City Of London Police Inserting 'This Website Has Been Reported To Police' Banner Ads On Websites With No Legal Review

from the that-seems...-dangerous dept

The City of London police have continued to take their bull-in-a-china-shop approach to "stopping piracy" (generally based on a near total misunderstanding of the internet) to it's next level of ridiculousness. The police (which, yes, no need to remind us, represent a square mile in the middle of wider London, though, yes, it covers many big London businesses and financial firms) appear to have bought into Hollywood's fable about "piracy" being the equivalent of "theft" and not being even remotely concerned about the possibility of collateral damage. Back in April, we noted that the City of London Police had been creating a "blacklist" for advertisers of "bad" sites. And, now it's been revealed that advertisers are supposed to insert a ridiculous City of London advertisement on those websites in place of other ads.
Like so many poorly thought out "anti-piracy" campaigns, this one seems to be based on two faulty premises. First, that it's somehow easy to determine what is a legitimate site and what is a "pirate" site. Second, that the thing standing between someone using such a site to get their content and going to an authorized site is just a bit of "education." The "education" story has been floating around for decades and there's basically no evidence to support it whatsoever. The idea that someone is going to go to one of these sites, see this ad, and then think "oh man, I had no idea, let me go to this other site recommended by the police instead" is just laughable. Even the idea that they'd read "this website has been reported to the police" and not laugh is kind of ridiculous. Hell, just the idea that the sorts of folks frequenting these sites even look at banner ads is kind of laughable.

In fact, some of us are so conditioned to ad blindness that it actually took a bit of an effort to get me consciously focus on the City of London Police banner ads in that picture -- and I didn't even notice the top banner until I was proofreading this post. Can't imagine that's particularly productive.

But the bigger problem is the one we brought up when it first came out that they were putting together this list in the first place. A totally non-transparent, one-sided system by which these technologically clueless police designate a site to be a "pirate" site seems ripe for abuse and harming perfectly legitimate sites. Remember, of course, the last time the legacy entertainment and online ad industry teamed up on such a list? It included tons of legitimate sites, including the Internet Archive, Soundcloud, Vimeo and BitTorrent's corporate website. It also included a bunch of popular hip hop blogs and 50 Cent's personal website.

One hopes that this new list will be put together with a bit more care, but you never really know. The industry has a way of declaring certain sites "rogue" despite them being perfectly fine. Remember, this is the same industry that tried to outlaw the VCR, the DVR and the MP3 player. It's also the same industry that insisted that both Youtube and Veoh were "pirate" sites, though both sites won in court (not before Veoh went out of business though).

So what happens when the City of London Police put these banner ads on the next YouTube? Does that site have any recourse from this opaque and totally one-sided process? Do they get to sue the police for defamation? And, really, in what world do the City of London Police think they have any jurisdiction outside of a single square mile of land?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    vegetaman (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:07am

    Just a further push into "guilty until proven innocent" territory, coupled with no oversight.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:13am

    Looks like a spam ad

    I realize it isn't, but this just reminds me of all of those "you've been reported to the FBI for such-and-such-crime" clickbait virus-infected ads, etc. I can't imagine anyone would believe an ad like that is real, and then close the webpage immediately.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:15am

    "Do they get to sue the police for defamation?"

    Maybe. Britain is famous for its libel tourism, after all.

     

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  4.  
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    jameshogg (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:18am

    Because sanctions on the bank accounts of drug-cartels works so well, doesn't it? The banks wouldn't DREAM of circumventing such sanctions, would they?

     

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  5.  
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    jameshogg (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:18am

    Re: Looks like a spam ad

    Most educated pirates wouldn't know. They'd be likely to use Ad-Block.

     

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  6.  
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    Nigel (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:19am

    1. What are these ads you speak of. I have not seen one in years.

    2. Those folks need to drawn and quartered.

    N.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:21am

    Now if you want to talk about theft. This is theft. The advertisers paid for that ad space and they are depriving them of it. That by definition IS theft.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:23am

    The bigger issue IMO is that these possibly/probably innocent websites will be deprived of their ad revenue with zero due process.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:30am

    Re:

    I was just about to comment the same. This is blatant theft of profits from websites. Especially if there is no REAL legal reason here.

     

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  10.  
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    janey, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:40am

    "to have bought into Hollywood's fable about "piracy" being the equivalent of "theft""

    sadly so have more and more people. they are now equating downloading with straight up stealing/theft. :/

     

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  11.  
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    John85851 (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:40am

    Re: Looks like a spam ad

    I was just going to say this. :)

    So between people not believing the banner, people having banner-blindness, and other people using ad-blocking software, who in the world thought this was a good idea? And how much money did the police spend on making this decision, hiring a graphic artist, making the banner ad, and so on?

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:44am

    ha ha ha!

    "The "education" story has been floating around for decades and there's basically no evidence to support it whatsoever."

    These are stupid political animals... they subscribe to the "repeat a lie often enough and it will be come truth" way of things.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:48am

    Re: Re: Looks like a spam ad

    Exactly. Only lusers, tools, and idiots look at online advertising. The rest of us have Ad-Block'd it, scripted it, firewalled it, and other removed its odious presence from our view of the Internet.

