as we kick off The Privacy Project, I wanted to share a bit about how The Times itself approaches reader data and privacy.

Like virtually every business on the internet, we collect, use and share data about readers. We make money by using that data to sell advertisements and subscriptions, often working with other companies like Google and Facebook, which allows us to sustain a 1,600-person news operation that reports from more than 150 countries every year.

Google, Facebook, Spotify and their fellow data lords have to a large extent got some pretty big players over a barrel:  They are all dependent to some extent on Google and Facebook’s business model built on the twin pillars of addiction and surveillance.  Artists and songwriters should think about their own role in this unhealthy cycle that feeds on human vulnerabilities and dopamine dependency.  Like the Times, artists drive fans into the waiting arms of data lords who scrape, segment and serve up behavioral data in darkness while fans are focused on content.

In the case of the Times it is content the paper creates and serves up on its own web properties.  But in the case of artists and songwriters, it is the music that the creator or their label or publisher at least ostensibly license to a platform.  And that’s a big difference, because unless that license is a statutory mandate, licenses have a term.  Statutory licenses are favored by platforms (see Music Modernization Act Title I) because the service can force creators to license their works and that license can essentially never be terminated–even iHeart got away with not paying royalties through reorganization bankruptcy followed by an IPO once those messy obligations were washed away through the courts.

Artists are very familiar with another version of this story that we fought and still fight with brand-sponsored piracy.  In that ecosystem–which still exists on a large scale–companies like Google sell advertising on pirate sites that is served against stolen music or movies and then get data served back to them through analytics tools.  (This is why I often say that it’s not that Google pays a low royalty, they actually pay a negative royalty when you take into account their profit from piracy.)

But data scraping of fans that artists drive to licensed platforms is a less frequent topic of discussion.  Like the Times, creators should start thinking about the role they play in driving fans to the clutches of the data lords.  As Mr. Sulzberger says:

The Times…maintains clear internal guidelines about how such data is collected and used. But this control is often more limited than it seems because in many cases, the news organizations that host the trackers don’t know what happens with that information once it is transferred to third parties. Those companies include major platforms like Google and Facebook, smaller companies you’ve never heard of that act as analytics providers and advertising intermediaries, and the individual companies that place individual advertisements. Readers may understandably wonder: What data do these companies have? To whom might they sell it? How might those buyers exploit it?

I ask myself those questions, too, as a publisher and as a person who uses the internet.

I suggest that it’s time to stop asking questions and start demanding answers.  We at least can try to cut them off.

“ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube…”

March 3, 2015 3 comments

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid it down today in his speech to a joint meeting of Congress:

“ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube…”

This will come as no surprise to MTP readers as we have been hammering this issue for a long, long time.  And of course YouTube has gotten away with it so far, just like Google has with so many of its bad acts. Thanks to sharp reporting by Laurie Segall at CNN Money this story got on their air:

Jennifer Aniston lauds the benefits of Aveeno, Bud Light shows off beer at a concert, and Secret sells its freshly scented deodorant.

Pretty standard commercials, but what’s different is the content that comes after. In this case, they’re all followed by ISIS and jihadi videos.

Terrorism analyst Mubin Shaikh said one video is part of an ongoing propaganda series that ISIS produces and another is a jihadi-themed video.

Video sites like YouTube sell ad time to companies, and the ads get automatically inserted before the videos play. Advertisers don’t directly control where their ads are placed although they can specify the demographics they’d like to target.

“From a contract perspective, these corporations that are paying lots of money to get YouTube clicks may not be that pleased when they find out that their video is placed right before an ISIS recruitment video,” legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.

Though some videos may not violate YouTube’s policy against inciting violence, they might not be appropriate for advertising.

It’s almost impossible to know how many companies’ ads have run before videos like this, but at least two companies were unhappy with the content pairing.

