Archive for the ‘Brand 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

Poll: Ad Agency Giants Unite for More Innovative Brand Sponsored Piracy?

July 29, 2013 Comments off

Some of you may have seen the story about the merger of Omnicom and Publicis the huge global advertising agencies.  When the House IP Subcommittee holds hearings about “innovation”, they will hopefully be interested in the effect of this merger on brand sponsored piracy.  We have noted in the past that Omnicom clients (particularly Chiat Day clients) have been particularly nonresponsive on explaining why they support online theft of music and movies.  Plus, who can forget the Chiat Day “Arists vs Artists” campaign.

Poll by Damn the Science!

Stealing is Good for You Says CCIA and GAO: A match made in heaven

July 27, 2013 4 comments

Washington lobbyist Matt Schruers, who works for the Computer & Communications Industry Association, is floating a paper released by the Government Accountability Office (“Intellectual Property: Observations on Efforts to Quantify the Economic Effects of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods” (GAO-10-423)).

So you get the context, the Computer & Communications Industry Association is a very well funded lobby shop in Washington that is (was?) one of the big backers of the Internet Radio Fairness Act through its membership in the Internet Radio Fairness Coalition and is prominently mentioned in the Google Shill List.  I fully expect them to be major opponents of Ranking Member Mel Watt’s performance rights legislation that could be introduced as soon as next week.  The CCIA also funds a variety of studies that try to tell us things like stealing is good and the movie business is a “fair use industry” whatever that means.

The GAO “report” essentially takes the “stealing is good for you” position.  Specifically, the Report states “some experts and literature point out that certain stakeholders may experience some positive effects from counterfeits and piracy, though there is little information available on potential positive effects.”

Even though there is “little information available on potential positive effects” of crime–a bizarre position–the Government  Accountability Office then goes on to offer readers a table reference to the “positive effects” of criminal activity.

MTP readers will remember that I raised a number of questions about the GAO “report”, in particular, who did the GAO interview in developing the report.  This is important, because the report offers no original study and is replete with references to “experts” who are not clearly identified. It relies on controversial studies without considering opposing views, “experts” such as Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf who produced a music study that contains this Butz-ism, so condescending only a professor could utter it:

“A…decline in industry profitability might not hurt artistic production [or] artist motivations. The remuneration of artistic talent differs from other types of labor….[Artists]might continue being creative even when the monetary incentives to do so become weaker [because] many of them enjoy fame, admiration, social status, and free beer in bars – suggesting a reduction in monetary incentives might possibly have a reduced impact on the quantity and quality of artistic production.”

Musicians will work for “free beer”?  And of course, “admiration”, get it?  The “admiration” often follows the “free beer,” I guess.  Strangely reminiscent of Amanda Palmer’s “beer, high fives and hugs”, right?  And that worked out so well.

So who are these “experts” that the report keeps referring to?  There is an index that has a list of names but also has this statement:

“We also met with representatives from other industry associations and other organizations outside of the structured interview process in order to gain more in-depth information and additional perspectives on both of our objectives.”

This could literally be anyone in the world.

As MTP readers will recall, we sent the GAO a Freedom of Information Act request and asked for an explanation of who these unnamed “experts” were.  This was the GAO’s reply:

“This letter responds to your April 10, 2011, follow-up request pertaining to my March 1,2011 (PRI-ll-043), response letter to you. Specifically, you are asserting that my response to question 2 of your December 30,2010, request was non-responsive [because the response did not disclose the identity of the unnamed experts]. Upon receipt of your follow-up request, I consulted with our International Affairs and Trade team that issued GAO-1O-423 entitled INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: Observations on Efforts to Quantify the Economic Effects of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods. They advised me that on page 30 of the report at Appendix I, we provided the criteria for selecting experts and on page 31, we list our 12 experts, of which 8 were the names of individuals and 4 were the names of organizations and federal agencies.

Consistent with GAO’s practice, we did not provide the names of the officials who were speaking as representatives from the 4 organizations in our report. In addition, the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 (PRO-IP Act) mandated that GAO conduct this work GAO addressed this report to the Chairman and Ranking Member, U.S. Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, and the Chairman and Ranking Member, House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary. GAO’s policies and procedures related to the public availability of GAO records require that we must first obtain authorization from the congressional committees that requested GAO to do the work before we review records for release. See 4 C.F.R. § 81.6(a). We consulted with the congressional committees of jurisdiction regarding your December 30,2010, request [but not the second request regarding nonresponsiveness] and received limited authorization to address the questions raised in your letter about the experts referred to in the report. The committees did not authorize release of any additional identifying information about experts we interviewed, other than what we have already noted in the report. Therefore, we decline to release the names and/or any affiliation of the experts referred to in the report pursuant to 4 C.F.R. § 81.6(a).”

In other words, GAO refused to disclose who the unnamed experts were.  And they are–with characteristic bureaucratic spin–trying to blame it on the Congress.  And–stay with me here–at the same time implying that the GAO was responsive to my assertion they were nonresponsive due to their failure to disclose the names of the experts because they responded to the assertion that they would not disclose the names.  Pretty slick, eh?  If you look up “mandarin” in the dictionary….

