There’s no question that websites trafficking in stolen creative works profit handsomely from their piracy, compete unfairly with legitimate sites, and generally play the role of the thorn in the side of creators everywhere.

The question is how to stop them. Many of these sites are hosted offshore, and any writer who’s tried to send a DMCA takedown notice knows that once a pirated work has been taken down, there’s a decent chance it will pop back up somewhere else.

A recent report commissioned by the Digital Citizens Alliance proposes an answer: put pressure on the companies whose services the pirates depend on, and who profit in turn from the piracy. “All it takes for bad operators to succeed,” the report says, “is for the facilitators of commerce—payment processors and the advertising industry, among other stakeholders—to do nothing.”

After reading the report, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) decided that nothing will no longer do. Senator Leahy sent letters to the chief executives of Visa and MasterCard urging them to sever ties and stop processing payments to sites dedicated to infringing activity. “These illegitimate enterprises,” wrote Sen. Leahy, “profit from the hard work of our Nation’s creators and undermine the diverse lawful, innovative services that are flourishing online.”

The DCA report analyzed the finances of 30 cyberlockers—sites which exist to disseminate pirated copies of creative works—and found that 29 use Visa and MasterCard to process their payments. These findings suggest a larger point: piracy is not an sporadic phenomenon, it’s a lucrative business driven by corporate advertising and payment processing, and the regular presence of major companies on pirate sites make those sites appear legitimate.

Meaningful work is being done to combat piracy, but the fact remains that we need to find a better way to address the real damage cased by piracy and hold the service providers, payment processors, and advertisers who profit from it responsible.

The development of a balanced, effective approach to online piracy is one of the Guild’s top priorities, and we’re looking forward to working with legislators and other officials to make progress on the issue. In addition to having attended meetings on international copyright enforcement with officials from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, we’ve also recently joined a friend-of-the court brief in the copyright infringement case Capitol Records v. Vimeo to ensure that the DMCA’s notice and takedown provisions are interpreted to hold knowing infringers accountable.