MPAA Study Highlights Role of Google Search in Online Piracy

The Motion Picture Association of America released a report yesterday that criticizes the impact of Google and other search engines on the piracy of movies and television shows. The report determined that between 2010 and 2012, search engines influenced 20 percent of sessions that resulted in acts of piracy. The largest share of search queries (82 percent) that led to infringing film and TV content URLs originated from Google, according to the study.

After months of relative peace between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, the report marks “the first major flare-up between entertainment and tech companies since the failure of the Stop Online Piracy Act early last year,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

The MPAA commissioned Compete to assess the role that search plays in how consumers locate copyright infringing copies of television and film content online in the United States and United Kingdom.

Compete researched how search is used in discovery and navigation, and analyzed whether the algorithm change implemented by Google in August of last year — “which incorporated copyright notice levels into its search engine ranking” — affected the role that search plays in consumers accessing illegal content.

Among the key findings listed in the executive summary of the MPAA report:

  • Overall, search engines influenced 20 percent of the sessions in which consumers accessed infringing TV or film content online between 2010 and 2012.
  • Search is an important resource for consumers when they seek new content online, especially for the first time. 74 percent of consumers surveyed cited using a search engine as either a discovery or navigational tool in their initial viewing sessions on domains with infringing content.
  • Consumers 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 consumers viewing infringing film or TV content do not contain keywords that indicate specific intent to view this content illegally. 58 percent of queries that consumers use prior to viewing infringing content contain generic or title-specific keywords only, indicating that consumers who may not explicitly intend to watch the content illegally ultimately do so online.
  • For the infringing film and TV content URLs measured, the largest share of search queries that lead to these URLs (82 percent) 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.

“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,” MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd said in a statement. “Search engines bear responsibility for introducing people to infringing content — even people who aren’t actively looking for it.”

Dodd has called on Google to revise its search algorithm in order to help curb the discovery of pirated content.

“The study’s conclusions echoed complaints made earlier this year by the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade organization for major record labels, that Google’s commitment to reduce links to pirate websites ‘remains unfulfilled,'” notes WSJ.

For more information, a PDF version of the full MPAA report “Understanding the Role of Search in Online Piracy” is available online.