According to research from the Computer & Communications Industry Association, recent claims by the recording industry that search engines are a major driver of traffic to copyright-infringing websites are exaggerated.
The research paper – The Search Fixation: Infringement, Search Results and Online Content – the first of a series of research pieces to better inform public policy, suggests that 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 per cent 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 such as ‘mp3’ and ‘download’. But actual search data indicates that these terms are statistically uncommon.
As an example, the CCIA notes that 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 such as ‘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 optimisation 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 optimisation (SEO). That is, when licensing content to online services such as 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.