As a young girl growing up in a small Ohio town, I was inspired
by my early heroine, Della Street, the fictional secretary on TV's
"Perry Mason." She didn't suffer fools and brilliantly followed
case leads to help her boss bring bad guys to justice and clear the
names of the good guys.
Recently, I became aware of a lead that I, myself, am compelled
to follow. My "Perry Mason" moment: Online piracy is funded by
advertising from major brands.
My own show, "Hannibal," was the fifth
most-stolen TV show during its first season on the air, despite
being available for legal digital streaming the very next day.
While I appreciate the enthusiasm of our fans, as executive
producer I am responsible for all production costs for the show.
Piracy directly affects my bottom line, including the wages for
hundreds of cast and crewmembers.
I have been blessed with a successful, 30-plus-year career in
entertainment. During that time, I have seen how the growth of
online piracy directly impacts the economics of creativity. Piracy
jeopardizes the rights of creatives to be compensated for their
work -- making it even harder to build a career in a creative
field. It forces companies to either shrink their production
budgets or commit to fewer, less risky projects. And ultimately, it
harms audiences by limiting the types of stories that creatives can
It's a real lose-lose, unless you are the operator of a pirate
The image of "pirates" in conventional wisdom has always been
wrong. Piracy is not just kids in dorm rooms swapping files. It's a
massive, black-market business that is facilitated -- albeit
unwittingly -- by legitimate, well-respected major brands. Pirate
site operators make money by selling ads or through subscription
payments that are processed by major credit card companies.
A single pirate site can bring in millions of dollars annually,
and because they don't pay for the distribution rights to films and
TV shows, they can generate profit margins in the range of 86% to
93%. A recent study found that the top 600 pirate sites
generated $209 million from online advertising in a single
To be fair, most advertisers are unaware that their ads appear
on pirate sites. The complicated nature of the online ad market
has, until recently, made it extremely difficult to track exactly
where ads are placed. It doesn't take a marketing genius to
recognize the potential harm to a brand's reputation, especially
when ads can unintentionally end up on pirate sites or other
Fortunately, some progress has been made. The American
Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National
Advertisers, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau distributed a
statement of best practices that included a recommendation that
digital ad marketing contracts specifically prohibit ads from being
placed on pirate sites. A slew of ad verification services is now
available to help brands keep their good ads off bad sites. And
earlier this year, the same advertising associations launched the
Group (TAG), whose mission includes certifying vendors that can
effectively limit unwanted ad placements.
The creative community applauds these efforts, and that's where
I come in. I am a proud member of the Leadership Committee of CreativeFuture, a
coalition made up of more than 400 companies and organizations in
creative industries. My colleagues and I recently launched a
letter-writing campaign directed at major companies whose ads
routinely appear on pirate sites.
Our message to advertisers is simple: One, you have a problem.
Two, solutions are available. Three, we stand ready to applaud
those companies that commit to fixing the problem, but are also
prepared to call out advertisers that are unresponsive to our
Will getting major brands to sever ties with pirate sites put an
end piracy? No. But that's not exactly the point. Many of the major
global brands receiving these letters are trusted household names
with reputations to protect. Without these brands' inadvertent
"seal of approval," pirate sites would look more like what they
really are: criminal operations unworthy of the patronage of
legitimate brands or responsible customers. Without their ad
dollars, we can take the profit out of piracy. That would make