Once Again: Just Because You Can Search For Infringing Content Via Search Engines Doesn't Mean Many People Do

from the weird-obsessions dept

In case you’ve missed it, the legacy entertainment industry has a weird and almost entirely uninformed infatuation with Google. As far as I can tell, this is based almost entirely on the following correlation: “we used to be making a lot more money, they’re making a lot of money now — therefore, they must have taken “our” money.” I’ve yet to see anything even remotely approaching a more reasonable explanation. A few months ago, at a conference, someone I know got to ask a lawyer representing a company that has sued search engines over copyright infringement just how much money he thought search engines made from infringement, and his answer was “around 50%.” This isn’t just wrong, it’s delusional. Two years ago, we went through some internet traffic data to show that so-called “rogue sites” get very little traffic from search engines. About 15% of their total traffic came from search, and the rest via other sources. And, even when the traffic came from search engines, it was almost never for someone directly searching Google or Bing for a certain song or movie. Rather the top searches were… for the site itself. That is, lots of Google traffic to The Pirate Bay is based on people doing a search for “pirate bay.”

The folks over at CCIA (disclosure: we’ve done some work with them and continue to do work with them and may possibly do work with them in the future) have taken our and some others’ analyses and put out a document showing that this weird obsession with piling on search engines is, at best, counterproductive and, at worst, destructive. It is, in large part, a response to the RIAA’s silly attack that Google isn’t “demoting” certain searches fast enough. But, as the CCIA paper notes, much of the RIAA’s analysis is based on the results of searches that include specific keywords like “free download.” However, as CCIA’s Matt Schruer’s notes, those kinds of searches are very, very, very rare:

Consider an example used in the RIAA memo: “free bruno mars mp3.”  While this result may return results that point to infringing content, data from Google Trends indicates that strikingly few people are actually running that search.  A worldwide tally of search results through last week, comparing “bruno mars” (for reference) to “free bruno mars mp3” is available here.  Bruno Mars is orders of magnitude more common, and at periods of time, no one seems to have searched for “free bruno mars mp3” anywhere on the planet.  This is not entirely surprising: extensive research by BAE Detica indicates that the majority of infringement “business models” don’t depend on search engines at all.  Sites like Isohunt and the Pirate Bay shrugged off [1] [2] the threat of search demotion, announcing that they receive little traffic from search engines.

You can see the search he discusses here:

We had mentioned this same sort of thing a few months ago when Authors Guild boss Scott Turow freaked out about Google searches for “Scott Turow free e-books,” and pointed out that it doesn’t look like anyone is actually doing that search.

Schruers explains why he thinks the RIAA and others like to focus so much on the searches that no one does. Because it gives them something concrete they can point to, even if it’s got nothing to do with the actual world they’re dealing with.

Sometimes called the “lamp post effect”, this bias is usually attributed to researchers, and refers to biases resulting from data-gathering where the data is most easily gathered.  The principle is best illustrated with a joke related by David Freedman in Discover Magazine:

Late at night, a police officer finds a drunk man crawling around on his hands and knees under a streetlight. The drunk man tells the officer he’s looking for his wallet. When the officer asks if he’s sure this is where he dropped the wallet, the man replies that he thinks he more likely dropped it across the street. Then why are you looking over here? the befuddled officer asks. Because the light’s better here, explains the drunk man.

We look where it is easiest to look.  By definition, one of the easiest places to look for something online is a search engine.  If one uses terms like “torrent” and “free download”, it is possible to find search results that linking to infringing content.  Because search results are easily observed, the streetlight effect tells us, this is where the observation occurs.  As a result, some will fixate – like this RIAA memo – on infringing search results, notwithstanding the fact that pirates tend not to use general-purpose search engines for finding infringing content.

I’m curious if all of those who seem to support the claims against search engines can point to even a single shred of evidence that search engines actually lead to greater infringement. We’ve yet to see anything that supports it at all. Yet the risk of putting increasing pressure of search engines to modify their results to please one particular industry or (much worse) to increase liability on them for not making their results appease certain industries, can be quite dangerous to a free and open internet. Search engines aren’t responsible for what people find online. They’re simply reflecting what people are looking for. If lots of people really are looking for certain kinds of content, it seems like the better response, rather than blaming search engines, is to look for better ways to deliver that content.

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Comments on “Once Again: Just Because You Can Search For Infringing Content Via Search Engines Doesn't Mean Many People Do”

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out_of_the_blue says:

Re: Unlike "S. T. Stone", I have to think about what to write.

>> OOTB comment in 3?2?

Rather than a one-liner embiggening my effect. — MAN, when are you kids going to QUIT giving me advance notice? — It’s embarrassing to me, if not to you to whom it SHOULD be!

The most influential, the most commented-at, the most mocked! And the only commenter honored in SONG!

