INDUSTRY SECTOR UPDATE:
WIPO ALERT – A Global Initiative to Protect Brands and Fight Piracy
J. Todd Reves
Director, Building Respect for IP Division, World Intellectual Property Organization
According to the Digital ad fraud losses worldwide 2018-2023 Report (Statista Research, 2021), digital advertising spending worldwide amounted to USD 378.16 billion in 2020. The Report also estimated that the costs related to digital advertising fraud worldwide would grow exponentially between 2018 and 2023, from USD 35 billion to 100 billion—approximately half of what is spent on digital advertising in the United States annually, and equal to the entire annual revenue of Walt Disney Company or Croatia’s gross domestic product. Advertising online is obviously essential in today’s world, but it also carries risks. The internet is rife with fraud and illegal or unpleasant content, and if advertisers cannot control their own ad placement, they risk not only wasting money, but also damaging brand reputation and undermining consumer confidence and safety. While the use of programmatic, advertising algorithms to place ads has increased efficiency, it has also exacerbated the challenge of brand safety and fraud avoidance. For instance, copyright infringing websites attract a vast audience by offering consumers the possibility to download or stream media content free of charge. These sites naturally attract algorithm-driven advertising from undiscriminating intermediaries, and ultimately illicit web operators profit from the large sums of money generated by legitimate ads placed on their websites.
Clearly, these pirate websites are dangerous territory for brands. The illegal, unregulated nature of the content, and other dubious advertising appearing alongside branded ads, presents a significant reputational threat. These sites also often expose unwary consumers to malware and fraud by diverting them to websites featuring fake financial services and other fraudulent content. Moreover, sites that infringe IP rights for commercial gain are likely to practice ad fraud as well, leading to a direct waste of ad spend. Social responsibility aside, advertising on pirate websites is a bad commercial decision with significant consequences.
To help counter this growing problem, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)—a specialized agency of the United Nations headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland—in 2019 launched WIPO ALERT: a free-of-charge, secure platform that provides advertisers with a practical tool to help prevent the placement of ads on pirate websites. The platform is not publicly available—users must be approved by WIPO before they can access it. WIPO’s role is purely administrative in aggregating data gathered at the national level and making it available to the advertising industry. The initiative counts 12 signatory countries and 18 industry stakeholders, including prominent advertising groups such as Publicis Media and Omnicom, and ad-tech intermediaries such as Taboola.com and IndexExchange. The WIPO ALERT platform is currently available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and Chinese, and includes two categories of members: Authorized Contributors and Authorized Users.
Authorized Contributors are national public agencies or government-approved, private-sector bodies. These contributors upload lists of copyright-infringing URLs to the platform consisting of web locations determined to be copyright-infringing under their national criteria. The national agencies remain responsible for the accuracy of their lists, which consist entirely of public data; no personal data is ever collected or distributed. The decision to include or remove a URL from an Authorized Contributor’s list is a matter for contributing parties to decide at the national level. WIPO forwards any complaint received to a contact point at the agency concerned to allow for any applicable national review procedure to be carried out. By accepting data on the platform, WIPO does not determine that any particular site has infringed copyright, that being a matter for national authorities.
Authorized Users consist of advertising entities such as advertisers, advertising agencies, publishers, and ad-tech intermediaries. These users have controlled access to the platform data and may select which lists to access as an aggregated feed and input them to their programmatic advertising algorithms in order to prevent advertisements from appearing on the specified sites. Utilization of the lists can be either fully automated on-the-fly through an application programming interface (API), or users can download a spreadsheet and enter the data in their systems manually.
Parties interested in joining WIPO ALERT sign a Letter of Understanding (LoU), if the request comes from a national agency seeking to become a contributor. Or, a User Agreement, if the request comes from an advertising entity wishing to become a user.
The system allows users to query the status of one or more domains, download the complete list of flagged sites, or choose the list of one or more contributing national agencies. It also enables users to see if the flagged domain is still live or not. If the domain is live, the platform shows whether it is re-directing traffic and, if so, where. WIPO continues to develop new functionalities for the platform, with the support of its industry partners Bright Data Limited and Scamadviser.
The Authorized Contributors and Users can download the official WIPO ALERT Membership Seal from the platform to highlight their commitment to this international initiative to promote brand safety and fight against piracy.
More information on the operating procedures used by Authorized Contributors in compiling their lists of copyright-infringing websites can be found in the Operating Procedures of Authorized Contributors. A search function on the WIPO ALERT public web page allows web operators to check whether a site has been listed on WIPO ALERT by entering the URL in a search box. These measures provide reassurance that any errors in the listing of sites can be corrected. This said, since the launch of WIPO ALERT in 2019, no complaints of mistaken listings have been received.
The advertising industry has a long and successful history of self-regulation. WIPO ALERT is a great example of a public-private partnership, bringing national authorities and the advertising industry together to protect brand integrity and to stem the flow of revenue to illicit websites, without the need for legislation or external regulation. Any national authority, advertiser, agency, or ad tech provider interested in joining this free service is encouraged to contact WIPO ALERT.
THE BRAND PROTECTION PROFESSIONAL | SEPTEMBER 2022 | VOLUME 7 NUMBER 3
2022 COPYRIGHT MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES