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Appeared on: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Search Engines Encouraging Online Content Infringement: MPAA

A study released today by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) purporting search engines aid in consumer infringement of online content.

The rsults of the study were announced by MPAA Chairman Senator Chris Dodd joined Representatives Howard Coble, Adam Schiff, Marsha Blackburn and Judy Chu on Capitol Hill.

"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," said Senator Dodd. "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."

The study found that search is a major gateway to the initial discovery of infringing content online, even in cases when the consumer was not looking for infringing content. 74% of consumers surveyed cited using a search engine as a navigational tool the first time they arrived at a site with infringing content. And the majority of searches (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 study, first time consumers at sites with infringing content were more than twice as likely as repeat consumers to use a search engine in their navigation path. Search engine use naturally becomes less prevalent once audiences bookmark or find other ways to access the site. The vast majority (82%) of queries that led to the infringing content examined came from the largest search engine, Google.

The study also found no evidence that the change Google made to its algorithm last year to take into account the number of copyright takedown notices a site has received had an impact on search-referred traffic to infringing sites. The share of referral traffic from Google to infringing sites included in the Google Transparency Report remained flat in the three months following Google?s implementation of the change last August.

Michael Petricone, senior vice president, government and regulatory affairs, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), challenged the study's findings.

"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. 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.

"Commercial piracy is wrong and illegal. Violators should be prosecuted under existing laws. But the answer is not restrictions on search engines or the ability of Internet users to access information.

"The fact is that today, due to the Internet, artists can create, distribute, and monetize more content more easily than ever before. Rather than assailing innovators, we urge the content community to work with the tech industry to provide new, exciting and authorized distribution platforms to consumers."

Seperately, RIAA CEO Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) Chairman & CEO Cary Sherman will call for voluntary collaborations between content owners and intermediaries such as ISPs, payment processors, advertisers, ad networks and others to prevent online music theft and grow the legitimate marketplace.

In testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, Sherman will call on search engines such as Google to take a page from current successful voluntary initiatives and work with the music community to prevent illegal sources of music from appearing in top search results.

"We, like others in the creative communities, are working very hard to grow this digital marketplace, driving new technologies and services, and entering into new licenses and partnerships," Sherman will testify. "But in order to make this digital marketplace truly work, we must ensure that these vibrant new legitimate and authorized technologies are not undermined by those engaged in illegal activity. Voluntary initiatives with Internet intermediaries are a key component of that objective."

"Search engines are the roadmaps - indeed, the turn-by-turn directions - to rogue sites online," says Sherman. "They can be a key part of addressing infringing activity, yet there is no voluntary agreement regarding search results that lead users to illegal activity."

In his written remarks, as proof that search engines can do more to prevent online theft, Sherman points to a Google search conducted by RIAA staff on August 29, 2013 for mp3s or downloads of the recent top 50 Billboard tracks whereby an illegal site for which Google has received more than 1.25 million copyright removal notices consistently shows up in the top five search results.

Sherman also will ask Congress to help facilitate discussions on how to make the "notice and takedown" provisions of the DMCA more effective.

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