So you will imagine my surprise to see a lobbyist picking up the ball on the primary theory of the GAO study–that any study of piracy must take into account the positive effects of crime–particularly a lobbyist working for the CCIA, the consistent opponent of artist rights in my view.  (Show me one instance where CCIA or its members wanted to enforce the rights of professional artists or treat professional artists fairly?)

Mr. Schruers, Vice President of Law & Policy for CCIA, dredges up the GAO report in a post on the CCIA’s “Project Disco” blog (aww, Project Disco, ain’t that cute?  Music lovers!)  He says:

So what is The Issue of Which One May Not Speak?  The fact that money not spent on pirated content is, in many cases, still spent.  [Genius! Alert the Nobel Committee!}

The U.S. Government Accountability Office pointed this out in a widely discussed report in 2010, observing that “effects of piracy within the United States are mainly redistributions within the economy for other purposes and that they should not be considered as a loss to the overall economy.”  Money does not “just vanish.”  A Swiss Government commission made a similar observation the following year.

Nevertheless, critics excoriated the GAO report and others like it for simply observing that intra-economy transfers are often redistributive, instead of destructive.  Polite people just don’t say things like that.

And then he says this:

Normatively bad isn’t the same as an economically bad, however.  Not all normative transgressions necessarily have macroeconomic consequences.  And yet those two items are invariably linked when studies consider infringement.  Infringement is bad, therefore we must assign an economic cost to its badness.  Hence, study after study makes the repeatedly discredited assumption that every infringement is a lost sale, usually calculated at the highest retail price for which the good was offered, and every lost sale represents a commensurate economic loss.

Let’s take a closer look at this one.   Mr. Schruers raises the issue of whether “every” infringement is a lost sale.  By “lost sale”, I assume he means a sale lost to the rightful owner through a retail transaction with a consumer.  However, there is another way to look at “lost sales”–did anyone make money from what could otherwise have been a retail transaction with the consumer (at least a potential sale).  Was there an intervening actor who did make money from the transaction?  An intervening actor who interfered with a potential economic benefit between a buyer and a seller for goods the seller had for sale?

Just because the rightful seller lost the sale does not mean the sale was lost.  Which is kind of the GAO’s point, right?  We must take into account the positive effects of crime, or at least the positive effects on the real buyer and seller while fencing the unauthorized goods.

Enter brand sponsored piracy.  In a world of brand sponsored piracy, unauthorized sites monetize movies, music, lyrics, television shows, television broadcasts, books, games, software and other intellectual property.  These unauthorized sites monetize every transaction with the consumer by selling advertising inventory on the pirate site.  So for these sites–the overwhelming majority of pirate sites–there are no lost sales because every transaction is monetized.  (Former Adsense client Megavideo perfected this model.)

And the GAO will be glad to hear that the gold is being spread around–the ads don’t appear by magic.  Ads are served to unauthorized sites by ad networks–such as those who are members of the Internet Advertising Bureau.  And good news for Mr. Schruers–he needn’t look far to find these beneficiaries of redistribution, many are his members.

Of course the unauthorized sites can sell advertising inventory for less money because they have no content costs–because they are stealing.  As long as the IAB members keep signing up new ad publishers from whatever source derived, they make money as long as the rate of increase in new publishers offsets the decline in CPMs or CPCs, which is the kind of mandatory full line forcing that I suspect Google’s “enhanced campaigns” is all about.  (Hello Mr. Madoff.)

From the GAO’s perspective, it sounds like this is a win-win for everyone because there is no proof that any of these users would have purchased the content or software from a legitimate source before their buying decision was interfered with by the brand sponsored pirate sites.  (Difficult to model given the ubiquitous availability of brand sponsored piracy.)

The consumer just didn’t have to make that choice because the unauthorized site offered the exact same content as the legitimate site, and nominally for free to the consumer.  Of course, the content wasn’t free–the advertiser paid for it.  And this is how you take into account the positive effects of crime.

Mr. Schruers disclaims support for piracy (he kind of has to, right?).  His position seems quite at odds with the goals of CCIA member Grooveshark, so we wonder what the point of his post is if it is not to somehow defend something, or at least cloud the waters:

[S]ome degree of infringement is not wealth destruction but rather wealth redistribution.

The fact that infringement may be redistributive instead of destructive does not make it acceptable, of course.  A violation of a government-granted right is normatively undesirable, because it flouts an entitlement that – at least in theory – reflects the will of the public.  This is bad.  Even if infringement is “only” redistributive, we still make strong normative societal judgments against involuntary wealth redistribution.  This happens regardless of whether it results from law (e.g., by tax policy), or contrary to law (e.g., infringement).

So two questions come to mind–will Mr. Schruers also condemn the brand sponsored piracy that appears to be making some of his CCIA members rich?  One member in particular comes to mind.  Or is that the “redistribution” that he has in mind.

Because on the “redistribution” score, I agree with him–we are witnessing one of the biggest income transfers of all time.  And surely it’s not too much of a reach to see that when an authorized site (say Spotify or Hulu) is trying to sell advertising to the same brands who buy ads on competing sites that are unauthorized and are not constrained to reflect content costs in their advertising pricing, this immediately results in creators getting less money from legitimate sites.

Then it is only a matter of time until you see something like the Internet Radio Fairness Act–backed by CCIA–when “disruptive” companies like Pandora ask artists to take less.  So the artists get hit twice: First from the unauthorized site making money from infringement, not to mention the ad networks, ad agencies and everyone else in that chain.  But second when the struggling legitimate companies try to compete for the same ad dollars and ask the artists to take a lower royalty.

If you are seeking a machine that will extract value from other people s property and redistribute it to CCIA members…the 1%?  You probably could not find a better machine than brand sponsored piracy.

But the real question is this: Was Mr. Schruers one of the unnamed experts in the GAO report when the GAO did what might be called the “disco duck“?  (Since Project Disco are such music lovers.)

We’ll never know unless the Judiciary Committee wants to take another look at what in the world the GAO was up to.

Objects Are Smaller Than They Appear: Chevrolet Does the Right Thing

April 3, 2013 Comments off

How in the world a company the size of Chevrolet could have thought it a good use of taxpayer dollars to sponsor the mobile version of Grooveshark is beyond me (Chevrolet is a division of GM–you know, Government Motors).  I don’t know what rock these people live under, but apparently they missed stories like this one in The Guardian which are legion.

The tone deaf moves by Chevrolet or its ad agency are rather stunning.  Who would do this?  According to the New York Times (in 2010):

After decades of stability, remaining at one agency for almost a century, the creative assignment for the mainstay Chevrolet division of General Motors is on the move again.

G.M. is shifting the lead creative duties for Chevrolet to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, part of the Omnicom Group, from the Dallas and Seattle offices of Publicis USA, part of the Publicis Worldwide division of the Publicis Groupe.

Chevrolet spends an estimated $600 million to $700 million each year on advertising; some estimates for last year were even higher, at more than $900 million.

This Omnicom connection is interesting for a couple of reasons:  Omnicom also owns…wait for it…TBWA\Chiat\Day from whose creative loins sprang the recent wedge campaign “Artists vs. Artists” or as the agency described it in their own press release “PIRACY IS PROGRESS”.  (This is the campaign sponsored by American Eagle Outfitters in Times Square–that would be the sweat shop kingpins–sorry, the human rights do gooders American Eagle Outfitters, who frequently want to be taken seriously by the US government when pursuing counterfeit imports of their own intellectual property using taxpayer money.  Because if the government should do anything, it should protect its citizens, right?  Right….)

But…good news!  Digital Music News reports that:

Chevrolet has now severed all ties with Grooveshark, and discontinued a lucrative advertising campaign with the company.  In an email received by Digital Music News on Tuesday afternoon, an executive at parent group General Motors declined to offer any specific reasons for the discontinuation, but was absolutely clear on the pullout.  “Chevrolet is no longer affiliated with Grooveshark in any manner,” the terse email confirmed.

This is particularly interesting because when we were at Canadian Music Week, Chevrolet became the butt of many jokes.  You see, the American taxpayers were not the only ones to write a check to bail out Government Motors, particularly Chevrolet–the Canadian taxpayers wrote their own check to keep the GM plants humming in Canada.

And DMN also reports:

Shortly after [the first report of the sponsorship] was filed, the campaign appeared to be yanked.  Chevrolet initially pointed Digital Music News to a Canadian-only campaign (the report was first filed in Toronto), with broader North American (or even global) plans unclear.  That suggests some IP-related, location-specific confusion, though the latest correspondence confirms a broad, global pullout.

What it actually suggests is some extraordinarily tone deaf arrogance by some know-nothing, probably at Chevrolet’s ad agency, who thought that saying the campaign was targeted at Canada somehow helped the PR disaster in the making.  Because it was “cool” or “edgy” to spend the Canadian taxpayer’s money on Grooveshark and not the American taxpayer’s?  Or that they’d launch it in Canada and let it leak down to the US kind of like…oh let me guess…Isohunt?  Like no one would notice?

Where do they find these people?

Thankfully, this absurdity was apprehended by smart people at GM who did the right thing and shut it down.  This is actually a teachable moment for all concerned–for the brand, just because you hire a big ad agency doesn’t mean that you won’t find yourself in situations like this if you leave them to their own devices.  For the artists–there is hope, because when the decisionmakers at these brands find out what is going on, they almost always take action that respects your rights.

And for the ad agencies–someone is going to lose some business, maybe a big account or two or five.  Want it to be you?  Do you want to be explaining to your partners how you screwed up their relationships on their accounts when the blowback hits your agency?  If you do, keep doing what you’re doing, and all that can be arranged.  And have your peripheral vision checked, because you’re going to need it.

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