Visibility of Infringing Content on the Internet

In our post about Illegal eCommerce Websites, we saw how visibility is crucial to the operation of certain infringing eBook sites. Online ads, search results, backlinks and page rank all play a role in driving traffic. While limiting visibility to illegal sites by effective enforcement is not a total solution, it is a necessary component to any online protection program.

We tend to divide up the content-consuming Internet public into three broad buckets:

  • Those looking to acquire content legally
  • Those looking to acquire content wherever they can find it
  • Those looking to acquire content for free, no matter what

At the end of the day, the issue of visibility really only goes to the first two. Content consumers in the third bucket typically already know where to get their content for free. In any event, it is important to note that consumers in the third bucket are not customers. They will not spend money on your content.

And this raises an important point: consumers in the first two buckets will spend money on your content. This means that each sale of infringing content to one of them corresponds more or less directly to a lost sale of legitimate content.

So, the issue of the visibility of infringing content really boils down to this: We don’t want people who are looking to acquire content by purchasing it to be exposed to illegal sites in the first place. Period. Taking down infringing search results at search engines and disabling advertisements for infringing product across the various ad networks is a crucial component to any enforcement program.

Thinking of this component of an enforcement program in this context helps understand why search engine and ad network monitoring and takedown are so important.

Illegal eCommerce Websites

Unlike typical copyright infringing websites that provide content for free and are supported by advertising revenue, infringing eCommerce sites are supported by the sale of infringing goods. When those infringing goods are digital – such as eBooks – the cost of acquisition is far less than for traditional hard goods counterfeits. The operator only needs to acquire a single copy of the infringing content from which free copies are made to fulfill subsequent sales.

A further damaging aspect of illegal eCommerce sites lies in the fact that they cater to the buying consumer, as opposed to the consumer on the hunt for free content (more on that in an upcoming post). This means loss analyses are much more straightforward, as each sale arguably represents more of a lost sale of the legitimate product.

Infringing eBook eCommerce sites typically sell illegally copied DRM-free PDFs (we have also seen some providing EPUB and Mobi formats as well). Traditionally, these sites take two forms:

  • Standalone websites that either deliver content directly or from a third party hosting provider and
  • Marketplace storefronts set up on eBay, Bonanza, or others, that may also directly deliver content or use third party hosts.

Each has its advantages and disadvantages for the operator. While setting up a standalone website in a recalcitrant jurisdiction provides insulation from being shut down, the challenge of drawing the consuming public to the site remains. On the other hand, using an established marketplace such as eBay offers plenty of eyeballs (and an air of legitimacy), but at the increased risk of being shut down.

Recently, we’ve begun seeing an uptick in a sort of hybrid of the two, sites seeking to solve the dilemma of stability vs. visibility. Some sites now use Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) for visibility and the air of legitimacy. In fact, the construction of some of these sites includes no native search or browse function, so search engines cannot effectively index them, meaning that traditional SEO is out the window. But these sites don’t need SEO, as long as the ads appear above organic search results.

One component of an effective enforcement strategy against these sites, therefore, must include the collection of the URLs for the infringing ads for subsequent referral to Google. Once that groundwork is laid, approaching Google to help address the problem more globally will be much easier.