Momentum is gathering behind increased scrutiny of which brands are advertising on pirate sites, and which ad networks they’re using to do it. A recent report from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab (Bulletin, 3-Jan-13) has led to a New York Times feature examining the chatter around ‘brand-sponsored piracy’. However, while the Lab’s boss Jonathan Taplin makes solving the issue sound simple – “Brands make sure that their ads never show up on porn sites, so we’re basically saying, why not do the same with piracy sites?” – the picture that emerges is more complicated. Google says that often other companies are responsible for its ad-network codes turning up on piracy sites: “To grossly overcalculate our network, you’re also grossly overcalculating how many of these sites we are funding,” says a spokesperson. Yet even RIAA CEO Cary Sherman admits that “The ecosystem for online ads is incredibly complicated. Everybody can point the finger at other people.”

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