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

eh, that people don’t search for ‘free xxxxx’ just means that currently the sites offering free xxxxx show up when I search for just xxxxx so they don’t need to qualify it yet. It’s not that people aren’t looking for free 🙂

If they succeed in getting free sites demoted down the rankings, then people will start explicitly search for free.

of course, this also means that if the music/movie industry provided a good, efficient, user-friendly and economically sane service of their own, they’d push the free sites down themselves.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The thing is that the vast majority of the time, if you search for a song, movie, whatever without including “free”, the pirate sites don’t even appear in the first couple of pages, let alone at the top of the list.

This is why the search terms the legacy industries are using are a kind of lying: they’re specifically looking for pirate sites to force pirate sites to the top of the search results in order to support a false argument.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And real people don’t use those search times because most of the sites that end up on top when you search free download X are crap malware sites that just send you through a torrent* of shady third party ads and try to give you viruses. No real “legitimate” pirate site is going to SOE for illegal terms.

*pun intended

out_of_the_blue says:

"Rather the top searches were... for the site itself."

“even a single shred of evidence that search engines actually lead to greater infringement.” — YES, it’s right above your challenge, where you wrote what I put in this title. That’s certainly a “shred”, but I’m sure fanboys will go yapping about semantics.

Mike Masnick on Techdirt: “its typical approach to these things: take something totally out of context, put some hysterical and inaccurate phrasing around it, dump an attention-grabbing headline on it and send it off to the press.”

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: "Rather the top searches were... for the site itself."

YES, it’s right above your challenge, where you wrote what I put in this title. That’s certainly a “shred”,…

Please explain your rationale (if you can) of how this is any sort (even a shred) of “evidence that search engines actually lead to greater infringement.”

Do you really think there’s any difference to the overall quantity of infringement because “pirate bay” was typed into a search box for convenience instead of typing “thepiratebay.sx” into the address bar?

Any intelligent person can see that’s just plain silly, Blue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Rather the top searches were... for the site itself."

I wish I knew where to find free stuff on the internet but the internet is so big. I know, Google will help me. I’ll just type in random phrases that sound related to pirates until something comes up. Shantytown? No. Showmethebooty? Oh that’s interesting but not piracy, bookmark but no. Piratecove? No. Pirateship? No. Pirate…bay? OH LOOK I FOUND ONE YAY! A PIRATE I WAS MEANT TO BE TRIM THE SAILS AND ROAM THE SEA!

– How copyright infringement works in ootb’s mind.

Lord Binky says:

You use the search engine to find the site you want to go to or find discussion about the site you are looking for, not the specific download of interest. Doing it the other way is a sign of low proficiency with the internet. If I want a ubuntu .iso torrent I don’t google ‘ubuntu .iso torrent free’. I google ubuntu and maybe throw in the word download so I get Ubuntu’s main website and maybe save myself a couple of clicks by having google pull up Ubuntu’s download page. No way in hell am I going to be clicking some random download site. That is still applicable to acquisition of shadier data, reputation of the source and middle man matters.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

“we used to be making a lot more money, they’re making a lot of money now — therefore, they must have taken “our” money.”

I think it’s actually worse. I think it’s: “We used to be making a lot more money, they’re making a lot of money now — therefore, we must have their money.

As mentioned before, the copyright industry does not work in a free and open market. They don’t care about competing or getting customers. They exist solely because the law says particular people have to pay. Because Google has money, the copyright industry has decided it should pay.

Think about it from the copyright industry’s perspective. They’re old men. They don’t really understand the internet. And as far as they’re concerned, Google is the internet. If that’s true, well, make ’em pay, god damnit!

Anonymous Coward says:

Rather the top searches were… for the site itself. That is, lots of Google traffic to The Pirate Bay is based on people doing a search for “pirate bay.”

I remember reading an article a few years ago discussing that one of the most popular searches on Google was the term Facebook, indicating that people were going to Google and then searching for Facebook in order to visit that site. I remember thinking that the most likely cause instead was people just punching “Facebook” into their address bar without the “.com.” When I do that my browser automatically executes a Google search. I’d be willing to bet that the same thing is happening in instances of people searching for “piratebay.” They’re not searching for that site, they’re too lazy to type out the name or to use the browser history drop down (or to use keyboard shortcuts).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually, it’s probably either that:

a) people are too lazy/stupid to remember whether TPB is currently a .com/.net/.org/.se/etc. and so just let Google remind them or

b) people actually still haven’t worked out how to use a web browser and think they need to search Google in order to get to a website, not realising they can actually type the address directly (and, yes, I’ve seen far too many people who do this).

Anonymous Coward says:

RIAA goes after Google because Google has money.

It’s a lot less productive/profitable/newsworthy to litigate against 12 year old Jimmy for downloading some top 40 albums.

P.S. Who bothers to pirate music anymore? Maybe in the 1990’s, but today I can listen to anything I want at will, for free, through legitimate channels.
Youtube alone would put a serious dent in the money the RIAA was used to.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Oh, it’s definitely still newsworthy when they do that. Which is presumably why they’ve been doing it less and/or claiming to target account holders rather than a specific individual – it backfired on them far too many times.

