Recently, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) brought out the results of a new study showing that, when it comes to infringing content, one of the biggest problems faced comes from search engines that introduce audiences to the availability of the content in question.
The study, as introduced by MPAA Chairman and Senator Chris Dodd, describes how, as Dodd put it: “Search engines bear responsibility for introducing people to infringing content—even people who aren't actively looking for it. The television and movie community is working every day to develop new and innovative ways to watch content online, and as the Internet's gatekeepers, search engines share a responsibility to play a constructive role in not directing audiences to illegitimate content.”
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More specifically, the study found that 74 percent of consumers in a survey noted that a search engine was the tool that led said consumers to a site with infringing content. Fifty-eight percent of the searches involved were done solely by general keyword, like the titles of recent films and television shows.
The study also noted that first time consumers going to sites with illegitimate content were twice as likely to have used a search engine to get there as those who had used sites with such content previously; as such sites are found, same are bookmarked and used directly rather than by search engine.
But perhaps the most telling point of the study noted that fully 82 percent of search queries that led to infringing content came from Google. The study also had another point against Google, noting that Google's algorithm changes designed to impact traffic going to infringing sites does not seem to have helped, suggesting instead that the share of referral traffic to such sites stayed flat over three months following the change implemented last August.
It's easy to take issue with quite a bit of the MPAA's findings. The issue of “fair use”—a legally-defined concept—isn't even considered here, and the survey work done, according to the “Methodology” section of the MPAA's study, seems devoted to the analysis of URLs, not to actually discussing the matter with actual users. Further, some may wonder at the part where Dodd describes the hard work of companies to bring out innovative ways to allow legal access to content online, though specific examples aren't exactly as forthcoming. We've seen some excellent examples emerge, yes—Netflix and Hulu Plus are tops on most anyone's list—but we've also seen recalcitrant content providers throw up roadblock after roadblock in a bid to make these content services progressively less useful. The Netflix embargo is well-known to its users, just as an example.
Eliminating piracy is largely an impossible task. There will always be users out there who want content yet don't want to pay for it. But there are so many other issues going into piracy as a whole—issues of availability and cost among same—that the complete removal of the concept just likely won't happen.
Granted, there are steps that can be taken here. Eliminating access to some of the sources, improving the legitimate sources of access—I'd love to see more content available to places like Hulu Plus and Netflix, not just the seemingly random fits and starts both services seem to get—and methods like that will go a long way toward keeping content legitimate and content owners compensated. It's not hard to note that search engines have a hand in piracy, but so too do users of search engines and even content providers.
Edited by Alisen Downey