A study (available here) just released by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) reveals that search engines introduce viewers to pirate sites. The study found that online searches routinely lead to infringing content sites. In some cases, searches revealed infringing content even when it was not the subject of a search.
The MPAA report indicated that 74% of consumers surveyed cited using a search engine as a navigational tool the first time they arrived at a site with infringing content. Searches were often quite general in nature. The majority (58%) that led to infringing content contained only general keywords — such as the titles of recent films or TV shows, or phrases related to watching films or TV online — and not specific keywords aimed at finding illegitimate content.
According to the MPAA’s own analysis search engines refer over 4 billion visits per year, or over 300 million visits per month to infringing sites. The MPAA’s dramatic findings lead many to question the commitment that search engines have to combatting media piracy. If the highly profitable search engine industry wants to avoid increased government regulation a showing of good will toward legitimate content owners in the form of policing piracy would be a good first. It would be an easy fix to alter algorithms to filter out infringing sites from search results.
Key findings of the study include:
• Search engines play a significant role in introducing audiences to infringing movies and TV shows online. 74% of consumers surveyed cited using a search engine as a discovery or navigation tool in their initial viewing sessions on sites with infringing content.
• Audiences who view infringing TV or film content for the first time online are more than twice as likely to use a search engine in their navigation path as repeat visitors.
• The majority of search queries that lead to audiences viewing infringing film or TV content do not contain keywords that indicate a specific intent to find illegal content. 58% of queries that consumers use prior to viewing infringing content contain generic or title-specific keywords only, indicating that consumers who were not even seeking infringing content in the first place were directed there regardless.
• For the infringing film and TV content URLs measured, the largest share of search queries that lead to these URLs (82%) came from the largest search engine, Google.
• 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.
• Overall, search engines influenced 20% of the sessions in which consumers accessed infringing TV or film content online between 2010 and 2012.