Disney and Warner Bros have just won $400,000 in damages from a web advertiser that "helped fund" piracy by supplying ads for pirate websites. Is Google, the biggest web ads provider, rightly or wrongly next on the legal list?
The damages are levied against Triton Media, which the courts have thus found guilty of "contributory copyright infringement" and "inducement to infringe." Triton's crime is an odd one: Providing a web ads facility to websites including free-tv-video-online.info and watch-movies.net. These sites, part of a longer list, are accused of illegally providing streaming access to content that they haven't licensed from the content owners—the latest bane in the life of Hollywood studios and TV companies the world over. Their business model is simple: At low cost to themselves they provide a point of access to someone else's popular TV show or movie, their viewers are attracted by the big-name shows available and the fact they don't have to pay. In-page ads return a small revenue stream to the site owners, much as they do for pretty much every other web site out there.
By supplying ads to the sites in question, Triton was indirectly contributing to their copyright abuse, so the legal argument went. It's a valid question, when you consider that web ads firms generally screen their site clients before accepting them, and it should've been easy to spot that these streaming sites were blatant copyright violators.
But as a Wall Street Journal article noted back in 2007, two sites earned over a million dollars in web ad income over two-year period, of which over $800,000 came from Google. The cash quantities concerned will certainly have increased in the three years since this case. Hollywood studios and TV show creators now have a legal precedent in their favor, and they have deep pockets to pay lawyers. Google has deep pockets too, and Disney, Warner Bros. and everyone else may well be pondering trying to grab some of their "lost" income back by suing Google.