“We were unaware that one of our ads ran in conjunction with this video,” a vice president of consumer connections at Anheuser-Busch (AHBIF) told CNNMoney after reviewing one of the videos that played one of its ads. “We have strict guidelines with our media partners that govern when and how our ads appear. We are working with YouTube and our media buying agency, Mediacom, to understand and rectify the matter.”

“Our ads should not have appeared and we’re working with YouTube to understand how it happened and to avoid it happening again,” said Paul Fox, director of corporate communications at Procter & Gamble (PG).

Really.  “Avoid it happening again”?  Exactly how does P&G intend to do that?  Not letting the advertiser control where their ad shows up is YouTube’s business model.  It’s not a design defect, it’s a feature.

This is what you call a duped advertiser–you know–someone like this:


But aren’t duped advertisers exactly the kind of person that is protected by most states’ unfair business practices and consumer protection laws.  Oh right–Google is suing a state attorney general to stop exactly this kind of investigation.  Why?

Because they’re on the Internet.  They’re special.

4 Million DMCA Notices Don’t Stop the Google Piracy Machine: How Google Drives Traffic to Pirate Sites Through Google Alerts

August 27, 2014 Comments off

Google news alerts are emails sent to you by Google through the data analysis of its monopoly search engine.  Yes, the all seeing Google knows a lot of stuff and they are happy to share it with you so you can share it with others.  Google will send you a link that matches your news alert and will always have social media sharing links to Google Plus, Facebook and Twitter.  (I can’t imagine Google adding the Facebook and Twitter links without some kind of compensation, probably cold hard cash.)

Here’s an example:

Google Alert OK Go

This link goes to a site called which takes you to this page:

OK Go Lyrics Link

In case you were wondering what was all about, how would you know if this was a pirate site?  Or more precisely, how would Google know was a pirate site?  It just looks sketchy, right?  But we all know that we can’t just decide something “looks sketchy” because that might break the Internet.  How about some proof?  Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to expertise theory in Outliers?  (That’s the book that’s not available on Amazon.)

Let’s take a look at the handy Google Transparency Report and see what we can find out.

Google Transparency Report

First thing we notice is that Google has received over 31 million DMCA notices to disable links in the last 30 days–and this is only for search.  Not Blogger or YouTube or any other Google property.  So that’s what the statisticians call a robust sample.

What about the site  Fortunately the Google Transparency Report has a handy search tool.


And my goodness gracious, there it is!  Although common sense might break the Internet, there’s the URL that Google sent directly to my inbox: and also  As the corner boys in the Fred Von Lohman unit at Google will no doubt tell you, there’s no proof (aside from the Internet-breaking common sense) that confirms that and .cc are run by the same people.  Even so, Google has been told 1,161,250 times that the actual URL they sent to me does illegal stuff and Google has acknowledged that the DMCA notices it receives are 97% accurate.


What do you think Malcolm Gladwell might have to say about that level of repetition?  And remember–this was simply based on a search of “OK Go lyrics”.  There’s nothing in that search term that suggests an interest in piracy.  Yet Google serves up links to a pirate site that it has been told is a pirate site over 1 million times.  And Facebook and Twitter promote this piracy through their indiscriminate links to Google Alert emails.

So let’s just say it:  Google promotes piracy through Google Alerts to its profit.

Did Mr. La Rue Miss the Elephant in the Room? A Critique of the Report of the Special Rapporteur to the U.N. Human Rights Council (Complete Post)

August 27, 2014 Comments off

They’re back…the UN Human Rights Council (with a membership you just can’t make up) suddenly has an interest in the rights of “intermediaries” over artists. What do intermediaries (i.e. Google) do when “intermediaries” (i.e. Google) aren’t mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or other international human rights documents? Hire the “Special Rapporteur” to create a useful paper trail. This post is about the last Special Rapporteur’s report that expressly defended Google’s business. The new Special Rapporteur (from Pakistan, that paragon of human rights) is at it again

And when I say “hire the ‘Special Rapporteur'”, I mean that literally: Frank La Rue now works for Google

Music Technology Policy

In honor of International Human Rights Day (December 10) let us revisit this post.

