If you want to hurt pirates, target their ad money says rock star

Pirate, pirate skull

David Lowery is an entrepreneur, math whiz and the lead singer of the American rock band, Cracker. He thinks he has a way to curb the ongoing problem of music, movie and book piracy.

Speaking at a copyright event in New York this week, Lowery said the best approach is to hurt the pirates in the pocket book by cutting off their ad money. Specifically, he believes the creative industries should team up with legitimate distribution services like Pandora to name and shame the advertisers who let the pirates make a living.

“You’re never going to shut down the cyber locker sites altogether, so let’s make it hard for them to make money. It’s low-hanging fruit,” he said.

Lowery is not a copyright hardliner. He puts tracks of his band’s live performance on the internet and doesn’t mind when bands cover his songs and post them on YouTube. But he is exasperated by people helping themselves to his music on pirate sites, and accuses Fortune 500 companies of propping up these sites with ad money.

The singer says he has contacted companies like American Express to ask them to police their ad networks but none except Google have responded. He thinks it will take greater awareness of advertisers’ role in the piracy eco-system before the companies will act.

Lowery’s name and shame idea is appealing, but would it work? It would if the pirates are making a living off big advertisers — but it’s not clear they are. I took a cursory look at some notorious sites and the ads there were of the “win an iPad” or “find sex tonite” variety rather than familiar brands. But if Lowery can show people that famous companies are buying pirate ads on a regular basis, they might respond — perhaps by cutting ties with the advertising middleman who display the ads.

But even if Lowery’s plan is not a game changer, it could be a way to win more respect for artists’ rights. Right now, the entertainment industry’s penchant for legal dirty tricks and military-style enforcement is undermining the overall legitimacy of copyright; using a public pressure campaign against advertisers would likely prove more popular. Such a campaign would also remind pirate site users and the tech press, who so often romanticize pirate site owners, that these sites are an illegal business and not a cultural movement.

Lowery spoke at Copyright and Technology, an annual industry event in New York.

(Image by Linda Bucklin via Shutterstock)

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