INCPRO REPORT

AudioLock Research into the Importance of Click-Scam Traffic

AudioLock, the global leaders in the music-specific brand and content protection, provides unique feature-rich tools and integrated services which effortlessly return actionable insight; showing exactly where your business is being negatively impacted by the many online threats. By using the AudioLock platform, users are able to see and understand anything that is draining value or blocking your business’ ability to access valuable organic online marketing opportunities.

The AudioLock system provides your assets with an effective defence, while transparently showing the overall progress of the system by the results achieved. A continual stream of detailed data within the platform gives live oversight as to where your business’ value is being lost online. Through their unique technology and specialised in-house data feeds, their system gives wide-scale monitoring of the connected landscape that forms the foundations upon which the global music industry operates.

Through the large, anonymised and aggregated datasets – provided by our sister company’s technical research and development centre, Global Content Protection Ltd (GCP) – we have what is needed to enable a meaningful measurement of the size and damage that ‘stream-ripping’ sites that their clients are exposed to. Specifically, the exposure of consumer traffic to sites within the high-value location of Page 1 of Google’s search results. We conducted a simple search made with “mp3 download” being appended to the end of the title and artist text. This search query was chosen due to it being neither definitely a legitimate consumer search, nor it being definitely a search for infringing access to content. This also provides Google with what it needs for its natural language analysis, largely removing the sensitivity to small variations in a search phrase, which now plays a much smaller part in which results are returned.

AudioLock investigated near real-world scenarios of how their client’s content is initially exposed. What has been classified within the industry as ‘stream-ripping’ sites and, more specifically for our analysis, the subcategory of ‘stream-ripping download sites’, which is defined within a PRS report commissioned in 2016. This was, and continues to be, a subject heavily discussed throughout the entire music industry in recent years.

AudioLock classifies this type of site as a ‘Click-Scam’, which they have covered in industry talks, as well as in their guideline publications, which have been adopted by distributors and industry bodies that they have collaborated with for their educational work within the music industry. The main reason AudioLock kept their classification, rather than adopt the one used in the well-known report, is important. In their 7 years of processing thousands of such sites and the data evidence and supports their view. This is because the main objective of these sites is to get click-through traffic in order to generate revenue. There are many examples highlighting that you won't necessarily get any content at all, despite their appearance. These sites tend to scrape metadata of releases from various sources, even going as far as to generate data when they don’ not have it.,There are examples of sites this is easy to see where simply refreshing the page you can see how a random value is used because each refresh gives you a wildly different changing when pages the value such as a track length d in-place of the real values, such as track length. Needing only to access the majority of the traffic exposed by the unique lifecycle of music releases (and especially dance music releases which offer the biggest continual traffic resource), they just need to appear to have a full high-quality download of the content that the user is looking for when the link is seen in search results. The purpose of these ‘Click-Scam’ sites is to draw in as much traffic, and clicks and advert impressions as possible to drive the advertising revenue and to hijacking your ‘brand value’ to achieve their goal, hence our term ‘Click-Scam’.

‘Click-Scam’ websites naturally draw potential users away from legitimate access, as well as brand web properties and discovery/engagement opportunities. There are many examples of these sites that look extremely well made and AudioLock are often sent links to sites by clients who have found what they have mistaken to be a legitimate stream or music news related site, but are questioning how the site managed to get a copy of their content, often before it has been sent to their distributor, making them believe that a leak from promos may have been to blame. These sites are not obviously pirate sites, there are many professionals that have wrongly identified sites during talks we have given at well-known industry events so it is not always obvious to the industry so the traffic drains through them.

The illicit file is likely to have been sourced from a low-grade audio stream (the downloading of content which is only intended for streaming is a process called ‘ripping’, hence the industry name) which could be partial content, such as a preview, or cuts from a radio play. Despite this being no fault of the content owner. The result is a negative experience when the user is actively engaged in thinking about your content and may very well have your branding heavily shown on the screen simultaneously; this inflicts a negative value against your brand without the owner's involvement.

