The Computer & Communications Industry Association has released a new research paper today, “The Search Fixation: Infringement, Search Results and Online Content.” The first of a series of research pieces to better inform public policy, this paper finds that recent claims by the recording industry that search engines are a major driver of traffic to copyright-infringing websites are exaggerated. CCIA’s research paper indicates that search engines are not a major tool in the infringer’s toolbox.
Existing research has found that for sites commonly associated with infringement, visitors navigate there directly, arrive by some social media interaction, or perhaps type the domain name into the search engine. Alexa ratings, for example, indicate only about 8 percent of Pirate Bay traffic comes from search engines.
“The available evidence suggests that search engines are not a particularly relevant tool for finding copyright infringing sites, or for infringing sites to find users,” said the paper’s author, CCIA Vice President of Law & Policy Matt Schruers.
Schruers said compiling data like this can be useful to overall discussion on how to best ensure Internet users find legal content to listen to, watch or purchase.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) suggested in a February paper that search engines were not doing enough to demote infringing sites, focusing specifically on search results containing terms like “mp3” and “download.” But actual search data indicates that these terms are statistically uncommon.
For example, Google Trends data shows that for the two examples leading the RIAA paper — Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and Kesha’s “Die Young” — the vast majority of Internet users searched for song or artist rather than include terms like ‘mp3’ or ‘download’ that the RIAA used for its tests.
“Fixating on ‘demoting’ undesirable search results, responsive to infrequently used queries, is unlikely to mitigate infringement,” Schruers said. “Resources would be better spent using basic search engine optimization techniques to drive more traffic to legal content,” Schruers said. The paper goes on to say, “The fixation on demoting undesirable search results overlooks a more viable strategy: promoting desirable search results.”
The paper offers recommendations for increasing visibility of lawful options in search results, including the inclusion of standard licensing terms requiring search engine optimization (SEO). That is, when licensing content to online services like iTunes, Spotify, and Netflix, rights-holders should require the inclusion of key terms in site content, to facilitate search engines identifying and indexing legal content.
Future CCIA research papers will address issues including trade and international liability.