Copyright Infringement Increasingly Popular Route Into UK Market

February 28, 2022
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​​​​​​​The number of gambling adverts appearing on websites in the UK known to be illegally hosting copyrighted content increased by at least 10 percent from 2021 to 2022, an affiliate compliance monitoring company has found.

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The number of gambling adverts appearing on websites in the UK known to be illegally hosting copyrighted content increased by at least 10 percent from 2021 to 2022, an affiliate compliance monitoring company has found.

Offending websites are tracked on the Infringing Website List (IWL), a service run by the City of London police force that seeks to identify intellectual property crime.

The vast majority of the adverts on the list are from operators not licensed in the UK, Mitigatr co-founder Astan Morarji told VIXIO GamblingCompliance; however, rates are increasing.

Mitigatr’s data is based on its monitoring of the IWL on a testing and trial basis since January 1, 2020.

On February 7, the Gambling Commission issued a reminder to operators about their responsibility to ensure digital adverts on their own and affiliate sites are not placed on websites providing unauthorised access to copyrighted content.

Advertising on these websites contributes to their funding and associates gambling with crime, according to the regulator.

Despite an overall “significant reduction in gambling adverts” on the IWL, the commission said a number of them still appear, demonstrating a need for operators to introduce additional controls or to review their monitoring methods.

The Gambling Commission has not specified any measures licensees must take to prevent this; however, it said it is “clear about our expectation” and urged operators to register with the IWL.

However, Morarji said monitoring the list is only paying “lip service to a far greater issue” that requires a government, not operator-led, crackdown.

Every month there are more infringing websites popping up, according to Ian Sims, founder of online affiliate compliance provider Rightlander.

However, “there is now considerably less exposure to UK licensed brands now than there was when we first started monitoring around three years ago”, Sims told VIXIO, suggesting licensed operators have largely pulled away from associating with copyright infringing content.

The infringing sites have a “whack-a-mole nature” of appearing and disappearing, according to Sims, who said “it is often possible to cross-reference affiliate codes on infringing websites with codes we have found during affiliate content scans to help the operator identify the originator of the traffic".

Moraji said “operators do care about where their brands are being promoted, and in turn will monitor the IWL. However, monitoring the IWL alone does not close this big, unlawful gap."

Mitigatr estimates at least 25 percent of the domains on the IWL are cookie-cut and rapidly duplicated. So, often, the one website domain on the IWL will have many "sister sites" that have evaded the list.

But to help with the problem, Morarji said internet providers should start by taking action against those that do appear on the copyright infringing list.

“Surely the route to solving this issue is to get all 1600 domains taken down,” he said.

When it comes to unlicensed gambling sites, the IWL is like an “advertising directory”, Morarji said.

Most of the infringing sites monitored offer TV, live sport, films, music or software, meaning their audience often contains people under the age of 18.

“It is a logical step to ensure the gambling industry recognises the importance of distancing their brands from these sites,” agreed Sims.

In June 2018, a collection of organisations, including the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), signed a memorandum of understanding designed "to limit advertising on websites and mobile applications that infringe copyright or disseminate counterfeit goods".

In 2019, data seen by VIXIO suggested that although most major brands pulled away from IP infringing sites during the first quarter of 2019, the overall number of gambling ads only fell by 3 percent since the agreement was signed.

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