Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit tackles digital piracy

On Wednesday 11 January 2017 officers from the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) visited organisations found to be advertising on websites involved in digital piracy.

PIPCU City of London Police logo lock up

Officers from the unit visited eight organisations including brands, advertising agencies and networks, as part of a multi-agency initiative known as Operation Creative, which sees the police working with both the creative and advertising industries to tackle websites involved in digital piracy.

The initiative, which was launched in 2013, compromises several tactical options, including placing piracy sites on an Infringing Website List (IWL) which is then shared with advertisers, agencies and other intermediaries so that they can cease advert placement on these illegal websites.

Disrupting advertising is a vital part of Operation Creative, as websites involved in digital piracy can generate substantial amounts of revenue through advert placement. In 2013 the Digital Citizens Alliance published a report that revealed piracy sites were generating $227 million (US) from advertising alone.

Eight organisations were visited by PIPCU officers and representatives from Operation Creative partners including FACT, BPI (British Phonographic Industry), IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) and PRS for Music.

During the visits, the eight companies were made aware of their involvement in the placement of ads on copyright infringing sites. All of the organisations were keen to support Operation Creative and have pledged to sign up to the IWL to ensure advert placement from their brand and clients do not appear on the 1,232 websites listed on the IWL.

Since launch, Operation Creative has disrupted advertising revenues on illegal websites across the globe and has seen a significant decrease (73%) in advertising from the UK’s top ad spending companies to websites involved in digital piracy. 


Operation Creative is key to ending the funding of websites involved in digital piracy. It is important we tackle this issue, not only for brands and businesses’ reputation, but for consumers too. When adverts from established brands appear on these sites, they lend them a look of legitimacy. By working with industry to discourage reputable brands from advertising on piracy sites, we will help consumers realise these sites are neither official nor legal.

Operation Creative’s lead officer Detective Constable Steven Salway

FACT is a proud original partner of Operation Creative and is keen to support PIPCU on increasing awareness of this iniatative to brands and the advertising community. PIPCU’s IWL is the first of its kind and is a great tool for businesses to protect their brand reputation by ensuring their adverts don’t appear on pirate sites. Consumers need to be aware that not only are the criminals behind these websites making substantial amounts of money from adverts, but simply visiting the sites can put the public at risk of malware, viruses and click-through scams.

Director General of FACT, Kieron Sharp

To ensure you are accessing digital content from safe and legitimate sites visit

About Operation Creative

Operation Creative is a ground-breaking multi-agency iniatative designed to disrupt and prevent websites from providing unauthorised access to copyrighted content and led by the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU). It is a unique partnership between the City of London Police and the creative and advertising industries. Partners include;

  • FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft)
  • BPI (British Phonographic Industry)
  • IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry)
  • PRS for Music
  • The Publishers Association
  • UKIE (The UK Interactive Entertainment Association)
  • MPA (Music Publishers Association)
  • MPA (Motion Picture Association)
  • The Gambling Commission

The operation consists of several tactical options including; engagement with the site owner to legitimise their site, contacting the domain registrar to seek suspension of the site and disrupting advertising revenue through the use of the IWL.

The IWL was the first of its kind to be developed and is an online portal containing an up-to-date list of copyright infringing sites, identified and evidenced by the creative industries and verified by the City of London Police unit. It is available to the partners of Operation Creative and those involved in the sale and trading of digital advertising. The aim of the IWL is that advertisers, agencies and other intermediaries can voluntarily decide to cease advert placement on these illegal websites which in turn disrupts the sites advertising revenue.

Other Operation Creative stats

In 2015 the Gambling Commission, the regulatory body for commercial gambling in Great Britain, joined Operation Creative. Since then the Commission has been championing the work of Creative and the essential use of the IWL to brands within the gambling industry. This new partnership has had great results with PIPCU seeing a 36% decrease in gambling ads on copyright infringing websites from March to June 2015.

Our pilot study in 2013 also showed that almost half (46%) of total ads served to copyright infringing websites often clicked through to websites containing malware and viruses or even fraudulent scams.


The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit is a specialist national police unit, sitting within the City of London Police, dedicated to protecting the UK industries that produce legitimate, high quality, physical goods and online and digital content from intellectual property crime.

The operationally independent unit was launched in September 2013 with funding from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). 

About PRS for Music

Here for music since 1914, PRS for Music is a world-leading music collective management organisation representing the rights of more than 175,000 talented songwriters, composers and music publishers. Redefining the global standard for music royalties, PRS for Music ensures songwriters and composers are paid whenever their musical compositions and songs are streamed, downloaded, broadcast, performed and played in public. 

For 110 years it has grown and protected the rights of the music creator community, paying out royalties with more accuracy, transparency and speed. In 2023, PRS for Music paid out £943.6m in royalties and collected a record £1.08 billion in revenues.

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