What role does "Search" play in Online Piracy?

On September 18th, a report was released by Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA).  The report, Understanding the Role of Search in Online Piracy, was conducted by Compete and uses data from the UK and the US. This report measured the role that search engines play in assisting individuals in accessing content illegally. 

Among some of the interesting statistics produced are 74% of individuals accessing content illegally do so through a search engine,  and 58% of the searches use innocuous language implying that they aren’t necessarily actively seeking illegal content.

However, the major takeaway the study produces is that the implementation of Google’s “signal demotion” algorithm geared to pushing copyright infringing sites to the bottom of the search does not go far enough.  The study claims that the algorithm used is not statistically significant or substantively different from using the old process where values are broken down by year or even by season.  Consequently, despite the concerted efforts made by Google – whose search engine produces over 82% of the URLs linking to infringing sites – piracy is still at large.

Unfortunately, the majority of individuals who use search engines to find content are not using keywords that would lead to piracy, like “free movies”, instead most of them are simply searching for the title not a domain name, which makes the new algorithm less effective than expected, according to the study. 

Creating a way for individuals to access content legally, cheaply, and easily is imperative if the content owners want to continue monetarily benefiting from their products.  There are many legal opportunities for consumers and content producers are coming up with new options like ultraviolet all the time.  Unfortunately the general public is unaware of these options.  The majority of individuals who want content online are not actively seeking to break the law, but do so because illegal content is accessible.  According to the study, a first-time infringer is twice as likely to do it again if they access content via a search engine. Therefore, search engines are helping in the creation of habitual pirates.

So, with all the piracy what ought to be done?  Currently the MPAA has a website devoted to helping people access legal content.  Furthermore, the Center for Copyright Information has a website that not only educates individuals about IP but also provides a way to send Copyright alerts when a website or individual is promoting infringing content.

Even though individuals are responsible for their own actions when it comes to knowingly committing piracy, search engine reform and voluntary initiatives can reduce the level of accidental piracy.  Additionally, greater promotion of legal multiplatform viewing options will help reduce piracy. 

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