Follow the Money: Online Piracy and Self-regulation in the Advertising Industry

Michail Batikas, Jörg Claussen, Christian Peukert

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We study the effects of a self-regulation effort, orchestrated by the European Commission in 2016 and finalized in 2018, that aims to reduce advertising revenues for publishers of copyright infringing content. Data on the third-party HTTP requests made by a large number of piracy websites lets us observe the relations of the piracy and advertising industry over time. We compare these dynamics to a control group of non-advertising services which are not subject to the self-regulation. Our results suggest that the effort is limited in its effectiveness. On average, the number of piracy websites that make requests to EU-based advertising services does not change significantly. Only when we allow for heterogeneity in the popularity of third-party services, we find that the number of piracy websites that interact with the most popular EU-based advertising services decreases by 42%. We do not find evidence that non-EU-based advertising services react to the self-regulation. This implies that only a small share of the firms in the market comply with self-regulation in a way that is visible in our data. We also do not find evidence that the demand for piracy websites decreases due to this “follow the money” initiative.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Industrial Organization
Pages (from-to)121-151
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • Piracy
  • Copyright enforcement
  • Online advertising
  • Natural experiment

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