MarkMonitor issued a report on online piracy and counterfeiting, detailing the amount of Internet traffic that "rogue websites" receive. The findings aren't particularly shocking: sites that offer pirated material get a lot of traffic. But the figures touted by MarkMonitor are meant to demonstrate, as the introduction to the report suggests, that "illicit online sales have a significant impact on the U.S. economy in financial terms as well as in public health and well-being."Earlier this week, brand protection company
These figures are likely to be invoked by those forces seeking passage of anti-piracy legislation, particularly, as CNET recently reported, as the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee tries again to secure passage of COICA, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. And so it's worth looking closely at the methodology MarkMonitor utilizes in order to make these claims - about traffic, sales, and impact.
The Scope of Piracy
The report, which looks at 22 brands as a criteria for finding counterfeit goods and pirated content online, includes the following figures:
- Traffic to the 43 sites it identified as the major pirates of digital content was over 146 million visits a day and about 53 billion visits per year
- The top three websites it classified as "digital piracy" - Rapidshare, Megavideo, and Megaupload - collectively generate more than 21 billion vists a year
- North America and Western Europe were hosts for 67% of digital piracy websites
In order to generate the report, MarkMonitor used the following methodology: It identified 22 brands targeted by pirates. It used its "patented technology" to find sites suspected of offering pirated material. It hand-examined and verified these sites. And it then ranked the sites and measured their traffic with data from Alexa.
In addition to problems with the accuracy of Alexa as a definitive source of Web traffic, the report is based on the assumption that all visits to these sites involve copyright infringing activities. And for their part, two of the companies named in the report as the Web's worst offenders are pushing back on the findings. MegaUpload contends the report contains "grotesquely overblown allegations." And RapidShare has issued a press statement calling the report "defamation."
Jumping to Conclusions
Both RapidShare and MegaUpload contend that their visitors use their sites for legitimate, legal purposes. And they say that they respond to DMCA notifications, taking down materials that violate copyright. MarkMonitor does note in its report that "while some of these sites do offer takedown processes for pirated content, the action must be initiated by the content owner." But that is standard operating procedure for most sites, including YouTube, which is noticeably absent from MarkMonitor's list even though it's likely a site with plenty of infringing video content.
Questionable methodology aside, the report also makes a rather large leap from calculating the number of visitors to these websites to then arguing that they threaten the U.S. economy, public health and well-being. As a recent article in O'Reilly Radar on DRM and digital books contended, we need a lot more data before we can make these sorts of conclusions about what impact piracy may or may not have on the bottom line.