“today I can listen to anything I want at will, for free, through legitimate channels.”

Bingo. People use whatever services that allow them easier access, and when legal channels are easier (as they are now), they use those rather than pirate sources. Making deals with YouTube, Spotify, etc. has put far more of a dent in piracy than any “enforcement” ever could.

Of course, they’re still whining that these don’t get them CD money (as they never could, for obvious reasons) but they’ll never be happy as the world is not in 1996 any more and they’ve failed to adapt.

Anonymous Coward says:

There are pirate sites and then there are pirate sites. If you are interested in that, you don’t need a search engine to find the site. You already know it and have it book marked most likely. No search engine involved in that process.

Lots of sites are public, mainly because they need a continual flow of new members and that means they allow the Google spider in to search the site and the offers. Once that is done, it is searchable on the net by title of work.

But many are private and concerned about security. Those don’t allow Google spider in. No results turn up in major search engines from their sites. No de-linking will effect this site over what items are offered. DMCA over links has absolutely no results what ever with the content.

It’s another failed tactic aimed at big search engines with hopes to drive eye popping numbers of DMCA requests in an effort later to get congress to make another law they’ll be happy to pay for.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Your assumption is completely wrong.

Google wants to make something that works properly. They would have to lie to not return sites you are searching when they are there.

I’m also not sure what the heck you are talking about with the phonebook… It will will list your number if it’s registered (unless you ask for it to be unlisted), whether you are a criminal or not.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:


You have a citation that they don’t?

AFAIK phone books are based on the phone companies’ databases of customers. I highly doubt that the phone book publishers spend resources to verify that everyone listed is a law abiding citizen.

Now the Yellow Pages, which are basically ads payed for by those listed, might be a bit different. But that’s not what you said nor is it a valid comparison to a search engine.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Of course they list your phone book – you’re guilty of about a hundred crimes today alone. What are they? I don’t know. Do you know? There’s tens of thousands of laws on the books in the US. Can you honestly state you have broken NONE of them? Do you honestly want the fucking PHONE COMPANY of all people to be conducting investigations of all people in the phone book to make sure that only law abiding citizens are put in there? (That’s what you’re saying should happen, it’s a little thing called logic, try it sometime).

No, you’re just an idiotic retard, with no skills in logic, OOTB. As you’re paid to do.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The only retard is yourself; he wasn’t speaking of individual people, Einstein. He said “entities”, as in companies that are known to primarily engage in law breaking.

Please show me where there is any requirement or law to remove a “company that known to primarily engage in law breaking” from the phone book or even the Yellow Pages?

It stands to reason that a company that is found guilty of breaking the law will get delisted from both, but not because of any requirement to do so. It’s usually because they have gone out of business and no longer are paying the phone bill or the ad fees.

And as mentioned above, I don’t recall any phone book publisher ever having been blamed for the actions of those listed in their publications. If you have some examples of this from any point in history, please share it with the rest of the class.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

So your position is 0 law breaking companies are listed in phone books before they are convicted of breaking any laws. Furthermore your position is that if a company in the phone book is found to be breaking the law the phone book maker is liable. Both are ludicrous on their face, of course the phone book lists law breakers and of course the phone book maker isn’t liable when it happens.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Insular little opinions 'bout Google HERE, but not elsewhere!

This. I read The Register because I find it snarkily entertaining, but there are two things I don’t rely on it for: actual information, or to gauge what the IT community is thinking.

But I think it’s kindof funny comparing the comments there with the comments here. There’s a really huge, smack-you-in-the-face difference: the comments there tend be completely devoid of actual thoughtfulness, but here you can find intelligent commentary sandwiched between the trolls and troll-baiters.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Insular little opinions 'bout Google HERE, but not elsewhere!

The Register used to be good, but I find their style increasingly grating. Maybe my sense of humour has changed, maybe I was just fed up of seeing Orlowski’s inaccurate and deliberately inflammatory articles (with commenting always disabled to prevent corrections, of course!). I no longer read it, but even when I was there its biases were clear and usually not completely in line with people I know in the field.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Insular little opinions 'bout Google HERE, but not elsewhere!

“Techdirt is not representative of even nerd opinion.”

Citation needed that The Register is representative of anything other than The Register. Here in reality, no single source is representative of anybody, be that Slashdot, Reddit, Fox News, BBC or The Guardian. Only a moron would pick a single site and pretend that represents everybody equally, intelligent people recognise that every source has a bias. You’re at least admitting that you’re not willing to listen to differing opinions, only whatever matches your own assumptions.

Maybe that’s why you’re so obsessed with Mike and this site. You’re not used to reading honest, thoughtful, measured opinions that don’t match the fantasy strawman you’ve created. You can’t handle the fact that more than one valid opinion exists, and you’re incapable of articulating why yours is “correct”. So you scream and whine and lie.

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