It is not lost on professional creators and those who care about them that an already tough business has  gotten tougher in the last decade.  These creators watched—sometimes literally—their works being parlayed into billions for everyone in the distribution chain.  Except the original creator, of course.  (Yes, billions—if recent disclosures about the size of the rogue site advertising revenues are a guide.)  Given the amount of bunk that is being spread about how prosecuting online theft violates human rights–a strange one if I’ve ever heard it–it’s important to understand whose rights are being gored here.  (To write your Member of Congress about this, try Music Rights Now.)

Now comes the Special Rapporteur for the UN Human Rights Council to deny artists their human rights while attempting to enshrine “intermediaries” who profit from the losses of…

View original post 2,902 more words

@zchase and What’s Up at NPR’s “Planet Money”?

May 28, 2014 1 comment

MTP readers will recall when Rap Genius–or what RG’s investor Marc Andreessen has called the “Internet Talmud”–decided to come in from the cold and get licenses for the lyrics that are an integral part of the site.  (“Internet Talmud”?  Really?  Entitled much?)

Yes, Mark Andreessen posted on a Rapgenius forum this explanation for why he was investing in the company:

It turns out that Rap Genius has a much bigger idea and a much broader mission than that. Which is: Generalize out to many other categories of text… annotate the world… be the knowledge about the knowledge… create the Internet Talmud.

So before moving on to rip off poets with their apparently unlicensed “Poetry Genius” site, Rap Genius decided to get licenses for at least some of the glue the holds their business together, a lyric license.  Rap Genius is a business with a valuation around $50 million given the $15 million that Andreessen’s venture fund reportedly put  into the company.  $15 million to cover, you know, like salaries and stuff, bro.  (Songwriters and poets, allow me to interpret.  A “salary” is what some people get paid every week rain or shine  when they work for The Man, or in this case The Man 2.0. or in the case of NPR, The

NPR’s financial show “Planet Money” (which appears to be targeted at someone other than investors and is not to be confused with “Marketplace” or the “Nightly Business Report”) decided to cover the Rap Genius dustup with songwriters in this podcast “Episode 537: Hold The Music, Just The Lyrics Please,” which also appeared in an edited form “When Lyrics Get Posted Online, Who Gets Paid?” both with the byline of one Zoe Chace, who apparently is a journalist at NPR.

In contemporary culture it’s not really sensible to talk about unlicensed lyrics and Rap Genius without also mentioning University of Georgia lecturer David Lowery, who also founded Cracker and Camper van Beethoven.  (Full disclosure: David Lowery is a friend of mine and his Trichordist blog will be familiar to MTP readers.  However, I haven’t discussed this post with David at all.)

I wasn’t aware of Ms. Chace’s programs–or actually program–on the subject until yesterday when one of the Rap Genius founders was separated from the company due to some tasteless comments he made about the Santa Barbara mass murderer.  In fairness to Ms. Chace, I don’t think as some apparently do that her interview with the Rap Genius executive team was–to be polite–“fawning”, although she does seem rather uncritical in the interview she aired.

Here’s a couple other things she missed:

1.  Attribution of Lowery:  You know, that who-what-when-where-why-how stuff.   David Lowery is a lecturer at the University of Georgia Terry School of Business.  Never mentioned.

2.  Lowery’s Congressional Testimony on Fair Use:  Ms. Chase interviewed Patricia Aufderheide, co-author of a book entitled “Reclaiming Fair Use” with Professor Peter Jaszi.  More about him.  Ms. Aufderheide and Ms. Chace discussed the issue of “fair use,” which Rap Genius was determined to try to shoe horn into this case but eventually gave up on.  Interestingly, Ms. Aufderheide concluded that the crowd sourced and even annotated Rap Genius would not enjoy success with the affirmative defense of fair use once those noncommercial uses were uploaded to the commercial Rap Genius site.  (Lowery drew pretty much the same conclusion in his Congressional testimony.)

