Mobile navigation


Pirates of the Magazines

It might be a well-used metaphor, says the PPA’s James Evans, but the menacing spectre of swashbuckling copyright bandits roaming the unpoliced high seas of the internet has the ability to strike fear into content owners.

By James Evans

The main protagonists in the battle against online pirates have, to date, been the music and film industries, which have fought an entrenched battle with pirates, peer-to-peer file sharers and streaming sites that flagrantly infringe the rights of content creators, performers and publishers.

Magazine publishers are, however, increasingly being dragged into the conflict. In 2008, legal action was taken by magazine publishers against the website Mygazines, which at that time was hosting infringing copies of magazines. More recently, PPA has warned its members about a Spanish-language website providing a similar service, which at the time of writing this article was still making full copies of many international magazines available for download without the permission of the publishers whose content it is reproducing.

Research from anti-piracy firm Attributor shows that full-issue downloads comprise the majority of online copyright infringement for magazines as opposed to the ‘cut-and-paste’ theft of article text. It estimates that more than 2,000 domains are hosting such copyright-infringing downloads. Further analysis of just 20 of these domains by Attributor found that 63 per cent of the 133 English-language magazines available were hosted illegally.

The rise of social media has meant sharing such illegal riches has become faster and easier than ever. As soon as links are available they are retweeted on Twitter and shared via Facebook.

For magazine publishers juggling the creative opportunities and commercial realities presented by digital channels, piracy is an unwelcome destabilising force; by removing control over content distribution, it results in a loss of copy sales, diminishes content licensing opportunities and income, affects advertising revenue, and damages publishers’ reputations.

Compared with the instant hit of ripping and sharing music files, there is clearly more of a barrier to making print magazines available in electronic format. However, the challenge of identifying instances of piracy and taking action on the infringers remains the same.

Where infringements have been brought to a publisher’s attention, legal experts have been brought in to defend the interest of media owners, encouraging infringing content or entire websites to be taken down. Behind the scenes, the PPA, as one of three founding members of the Publishers Licensing Society, is also involved in the work of the Alliance Against IP Theft: a coalition of companies and organisations that rely on or have interests in copyright.

To help media owners identify infringements, the PPA last month signed a partnership deal with Attributor to provide members with access to anti-piracy products at an exclusive rate. At the risk of overstretching the metaphor, Attributor effectively scans the horizon from the crow’s nest, but rather than a trusty telescope, it is armed with the technology to provide real-time insight on how copyrighted content is being used online.

Taking action is more of a challenge as court action can be slow in the face of the speed at which pirates work; and it can be costly. A raft of anti-piracy measures were introduced in the Digital Economy Act, which was rushed through in the last Parliament. They include mechanisms for copyright holders to request that internet service providers (ISPs) write warnings to those ISP customers discovered to be infringing copyright and eventually, if the warnings are ignored, to disclose the identity of those customers to content owners; if this fails to reduce piracy, legislation will provide a mechanism to require ISPs to block access to subscribers and websites found to be persistently infringing copyright.

For the music industry, there have been successful legal cases against file sharing services Napster and Limewire but the battle is ongoing. Just this week the Guardian reports that BPI, representing the music industry, is calling on Google to remove links to several sites indexed by the search engine which each host thousands of illegal songs.

Timely evidence, if it were needed, that the metaphor remains relevant and publishers must stay vigilant to the sustained menace of online piracy.

PPA members will be given a briefing of Attributor’s products at the First Wednesday Forum on July 7. Full details are available at or from Hannah Bray.