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MPAA Study: Search Engines Facilitate Piracy

Search engines are a critical link between would-be infringers and pirate TV and movies sites, according to a new study from the Motion Picture Association of America. Search engines begged to differ.

The study found that search engines--Google predominately--"influenced 20% of the sessions in which consumers accessed infringing TV or film content online between 2010 and 2012."

The study found that 74% of consumers said they used a search engine as a "discovery or navigation tool" in initially viewing sites with infringing content. The study found that a majority of the queries (58%) that lead to infringing TV or film content do not contain search terms specifically related to finding illegal content.

Echoing a conclusion by researchers for an NBCU-commissioner piracy study released Tuesday--NBCU is an MPAA member--the study found that Google's 2012 effort to demote infringing sites had not resulted in a decrease.

"The share of referral traffic from Google to sites included in the Google Transparency Report remained flat in the three months following the implementation of Google's "signal demotion" algorithm in August 2012," the study concluded.

The study was released in advance of a Sept. 18 hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on the role of voluntary agreements in protecting intellectual property.

"Search engines bear responsibility for introducing people to infringing content--even people who aren't actively looking for it," said MPAA Chairman and former Senator Chris Dodd, who was joined by a number of legislators in unveiling the study on Capitol Hill. "I applaud the MPAA for their efforts to address online piracy of movies and television shows," said Rep Judy Chu (D-Calif.). "It is clear from this study that search engines play a key role in connecting consumers with infringed content, undercutting the ability of creators to receive pay for their work."

MPAA said that while search engines emphasize the 20% figure, pointing out that the majority of searches result in non-infringing sites, that misses the point that the 20% still translates to more than 4 billion visits a year.

The study was based on an analysis between 2010 and 2012 of 12 million TV and film content URLs known
to host infringing content.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association (members include Google and Yahoo!), in a blog posting ( by copyright attorney Matt Schruers, did indeed focus on the 20%, only they pointed out the survey percentage said 19.2, with Schruers calling the round up rather than round down "Hollywood accounting."

Schruers points out that "influenced" according to the study meant not necessarily clicking on a link, but was broadened to include clicking on a site up to 20 minutes after a "potentially incriminating search." He also said that, according to the study, 37% of searches for incriminating content were "navigational searches," which means typing a domain name in the search bar instead of the navigation bar. "This means that the study's 19.2% figure disguises the fact that more than a third of the searches that precede a user accessing infringing content via (e.g.) MegaUpload were searches where the user just typed '' into a search bar or engine, instead of their browser's navigation bar," he said.

Schruers maintains that search is not a major tool of the average infringer. He also argues that while there is no shortage of interest in content, as the study demonstrates, it "continues to focus on exclusive arrangements and windowed releases, ensuring that when many consumers go online to find out 'CanIStream.It', the answer is still no."

"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," said Michael Petricone, SVP at the Consumer Electronics Association. "Yesterday, it was the VCR and the MP3 player. Today, it's search engines, Aereo and the Dish Hopper. 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."