Ms. Chase might have mentioned that David Lowery was invited to testify before the House Judiciary Committee’s IP subcommittee alongside Ms. Aufderheide’s writing partner Professor Peter Jaszi.  On the subject of fair use.

But why bring that up.

Attribution of Study:  Ms. Chace makes Lowery’s Undesirable Lyric Website list one of the centerpieces of her story, but she never calls it by its actual name–you know, the title of the study that’s on Rap Genius.  And, frankly, all over the Internet.  That is, the “University of Georgia Undesirable Lyric Website List.”  Of course, if she called it by its proper name, that would raise the question of how a songwriter like Lowery came to be able to use the University of Georgia’s name as the title of a list–and that would require mentioning that the songwriter conducted research on the list at the University.  Where he worked.  At his job.  Easy enough to clear up, right, just properly answer the attribution question in 1.

If you wanted to.

4.  Methodology of the Study:  Ms. Chace tells us that Lowery created his lyric site list by “googling” lyrics.  Because that’s how people find things online, they “google” them.  Perhaps she also makes xeroxes.  Or eats a mcdonalds.  Or blows her nose with a kleenex.  Or takes an aspirin.  Or uses a zipper.  Or rides an escalator.  You know, googling.  Nobody will care, of course, just another kowtow to a multinational getting free advertising on public radio.  Who would care?

Maybe the underwriters who don’t get the free plug?


Actually, the ranking methodology was disclosed as part of the study and it is not just a bunch of Internet searching.   In fact, David’s methodology was all right there on Rap Genius.  (There have been several iterations since the October release.)  Ms. Chace never brought it up during her piece.  Which seems odd, since the methodology was clearly disclosed and she was interviewing Lowery who could have reacted first hand to any criticism she had of his methodology.  All she had to do was ask him about his study…at the University of Georgia…as part of his…job.


Better to have him sing a few bars of “Low” and “Take the Skinheads Bowling.”  Why discuss the facts?

5.  Who Complained?  Ms. Chace leaves us with the impression (based on a statement from Rap Genius) that Lowery is the only songwriter who complained.  If she had researched the timeline she would have seen that Rap Genius was pretty clearly negotiating with Sony/ATV immediately after the first announcement on October 30, 2013, so by the time her Planet Money piece was released on May 9, 2014, that was a done deal.

6.  Follow the Money, orWhen Lyrics Get Posted Online, Who Gets Paid?”  Although Ms. Chace proposed the thesis question “who gets paid?” she did little to answer it.  If you listen to Ms. Chace, some of the unlicensed lyric websites make advertising money.

And you know, the thing about advertising on the Internet, right?

It’s magic.

Yes, folks, on the Internet, advertising magically appears and abracadabra–money appears!  In the pocket of the website!


The way it works is that the lyric website is an ad publisher.  The ad publisher maintains advertising inventory.  The ad publisher has one or more agreements with ad networks, like say Adsense.  The ad network (or ad exchange) has deals with advertisers who pay them money for “eyeballs”, also known as placement on the ad publisher’s inventory.  The ad network then takes the advertiser’s money and whacks about 30% of it for itself and pays the rest to the publisher under the contract the ad publisher has.  A contract which, of course, expressly prohibits profiting from piracy.

And here’s the twist:  If a lyric site gets a license and pays the songwriters, the site pays that royalty out of the site’s share of ad revenue.  Nothing changes for the ad network serving the ad.  The ad network makes the same cut of revenue before and after the site gets a license.  You know–“parasitic middlemen.”

It looks something like this Beyonce ad from the 2013 Superbowl (since Ms. Chace seems to be a fan):

lyrics007 adele pepsi

or this:


or this:

rumor has it elyrics

Kind of like if the Talmud had commercials.

