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March 8, 2015

The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), Another Voluntary Agreement to Reduce Piracy

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IPI has long been involved in explaining to policy makers the many harms of copyright piracy. These harms extend beyond the obvious losses to the property owners and affect many downstream businesses that depend on getting business and employment from the copyright industries.

And it’s not a stretch to say that ignoring blatant, widespread piracy contributes to the erosion of rule of law and property rights. It’s problematic to say the least when a culture decides that they no longer need to respect the ownership of property simply because it’s become easy to steal and hard to prosecute.

Further, it’s reasonable to think that, over time, toleration of widespread and blatant piracy will have at least a marginal impact on the incentive to create high-quality content—the kind of content that requires substantial up-front risk and investment to create. No, piracy probably doesn’t impact your incentive to film your dog running around chasing its tail and post that on the Internet, but it certainly does impact the willingness of a record company or film production company to put millions of dollars at risk.

These are some of the reasons why we’ve argued that the United States has many reasons to facilitate the defense of intellectual property rights and to discourage illegal piracy of intellectual property, both domestically and internationally.

But in a free society, rule of law is reinforced not only by government action, but also by the voluntary actions of responsible people in the marketplace. We’ve also argued that, eventually, the interests of the entire Internet economy will converge around the importance of protecting content. A healthy Internet ecosystem requires rule-of-law, property rights, and the other basic institutions of a free society. There is nothing about the Internet that logically puts it at odds with the institutions of civil society that have been recognized as necessary for the function of analog society.

So we celebrated the Copyright Alert System (CAS), a voluntary agreement between content owners and ISPs to notify broadband customers that piracy has been detected on their accounts. And it’s why we’re pleased about the new Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), a voluntary agreement between content owners and advertisers to avoid having their brands associated with illegal pirate websites.

The problem being addressed here is ad supported piracy—a frustrating phenomenon where major reputable consumer brands have found their ads showing up on rogue websites trafficking in pirated content and even worse things. Ad supported piracy is how the owners of these sites make money—it’s why they’re in the piracy business in the first place.

Respectable brands don’t want (or shouldn’t want) to be associated with illegal activity. But they’ve often found that ad agencies were placing their ads on such sites without disclosure. So a lot of buck-passing has been going on for several years when it comes to trying to do something about ad supported piracy.

The hope is that the TAG, and its Brand Integrity Program, will address this problem by using third party validators to ensure that advertisers and ad agencies are living up to their representations about not placing their ads on rogue websites, among many other details.

IPI commends the advertisers and ad agencies that have committed to the Brand Integrity Program, and we’ll be watching the TAG as it gets underway. We wish you all well.

If you want to learn more about the Trustworthy Accountability Group voluntary initiative, visit their website at

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