    (If you can't survive on the Internet without advertising, you deserve to die.)

     

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  14.  
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    Michael, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:49am

    At least they have done a goo job in banner design. I mean you have the black background and checkerboard designs that are always welcome in a web page, you have like 6 different font sizes making it far easier to actually read the text, it was brilliant to make the words "police" and "website" a color that stands out much less than the other text.

    It's also super-duper that the website has been reported to the police rather than any possible illegal activity. We should start reporting all kinds of things to them: 'Hey! Look! A storm drain cover!' 'Excuse me, have you noticed that bird?'

     

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  15.  
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    JH, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:51am

    How does this work?

    Presumably, the City of London police aren't paying infringers and other undesirables to share these messages for them? I mean, surely not??

    So they must be being placed free-of-charge by the advertising networks.

    Who presumably then must be confident that they can tell the page providers that the providers are in breach of the ad network's ts & cs, if the ad network doesn't want to be facing a hefty lawsuit for breach of contract?

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:56am

    Seems like slander or something similar.

    What would happen if the police sat outside the bank and told every customer that came in that the bank was a thief and they should do their banking else where if they knew what was good for them? (maybe some of the bank's users are potentially criminals)

    The issue I have is that you have an trusted organization with authority, and maybe respect, making a claim that may or may not be true. The result of such accusations could lead to personnel and finical hardship those targeted.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 11:58am

    Don't get mad, get even

    "Does that site have any recourse from this opaque and totally one-sided process? Do they get to sue the police for defamation?"


    I foresee a viral campaign as the planet's websites all spawn mutated copies (whoa copyright violation but what the heck) of those cute banners with slight modifications (eg 'Don't close the browser page containing this website' but I'm sure collectively we could all do better). After all the black is tastefully done and who doesn't love a police logo all over their site.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Don't get mad, get even

    'This website has been reported to the police of a tiny city with no jurisdiction over it or due process at the behest of Hollywood lobbyists'?

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 12:09pm

    Furthermore, how is this any different than hackers defacing someone else's site except that it is being done under the color of law?

     

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  20.  
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    Vel the Enigmatic, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 12:11pm

    Hello.

    We are the City of London Police. Like our kinsmen over in New York, we enjoy overstepping our bounds whenever we wish and feel like it. There is no low we won't stoop to: we will commit illegal search and seizure, we will commit to illegal practices with or without warrant and we will commit to practices that harm you financially and socially without any due process whatsoever, even if you're outside of our jurisdiction, because we are the City of London Police.

    Oh, but don't worry, this is all for the good of the public, even though you never asked for or wanted this, because we know what's best for everyone, and there is nothing you peasant worms can do about it. Have a nice day, and stay safe.

    Disclaimer: All the aforementioned information is most definitely not a joke.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 12:19pm

    Re:

    Michael! You MUST report these kinds of thing to the police! That storm drain cover might be hiding the treasure room of a CD pirate! And that bird - do you know FOR A FACT the tune it's singing - in public, I might add - is not copyrighted?

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 12:20pm

    Please someone create a large banner of the ad and hang it outside a bank in the city of london. Maybe even a couple to make sure it gets into the news.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 12:25pm

    I wonder if those with Ad blocking plugins don't even get the banner.

    My second thought is - This can't be good for business for those advertisers. I also would imagine that any site that is getting these would stop using that advertising partner pretty darn quickly. Unless they are compelled by law (and there can't be that many ad companies within London's jurisdiction that would be affected, are there?), I can't imagine why an ad company would want to include ads like this.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 12:44pm

    i would like someone to state whether what the City of London Police are doing is even legal? did they ask for permission to insert their ads instead? and dont forget that the person in charge of all this is an ex entertainment industries employee, habd picked by Cameron, just as Obama hand picks his people for top jobs! every time they are proven to be bias and cause nothing but grief for people when there should be none!

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 1:15pm

    Re: Re: Looks like a spam ad

    You forgot also how is the UK government going to enforce their rules on foreign corporations?

    I.E. I just went to thepiratebay.se and turned off ad-block. The ads are served by exoclick.com which is based in Spain.

    Is it going to be against the law in the UK to use ExoClick or Google for advertizing? I think perhaps all advertizing firms should just ban UK clients to preempt the government's actions.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 1:30pm

    Yay for Adblock+

     

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  27.  
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    Kaega (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 2:55pm

    WARNING BLOCKED!!!

    I would imagine since this banner is replacing an ad, anyone who is using Ad Block of any kind wouldn't even see it

    Am I right?

     

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  28.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 3:29pm

    Re:

    Not really. This is replacing banners through some ad networks. When you buy advertising in a network, you aren't paying for placement on a specific site. You're playing for a certain amount of presence in a block of sites. The ad network can absolutely prevent your ad from appearing on specific sites while still providing advertisers what they paid for.

     

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  29.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 3:32pm

    Re:

    Because it involves no hacking or defacing. This is simply the ad network serving a specific "ad" to specific pages.

