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Apr 17

Facebook’s Link to the Online Piracy Food Chain

thumbs-downThe fact that online piracy has flourished over these past few years is nothing new.  Neither is its co-dependence on an ever-efficient distribution network, largely developed and maintained by an assortment of tech enterprises based in Silicon Valley .  Up to this point, Facebook’s role in enabling this plague of piracy has, for the most part, generally been minimized, if not ignored entirely.  But given the ever-expanding influential reach of world’s #1 social network, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at the site’s role as a purveyor of pirated content.

In the past I’ve written about the popularity of Google’s blogger platform  among pirate entrepreneurs because it offers both an easy (and free) way to distribute stolen movies and make money via online ads.  How does Facebook fit into this equation?  Well, just as legit businesses use Facebook to gain customers, pirate profiteers around the world also utilize its popularity to attract users to their illegal websites.  Check out any pirate site on blogspot.com, or anywhere else on the web for that matter,  and you’re likely to find a link to the site’s Facebook pages (as well as other social networking sites like Twitter).

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The Facebook page (shown below) for the FilmesYouTube site (shown above) boasts more than 166k “likes.”  The Facebook page sends visitors to the pirate website, and also features numerous posts which link directly to easy-to-use, active streams and download links for a variety of popular movies.

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Facebook links directly to full stream of pirated movie starring Tom Cruise.

Depending on one’s preference, one can either watch the movie online or download a copy.   Either way it’s free–the only inconvenience being a pop-up ad or two.

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Facebook links to full stream (and download links) to GI Joe.

In this example, it appears that this Facebook pirate has also been busy creating multiple websites that also link to mirrored Facebook pages.  If one notes the “likes” listed on this page, you’ll find links to several other “free” movie sites setup in a similar fashion.  This redundancy may be in part due to concerns that one or more of these pirate sites could go offline.  However, given the fact this particular page boasts 166K “likes” it appears this fan page has been active for some time.

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Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 11.55.58 AMThe common thread between the Facebook pages and the pirate websites is that both generate income from advertisements.  The more visitors, the more money for Facebook and, in turn, the more traffic to the pirate sites which,in turn, generates more ad profits for the online pirate entrepreneur.  Who’s left out of this equation?-the content creator of course.

When I viewed the above page it featured “sponsored ads” promoting Capitol One and Discover credit cards, along with political PACS and Ancestry.com.   Do these entities realize that the sponsored advertising they’re paying Facebook for appear adjacent to pirate links to bootleg, illegal movie downloads?  I doubt it.

As for advertising on the actual pirate web site (which translates into motive and money for the pirate) I found ads for Amazon.com and others served up by the Ad Council, a U.S. based non-profit whose mission is to “deliver critical messages to the American public.”  

Perhaps the time has come for the Ad Council to add anti-piracy messages to their slate of “critical” messages for the American public?

 

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Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 12.25.17 PMLike Google, Facebook offers rights holders the opportunity to send DMCA takedown requests to have these illegal links removed.  Unfortunately, Facebook mirrors Google in another way–when it comes to DMCA notices, usually only individual posts are removed, not the infringing page.

It’s been my experience that when I’ve reported infringing content to Facebook via a DMCA only the  post with the pirate link is removed.  The Facebook page, with dozens more pirated offerings, remains online. I can understand if only a single link is reported, but what about a site that’s repeatedly reported for copyright infringement?  From what I’ve seen such sites generally remain online.  If it’s obvious that the page is dedicated to promoting pirated content, why leave it online?

I’ve asked Google this same question, if a site is reported for promoting infringing (illegal) downloads why not remove it?  Surely Facebook has the staff to investigate and determine whether a site exists purely to traffic in stolen content.  If not, why not?  Why is it OK for a company with the reach and financial resources of Facebook to look the other way?  Their censors often seem all to eager to remove photos of breastfeeding mothers or LGBT advertising.  Why not go after pages that are trafficking in illegal content?

I’ve tried to contact Facebook to ask for clarity on the criteria, if any, they have for removing pages and will update this post if I should receive a response.  Given my past experiences with inquiries to Facebook, I’m not optimistic that I’ll hear back anytime soon. The “community standards” that define what type of “expression is acceptable” is conveniently vague when it comes to copyright and intellectual property:

Before sharing content on Facebook, please be sure you have the right to do so. We ask that you respect copyrights, trademarks, and other legal rights.

Facebook is careful to point out, however that the decision as to whether to remove content reported for violating their terms is entirely up to them.

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The link between piracy’s advertising profits and those of so-called legit entities like Google (including YouTube, AdSense, Blogger & search) and the corporations they service ads for has been well-documented so that fact that Facebook is a part of this web of illicit profit is no real surprise.  However, it’s worth asking once again, why isn’t something being done?

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The notorious Pirate site Movies2k even boasts it’s own Facebook page.

How is that mainstream tech companies like Google and Facebook–and those who pay to advertise with their networks–continue to look the other way and ignore their role in providing both a motive, and a means,  for this illegal activity to occur?  The obvious answer is that profit trumps morality when it’s a matter of making millions.  In this era, and until the law adapts, there’s little to no risk in skirting U.S. law in order to maintain their cash cows. Clearly the fact that this is tainted revenue doesn’t matter to these companies or their stockholders.  With the amount of lobbying muscle they’re displaying in Washington these days, things appear unlikely to change any time soon.

Updated (4-16-13) to add the response I received from Facebook.  Just as I suspected, nothing but boilerplate verbiage.  Here it is:

Screen shot 2013-04-16 at 11.32.37 AMFacebook may “stand ready” to respond, but in my experience, they don’t do much else.