Through the large, anonymised and aggregated datasets – provided by our sister company’s technical research and development centre, Global Content Protection Ltd (GCP) – we have what is needed to enable a meaningful measurement of the size and damage the ‘Stream Ripping’ sites that their clients are exposed to. Specifically, the exposure of consumer traffic to sites within the high-value location of Page 1 of Google’s search results. We conducted a simple search made with “mp3 download” being appended to the end of the title and artist text. This search query was chosen due to it being neither definitely a legitimate consumer search, nor it being definitely a search for infringing access to content. This also provides Google with what it needs for its natural language analysis, largely removing the sensitivity to small variations in a search phrase, which now plays a much smaller part in which results are returned.

To get a measurement of how much of a threat, and what potential damage, these Click-scam sites are posing AudioLock used a large dataset of thousands of releases and months of data measurements, greatly exceeding the requirements to avoid hidden erroneous results from variations and extrapolations. They are able to confirm whether this industry-wide threat which the 2016 PRS/INCOPRO/IPO research report concluded that “stream-ripping services are held responsible for a major proportion of overall music piracy levels occurring in the UK now and likely the foreseeable future. “ has grown, or has there been a reduction in the damaging effects it brings to the music industry.

AudioLock took the traffic data from the heavily adopted report produced by INCOPRO for the partnership of PRS and the UK Intellectual Property Office, in November 2016. This listed the biggest Click-scam (Site Ripping Download) sites at the time for the UK music industry, which totalled 40 domains.

To keep it targeted to only the sites really impacting AudioLock’s clients we pulled out from the data just sites that appeared on page 1 of the Google search results made with the content meta and appending nothing more than ‘mp3 download’ to the search query before making searches every day from multiple global locations with the known default settings for those locations. Each search was made using a clean browser profile so as not to influence the results by any previous web or search history. The daily searches and the many variations resulted in nearly 0.5 million results, each with up to a full 100 links (10-page depth), over a 3 month period. The content catalogue used encompassed content from electro chillout through to heavy metal, many of which had good chart success, some achieving number 1 on the Beatport chart whilst others ended up getting heavy radio play or exposure through top streaming playlists.

The end result is a list of the sites that are highly exposed to those seeking to connect with their clients content and a large volume of content items spread around in their genre. The list is a good measure of sites that are positioned to be able to have the biggest effect on our clients business and, therefore, are of the most interest. We simply added traffic data from a free online tool and used the same tool to get the same global traffic volumes for the domain from the report we are wanting to compare with but because many of those domains are likely to have changed in traffic volume or no longer exist the online tool allowed AudioLock to get the traffic data as it was in Nov 2016 when the INCOPRO report was published giving a fair comparison to the traffic data for our domains currently.

AudioLock took the top 40 domains that had the highest volume traffic exposed on page 1 of the search results which was the same number of domains from the list of top 40 domains seen in the INCOPRO 2016 report. The two top 40 domain lists contain some minor variations between them but all are within the categorisation of ‘Stream Ripping Download Sites’ which was defined in detail of the report.

It is clear from the report that ‘click-scams’ pose the biggest threat and may well be displacing your business into the lower search engine results and hijacking your traffic. This traffic would not exist if it were not for your business’ overall value (not financial value). The desire to get the music your business owns, coupled with the reach and strength of your brand with consumers (To build your brand value will have required investment in time, money and resources such as promotional campaigns over a long time) both of which will have taken significant effort and investment for them to draw consumers, existing and new through discovery, to your web properties or legitimate routes to access your content and other related assets your business might have, These consumers should be coming through to your business rather than been drained off through these scam sites for someone to profit from off your hard work.

Click-Scam Statistics

Next Steps

We shall investigate in our next feature just where the different important sites on average are appearing as well as what makes up the high search results, to see just how much traffic these Click-scam sites and other infringing web properties are hijacking that was destined for the legitimate music business. AudioLock will investigate just where the revenue generating streaming services fit within this important source of traffic and measure what if any damage is being caused by these sites whilst they make money by bleeding the industry silently taking from this hugely important creative artform and those giving it life.