     

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  30.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 3:36pm

    Re:

    "I can't imagine why an ad company would want to include ads like this."

    I can. Many advertisers already use a system called "sunblock" to ensure that their ads don't end up on sites that they (the advertisers) consider unsavory. This is really pretty much like that -- it's the type of thing the advertisers that the cops care about actually like.

    Remember, the cops have two main stated goals for doing this:

    1) To remove the air of legitimacy from the sites by preventing mainstream ads from appearing on them -- and mainstream ads already don't want to be there, so no problem on that count.

    2) To deprive the sites of revenue

     

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  31.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 3:37pm

    Re:

    "i would like someone to state whether what the City of London Police are doing is even legal?"

    It's legal.

    "did they ask for permission to insert their ads instead?"

    Yes.

     

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  32.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 3:38pm

    Re: WARNING BLOCKED!!!

    You're absolutely right -- but it doesn't matter. The goal of the police isn't really education. They don't care if their banner is never seen. What they want to do is prevent the site from getting ad revenue, and if you're blocking ads then the site isn't getting revenue through you in the first place.

     

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  33.  
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    mrtraver (profile), Jul 30th, 2014 @ 4:19pm

    Re: Looks like a spam ad

    That was my thought exactly. It's about as credible looking as a flashing "DOWNLAOD HERE!" [sic] ad on a warez site.

    Not that I know what a warez site is.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 4:30pm

    Umm, the only thing is that, they don't really care if people using the site take the reported to police ad seriously or not, the point of it is to cut off advertising income to the sites.

    There are of course plenty of reasons why that is also highly problematic.

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 4:31pm

    Re: Re: WARNING BLOCKED!!!

    what he said

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 5:00pm

    Re: Re:

    So I guess the UK government is paying advertizing companies to basically advertize on those sites? I certainly wouldn't want to loose revenue from a off shore government trying to mandate without any legal jurisdiction on which sites my ads are displayed...
    After all as far as I know advertizing isn't illegal in any state, unless you are in violation of local obscenity laws, like disagreeing with the king of Thailand. (John Oliver)

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 5:39pm

    Re: Re:

    They are using sunblock to serve those cop ads if I read it correctly.

     

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  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 6:12pm

    Re: Re:

    Felony Interference Of A Business Model ?

     

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  39.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2014 @ 7:39pm

    are they actually a police force or some private security company?

     

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  40.  
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    OldGeezer (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 1:34am

    Re: Re: Looks like a spam ad

    You are right. Anyone that uses Explorer instead of Firefox deserves all the vulnerabilities that exposes them to. No browser is perfect but I'll take my chances with Mozilla over Microsoft any day. Be sure you use both Ad Block and DoNotTrackMe addons.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    OldGeezer (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 1:42am

    Who is this piss ant little puppet of Hollywood that thinks they have international authority anyway? They actually only have power over a tiny portion of London. City of London Police. Wow I'm really scared!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 4:48am

    Re:

    Much like other police and government agencies, they have exactly as much authority as they can make others believe they have. Whether that 'authority' has any legal basis is something that only comes into play once someone stands up to them and refuses one of their demands. Until that happens, they can pretty much demand anything they desire.

     

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  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 5:53am

    Re: Re:

    I didn't click through to the linked article but this one didn't really specify how the ads ended up there and I presumed that they were placed there via some sort force on the host.

     

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  44.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 6:57am

    Re: Re:

    So that is what those teenage mutant ninja turtles do with their free time...

     

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  45.  
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    Kyle, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 7:57am

    Strangely Orwellian if you ask me.....

     

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  46.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 8:15am

    Re: Re: Re:

    That was how I read it too, but it was a bit vague so I didn't want to make that claim.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re:

    True. I once recorded a starling that was somehow able to whistle Ode to Joy, but when I uploaded the video to YouTube, it was immediately pulled down by Warner Music Group.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 31st, 2014 @ 9:26am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "So I guess the UK government is paying advertizing companies to basically advertize on those sites?"

    No, the advertising companies are voluntarily doing this at no charge.

    "I certainly wouldn't want to loose revenue from a off shore government"

    From their point of view, they aren't losing revenue. This is an extension of something they already do: prevent ads from appearing on unsavory websites (porn, etc.). They benefit because larger, mainstream ad buyers don't want their ads to appear on such sites so blocking that makes the ad network more attractive to those advertisers.

     

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  49.  
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    Dave P, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 10:19am

    I smell several rats

    How can this possibly be right? Since when has the City of London police had world-wide jurisdiction? Reckon someone needs to have the gumption to start a legal ball rolling, as I would imagine some sort of defamation suit would be in order.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
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    IronM@sk, Jul 31st, 2014 @ 9:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Looks like a spam ad

    Don't forget NoScript! ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
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    j238 (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 6:55am

    advertising fees?

    I'm not sure how this is all working, but if they are doing this through advertising, aren't they providing fees to the sites they consider illegitimate?

    Not endorsing or disputing this page's p.o.v. for the record.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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