Internet Piracy Battle Brings Search Engines Into the Mix

A new study released by the Motion Picture Association of America found that search engines play a critical role in bringing users copyright-infringing content.

Whether they intend to or not, internet users are increasingly coming face-to-face with copyright-infringing content while using search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing, according to a new study [PDF] released by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Conducted by web-traffic analysis firm Compete, the study looked at a database of 12 million film and TV content URLs known to host infringing content from 2010-2012 as well as results from a survey of more than 1,000 consumers in the United States and United Kingdom that asked about their internet search habits when it comes to watching or downloading infringing content. The largest share of search queries that led to infringing content (82 percent) came from Google, and 74 percent of those surveyed said they used a search engine as the “discovery or navigation tool in their initial viewing sessions on sites with infringing content.”

“This study reaffirms the significant responsibility that search engines share with all of us in the internet ecosystem to help prevent the theft of movies and TV shows online,” former Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairman and CEO of MPAA, said in a statement. “Search engines bear responsibility for introducing people to infringing content—even people who aren’t actively looking for it.”

While Google made changes to its search algorithm to exclude websites that were repeatedly found to allow access to pirated content last year, MPAA said the study found no evidence that those changes, which take into account the number of copyright-takedown notices a website has received, have not made a significant impact on search-referred traffic to infringing sites.

“The television and movie community is working every day to develop new and innovative ways to watch content online,” Dodd said. “As the internet’s gatekeepers, search engines share a responsibility to play a constructive role in not directing audiences to illegitimate content.”

The Consumer Electronics Association was quick to push back on the study, saying that it points fingers but doesn’t offer a solution.

“This is a Hollywood formula as familiar as a rom-com: Blame the technology instead of providing your customers with the experiences and products they want,” Michael Petricone, senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs for CEA, said in a statement. “Search engines don’t ‘introduce’ consumers to infringing content—most consumers simply want legal, conveniently accessed digital content at a reasonable price. Indeed, studies show that unauthorized downloading decreases as legal alternatives proliferate.”

Petricone said that while piracy is wrong and illegal and that violators should be prosecuted, placing restrictions on search engines or the ability of internet users to access information is not the way to go about correcting the issue.

“The fact is that today, due to the internet, artists can create, distribute, and monetize more content more easily than ever before,” he said. “Rather than assailing innovators, we urge the content community to work with the tech industry to provide new, exciting, and authorized distribution platforms to consumers.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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