So while Ms. Chace isn’t factually incorrect by saying that the illegal lyric site makes money by selling advertising, she’s clearly leaving out a big chunk of the “who gets paid” answer that she herself posed.  It’s highly doubtful that any of these lyric sites have their own ad sales team.  That’s why they pay a commission to the ad network who provides the advertising to the ad publisher’s inventory.

However–Ms. Chace only pursued Rap Genius, a site that does not sell advertising (because, presumably, it is venture backed and just hasn’t started commercializing their lyrics yet).  Ms. Chase mentioned lyric sites making money, but only in passing.  She never pursued that part of the story or even mentioned it in any detail.  Because I guess on Planet Money we don’t discuss such things in polite company.

Yes–someone is profiting from piracy besides the lyric sites.  She could have asked Lowery about this, too, because that’s also part of his study.  And the name “undesirable” was according to Lowery’s post suggested by a Google executive:

 The Lyric Website Undesirability Index And List

Our use of the term “undesirability index” is inspired by Google’s UK Policy Manager Theo Bertrand, who used the term during a recent debate in London. We use the term “undesirable “ because these sites do not appear to be licensed. We cannot absolutely conclude, from the outside looking in, that these sites do not have licenses. However, we could not locate the sites in the database and they do not appear to have otherwise been flagged as licensed based on our exhaustive web search. This leads us to conclude these sites are most likely unlicensed. It is entirely possible that some of these sites are licensed and we have not been able to locate those responsible for their licensing. If you feel your site has been mistakenly included in this list, please contact us at uga_undesirable_list<AT> We will confirm your licenses and will be glad to remove your site from the list if you in fact are licensed.

So it appears that Ms. Chace didn’t push quite far enough to determine who is really making money from these sites–including the indispensable ad network.  I wonder why she left that out.  This piece is riddled with interesting omissions.

But it’s true you know.  Most of these sites wouldn’t survive without some advertising income from people like Adsense to help them profit from piracy.

Yes, it’s true, Ms. Chace.

Just Google it.

Digital Citizen Study on Ad Sponsored Piracy

March 17, 2014 Comments off

Attention Mr. Almunia: Justice Department Evidence Against Megavideo Confirms Adsense Account

December 26, 2013 3 comments

by Chris Castle

Joaquín Almunia, the Vice President of the European Commission in Charge of Competition currently investigating Google’s unsavory business practices in Europe may wish to consider the dark underbelly of Google’s advertising business when deciding whether to give the company an unprecedented third opportunity to settle the competition questions against the global monopolist.

According to evidence released by the Justice Department in the Megavideo criminal prosecution, Megavideo was a Google Adsense customer until at least May 17, 2007:

On or about May 17, 2007, a representative from Google AdSense, an Internet advertising company, sent an e-mail to DOTCOM entitled “Google AdSense Account Status.” In the e-mail, the representative stated that “[d]uring our most recent review of your site [,]” Google AdSense specialists found “numerous pages” with links to, among other things, “copyrighted content,” and therefore Google AdSense “will no longer be able to work with you.” The e-mail contains links to specific examples of offending content located on

While the quotation appears to be carefully worded email relating to‘s Adsense account, it is unclear whether the government is pursuing the role that Google played in shoveling money to the “Mega Conspiracy” prior to that termination, and whether all accounts that benefited the Mega Conspiracy prior to and after the email were in fact terminated.  Given the numerous examples of Google serving advertising to referring sites that drove traffic to Megavideo, this email quoted by the government actually raises more questions than it answers.

The DOJ also notes evidence that the Mega Conspiracy opened a Google Analytics account for Megavideo to provide data to help the company steal more efficiently, that apparently rose to the level of email exchanges with Google employees:

According to internal e-mails and documents obtained from Google, members of the Mega Conspiracy, including DOTCOM and VAN DER KOLK, began accessing Google Analytics reports for,, and The Google Analytics account was opened at least as early as November of 2008 under the name “TIM VESTOR,” which is an alias for DOTCOM. Google Analytics provides website measurement tools, such as the number of visits during a specified time period….

