This is apparently Piracy Study Week. On the heels of yesterday’s NetNames study, and in advance of a Judiciary Committee hearing on copyright later today, the MPAA releases a piracy study prepared by Compete (inconspicuously on the eve of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.)
The report, titled “Understanding the Role of Search in Online Piracy”, asserts that 19.2% of visits to infringing content were “influenced” by a search engine (which MPAA rounds up to 20%, not down, because Hollywood accounting).
What does “influenced” mean? It does not mean, apparently, that the user conducted a search and then clicked on a link presented in the search results. According to the study’s methodology, such an approach would be too “narrow,” thus necessitating a “hybrid” approach that includes any instance where the user visits an infringing site within 20 minutes after conducting potentially incriminating searches. Although the report itself makes no specific policy recommendations, MPAA personnel have complained ,  to officials that search providers’ existing voluntary efforts are no replacement for government regulation.
Less prominently stated is that 37% of searches for infringing content involved a “navigational search.” “Navigational searches” is a term of art (or a euphemism) for typing a domain name into the search bar instead of the navigational bar of the browser. (Most Internet users have probably done this at one point or another, either by accident or out of laziness.) This means that the study’s 19.2% figure disguises the fact that more than a third of the searches that precede a user accessing infringing content via (e.g.) MegaUpload were searches where the user just typed “megaupload.com” into a search bar or engine, instead of their browser’s navigation bar.
As I have previously explained, search is not a major tool in the toolbox of the average infringer, who largely relies on other modes for finding infringing sites — many of which may lack DMCA compliance programs, unlike the major search engines. As my previous paper pointed out, pirate sites even scoffed at the prospect that their sites might be disappeared from search results, noting how little traffic they receive from search.
If the report makes anything clear, it is that there is no shortage of interest in accessing digital content online. Unfortunately, video content distribution continues to focus on exclusive arrangements and windowed releases, ensuring that when many consumers go online to find out “CanIStream.It” lawfully, the answer is still no.
Given the extent of windowing in video release, it is not surprising that within 20 minutes of going online to find content, some portion of users will find there is no lawful option to access the content they seek. However, no amount of disappeared search results will make a consumer buy something that no one is offering. As Rob explains regarding yesterday’s NetNames study, one of the most effective defenses from infringement is a good offense in the marketplace.