PopUp Pirates: Who Profits from Piracy?

Ellen Seidler is an independent filmmaker who, after spending $250,000 of her own money, made the lesbian romantic comedy “And Then Came Lola“.

However, even before the movie was officially released, it was leaked on a variety of pirate sites, often times hosted at various “file locker” services that would offer the video for download.

Seidler then began to defend her work on the Web, filing DMCA takedown notices by the dozen against file locker sites and advertising networks.

But Seidler noticed something she considered disturbing. Nearly all the pirate sites had advertisements on them, but they weren’t for companies with poor reputations, but rather, were for mainstream companies, many of which were in the U.S. These companies included Netflix, Microsoft, Network Solutions and many others.

In early July, Seidler was features on All Things Considered on NPR, where she talked about these issues and a representative from Netflix said that they try to avoid pirate sites but some simply fall through the cracks.

Shortly after that podcast, Seidler launched her own site and blog about her ordeals, PopUp Pirates, where she highlights the companies who advertise with pirates, in particular Google and vents her frustration at the time and energy spent enforcing the film and how all parties involved, the pirate site, Google and the advertiser, make money from the film but she does not.

She also produced a YouTube video, embedded below. that showcases the process the goes through to file a DMCA notice and deal with just one pirate site.

The site and the video are an interesting look behind the scenes of an independent filmmaker, without the legal team of a major Hollywood studio, trying to defend her work. Most people reading this will either find it an interesting look at how independent enforcement is handled or see it as something they can relate to.

Personal Thoughts

Seidler’s enforcement efforts, from what I’ve seen, have been at least fairly effective. Though working links to her film can be found, most of the first ones I ran across were disabled and there were far more scam links than real ones. Anyone actually seeking to download the film will, most likely, be pretty frustrated and, considering that it is available as a “Play it Now” on Netflix, there are much easier ways to see it.

I also understand her frustrations with Google and with the file locker sites. I’ve written many times before about issues with Google Adsense and the artificial roadblocks thrown up there. In fact, I was the one who filed a 17-page DMCA notice with adsense regarding one site that was widely scraping content.

However, I think her frustrations with the individual advertisers may be misplaced. Most of these advertisers use third party services, like Adsense, to place their ads. It is these services that choose which sites they run ads on and which ads appear there, not the advertisers. Though Adsense provides tools to block domains, they can only work AFTER the ad has appeared and they have been alerted. If these sites were not admitted into the networks in the first place or if they would enforce their TOS, it wouldn’t be an issue.

Many of the issues Seidler raises also relate to the Dear Google letter I covered previously. Though that letter deals mostly with Google search, it’s easy to see how the issues apply to Adsense as well.

All in All, Seidler’s site highlights the strange and gray relationship between Google, file lockers and pirate sites. Advertising networks and file locker sites attempt to maintain legitimacy while accepting money and traffic from pirate sites, there’s a definite balancing act between doing too much and doing too little.

Seidler’s experience raises a lot of difficult questions without easy answers, making her site well worth a look.


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