A particular Google Analytics report shows that between November 19, 2010, and February 18, 2011, had roughly 1 billion visits. Less than 13% of these visits were “direct traffic” — meaning visits that were likely generated by the user having directly typed the URL link into the web browser or having bookmarked the URL link. More than 85% of the visits to were from “referring sites,” meaning the user appears to have clicked a URL link on the referring site that directed the user to The top referring websites during that time period were third-party linking sites, such as (more than 110 million referrals) and (more than 60 million referrals).

The reports from Google Analytics for the following time periods reflect similar data: February 19, 2011 — May 18, 2011; May 19, 2011 — August 18, 2011; August 19, 2011 — October 27, 2011….A particular Google Analytics report shows that between November 19, 2010, and February 18, 2011, had roughly 1 billion visits. Less than 20% of these visits were “direct traffic,” and roughly 80% were from “referring sites.” The top referring websites during that time period were third-party linking sites, such as (more than 50 million referrals), (more than 25 million referrals), and (more than 20 million referrals). The reports
from Google Analytics for the following time periods reflect similar data: February 19, 2011 — May 18, 2011; May 19, 2011 — August 18, 2011; August 19, 2011 — October 27, 2011.

It’s not surprising, then, that the government obtained emails from Google relating to this level of traffic as it beggars belief that a Google Analytics customer with this level of traffic was just kind of getting an automated report.

These reports prepared by Google also demonstrates that Google knew or should have known that its terminated Adsense customer was in a business of getting most of its traffic from referring sites–and as Ellen Seidler has documented on Popup Pirates, these referring sites triggered pop up advertising pages that served “Ads by Google” and did so in the tens of millions.  Advertising for some of the biggest brands in the world.

There was clearly an Adsense account somewhere in this mix for these referring sites, even if the Adsense account for Megaupload got to hot to maintain.  It is now clear that Google was preparing reports that detailed exactly which sites were referring traffic to the Mega Conspiracy.

There are two questions that the DOJ has not asked as yet:

1.  What happened to the money that Google made on Google’s share of revenue paid to the Mega Conspiracy before May 17, 2007?  If this is like other instances where Google has profited from crime (as it told the BBC regarding advertising for counterfeit Olympics tickets, for example) and selling human growth hormone, RU486 and oxycontin, the only way Google will give up any of the proceeds from crime is if Google is criminally prosecuted.  So let’s get on that, shall we? and

2. What is the relationship was between Google and these referring sites documented in the Google Analytics statements it sent to the Mega Conspiracy, how were they paid, and did any of that income originate in the US or was the revenue disguised outside of the US (such as in Google’s China operations that played a leading role in Google’s payment of $500,000,000 for violating US controlled substances laws.  Did Google provide any income tax disclosure or filing regarding the income, including for its own share of advertising revenue?  (Actually paying tax might be a bit much to expect, but at least telling the government how much income it was not paying tax on might have happened.)  Was any of this income included in SEC filings and audited financial statements for Google and if not, why not?  What did Google’s CFO Patrick Pichette know and when did he know it?  Or perhaps John Dixon at Ernst & Young?

There’s a term for this…what is it again?  Oh, yes.  A Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization a/k/a how they sent  Michael Milken to prison and bankrupted his company for a lot less evil.  If the U.S. government is not going to pursue this investigation, Mr. Almunia is perfectly positioned to do so–why would he want to give an unprecedented third chance to a company that does not come to him with clean hands?

As the DOJ tells us:

On or about September 2, 2007, via Skype, VAN DER KOLK said to ORTMANN, “we’re modern pirates :-)”. ORTMANN responded, “we’re pretty evil, unfortunately”, “but Google is also evil, and their claim is ‘don’t be evil.’”

It takes a conspirator to know a conspirator.

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