Forty-three websites identified by brand-protection firm MarkMonitor as digital piracy sites generate 53 billion visits per year, according to a new paper sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The paper shows the "staggering scope" of digital piracy and trade in counterfeit goods, said Steve Tepp, a senior director at the Global Intellectual Property Center at the Chamber, in a statement. The MarkMonitor paper also examined 48 sites trading in counterfeit physical goods, and found they generated 87 million visits per year.
Twenty-six of the 48 sites in the paper that trade in counterfeit goods offered counterfeit pharmaceuticals for sale, MarkMonitor said. Those 26 sites collectively have about 51 million visits a year, the paper said.
"Websites that sell counterfeit luxury goods, fake drugs, and products that may pose health and safety risks attract hundreds of millions annually," the paper said.
Several digital rights groups have complained that past studies estimating the impact on online piracy have used faulty assumptions. But this paper shows that piracy is a major problem generating billions of site visits each year, said Fred Felman, chief marketing officer at MarkMonitor. Many groups that have tried to measure piracy have used conservative measures, he said.
"This isn't something that should be ignored," Felman said. "I think [the problem] is pretty much understated."
MarkMonitor looked for unauthorized trading of 10 digital brands, such as music, movies or software, and counterfeit sales of 12 physical products, including pharmaceuticals, when searching for websites to track, company representatives said. After initial scans found more than 10,000 sites, the company cut the number of sites to 600 before employees hand-checked sites for digital piracy or counterfeit sales, said Te Smith, MarkMonitor's vice president of communications.
MarkMonitor used publicly available Internet traffic data from Alexa, a Web traffic measurement firm, to determine site visit numbers.
Some of the sites used to generate the traffic figures in the study have user-generated content that infringes copyright, as opposed to posting content themselves, Smith added. For example, Megavideo.com, registered in Hong Kong and identified in the paper as one of the top digital piracy sites, has a link where copyright owners can report infringing materials.
Megavideo.com did not have an immediate comment on the paper.
More than two-thirds of the 91 sites that MarkMonitor examined for the paper are hosted in North America or Western Europe, the company said. Eastern Europe hosted only 14 percent of sites selling counterfeit goods, the paper said.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.