White House, ad networks release anti-piracy best practices

"Today's news is a good example of how the public and private sector can work to combat piracy and counterfeiting while protecting and, in fact, further encourage the innovation made possible by an open Internet," White House Intellectual Property Coordinator Victoria Espinel writes in the blog post.

Online ad networks, chiefly Google, have been criticized by the entertainment industry and state officials for not doing enough to police websites that are dedicated to offering pirated TV shows, songs and movies, or knockoff drugs. Content creators and other critics have documented how online ads from Google and other ad networks can be found on illicit sites.

A controversial anti-piracy bill from last year, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), would have forced online ad networks to cut off transactions with pirate websites if served with a court order. Most recently, attorneys general from Oklahoma, Nebraska and Mississippi have pressed Google about allegedly profiting off online ads placed next to YouTube videos that promote the illegal purchase of drugs without a prescription.

The set of best practices unveiled by the online ad networks outline general baseline standards about copyright infringement takedown procedures and exclude ad-serving platforms or ad exchanges. The standards generally describe how ad networks will process takedown notices from copyright holders about ads found on illicit sites.

"It’s been our experience that a notice-and-takedown mechanism like the one envisioned by these best practices can be an effective means to address online infringement," said Fred Humphries, vice president of government affairs at Microsoft, in a statement. "An appropriate notice-and-takedown system – that requires rights holders to identify specific instances of infringement and online services to respond promptly and appropriately to such notices – can address infringement while still respecting critical values such as fair use, privacy, free speech and the freedom to innovate."

As part of the effort, the participating online ad companies agree to have their anti-piracy standards certified against guidelines developed by the IAB, which many of them have already done. AOL, Yahoo, 27Media, Microsoft and Adtegrity have been accredited by IAB, while Condé Nast and Google have accreditations pending.

The best practices were likely kept general so the participating ad companies could tailor them to their own internal processes.

"Each signatory will independently maintain internal procedures designed to implement these practices," the companies state. "This is an important step toward maintaining a healthy Internet and promoting innovation and protecting intellectual property."

However, they also note that the statement "is not intended to impose a duty on any ad network to monitor its network to identify such [illicit] websites."

The motion picture and recording industries welcomed the release of the best practices, but stressed that it's only a small step forward in addressing the larger problem of piracy and counterfeiting on the Internet.

Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, said it's "not sufficient" to place the burden on rights holders to notify ad networks about ads on illicit sites.

"The announcement today is recognition by online advertising networks of the important role they play to help ensure a safe and secure Internet for all," Dodd said in a statement. "However, an incremental step forward that addresses only a narrow subset of the problem and places a disproportionate amount of the burden on rights holders is not sufficient."

"Absent meaningful proactive steps by players in every sector – advertisers, ad agencies, ad placement services, online ad exchanges and rights holders – the results will be similarly incremental," Dodd said.