MPAA & RIAA Return To Blaming Google For Their Own Inability To Innovate

from the not-this-again dept

Remember how back after SOPA ended, the MPAA’s Chris Dodd kept going on and on about how he was going to take a more conciliatory and partnership-based approach to the tech industry (which he mistakenly seems to believe is defined by “Google”)? Apparently that’s out the window. Today both the MPAA and the RIAA have launched a one-two punch on Google, which is clearly designed to do one thing: get Google to start censoring its search results so that it no longer returns what people are looking for, but instead returns what the MPAA and RIAA think should be the right search results. The fundamental problem, of course, is that the MPAA and RIAA both seem to think that Google is supposed to deliver the answers they want the public to see, when everyone else recognizes Google’s role is to return the results its users are searching for.

The “one-two punch” consists of the MPAA releasing a study that blames Google for piracy, followed by the RIAA testifying before Congress that everyone else is bending over backwards to help stop piracy, but Google is failing to do enough. Let’s cover these in two separate posts. This one will focus on the MPAA’s joke of a study which does everything it can to pin the blame for piracy on Google, but fails pretty spectacularly as you dig into the details. Amusingly, even the MPAA’s own “talking points” on the study (which a friendly bird in Congress passed along) more or less admit that the study is incredibly weak.

The key number, which the MPAA does its best to bury is that search engines “influenced” only 20% of the times when consumers accessed infringing content. This is only slightly higher than the results of our own study, and it shows that the impact of search on infringement is fairly minimal. Of course, rather than focus on that, the MPAA trumpets a different number: claiming that “74% of consumers surveyed cited using a search engine as a discovery or navigation tool in their initial viewing sessions on sites with infringing content.”

Note the careful choice of words: “discovery or navigation tool.” This fits with our own findings (linked above), which found that a very large percentage of the traffic to sites commonly associated with infringement are people simply using Google instead of the address bar. That is, when we looked at the data, here were the top eight search terms that sent traffic from Google to The Pirate Bay:

  1. pirate bay
  2. the pirate bay
  3. piratebay
  4. thepiratebay
  5. tpb
  6. piratebay.org
  7. pirates bay
  8. thepiratebay.org

Those are unlikely to be people really “searching” for TPB. Rather, it’s just the lazy way of using Google as a “navigation” tool. If that failed, it’s highly likely that most of those people would simply try again by using the actual URL. In fact, studies have shown that tons of people use searches as a navigation tool, rather than as a discovery tool. So, it seems unlikely that forcing, say, Google to return something other than TPB when people search on “pirate bay” is going to prevent infringement. It just leads people to go directly to TPB, rather than using the “short cut” of typing something faster.

Also, the 74% number came from a “survey,” and we know how reliable those are, or how they can be heavily influenced by the wording of the question. Hard to take that number as anything particularly enlightening even though it’s the one the MPAA is so focused on.

In the talking points the MPAA is passing around, it claims “Search engines bear a huge responsibility for introducing people to infringing content.” But that’s ridiculous. People know there’s infringing content out there. They’re not magically discovering it because of search engines. And then there’s this:

Take Google’s algorithm change as an example — they held this up last summer as a step that would have meaningful impact and unfortunately we see in the data here that it hasn’t.

Um, duh? That, of course, cuts against what the MPAA is arguing elsewhere in this very same release: that Google can have a meaningful impact. Except now they’re admitting that it hasn’t had an impact even when it did exactly what the MPAA asked it to do. The point should be clear to pretty much everyone: changing the search algo to favor Hollywood’s preferred sites doesn’t stop infringement, because people who want to infringe will find a way to do so. It’s not that the search engine magically turns people into infringers. The MPAA, not having gotten the results it wants, just wants to do more algo changing, not recognizing that the end result is going to be the same. There’s a word that describes doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Update: Matt Schruers digs deeper into the report and finds out that, indeed, 37% of the “searches” are “navigational” meaning it was just someone typing in the name of the site they wanted rather than doing a search. It also points out that the methodology is that if someone accesses infringing content within 20 minutes of doing a search, that access is blamed on the search. Dodgy methodology at best.

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 [1], [2] 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 us

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Companies: google, mpaa, riaa

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Comments on “MPAA & RIAA Return To Blaming Google For Their Own Inability To Innovate”

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51 Comments
silverscarcat (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They should blame the oil and gas companies for having gasoline (or petro) so damn high that people can’t afford to buy their products.

Not to mention all the car companies that dismantled public transportation in the U.S.

Blame them first, if not for them, we’d have cheap, affordable transportation around the U.S. and could afford to go to the movies more often.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

AHAHAHAHAHA

I honestly LOVE IT every time a British person complains about public transport. Because where I live it’s more expensive, a lot slower, and always alate. A train trip that should take about 3 hours now takes 8. If it’s not too hot.

We don’t even have bus schedules, or those tickers that say “time ’til next bus”. Until a couple of years ago not even the metro had those. Now only about half the stations do. Stations that have been 70% completed 24 years ago opened last year. And this is in the capital city.

I’ve been to the UK. I wish he had your public transport.

out_of_the_blue says:

Plain and simple for ya, Pirate Mike: Google is facilitating crime.

In its default state, admittedly. But society doesn’t work in a default state of nature, it must be policed for the common good. MPAA & RIAA quite reasonably (though self-serving) want it to protect their incomes, rather than having those diverted to grifters like Kim Dotcom of Megaupload/Mega, whom you defend — while saying that you support copyright. And I agree that Google has some duty to police itself when manifestly used to facilitate crimes of both piracy and grifting.


Remember pirates: Google can rat you out to RIAA and MPAA!

S. T. Stone says:

Re: Plain and simple for ya, Pirate Mike: Google is facilitating crime.

Google is facilitating crime.

Show me where Google explictly induces any given user to commit an act of copyright infringement.

We don?t hold AT&T liable when people use phones to commit crimes. We don?t hold Toyota liable when people use cars to commit crimes. Why should we hold Google liable when people use its 100% legal services to commit a crime?

Blame the users, not the technology.

Kim Dotcom of Megaupload/Mega, whom you defend

Correct me if I get this wrong, but hasn?t Techdirt only defended Dotcom?s right to due process? I?ve never seen anyone here defend Dotcom?s general business model/strategy, and as much as I loathe the arcane dark arts known as copyright law, even I wouldn?t defend that whackjob?s business model.

Then again, you do hate to see due process enforced, so?

Google has some duty to police itself when manifestly used to facilitate crimes of both piracy and grifting

How do you expect Google to ?police? search engine results, YouTube uploads, et al when, as others (and myself) have pointed out before, it has no direct and exact knowledge of what links/uploads/etc. infringe upon someone?s copyright? How do you expect Google to pay for the expenses necessary to police every last minute of video uploads to YouTube or every last link that passes through its search engine or every encrypted message that flows through Gmail? (Okay in fairness the NSA has that last one covered already.)

Google relies on the copyright holders to come to them because the system should work that way. Until and unless you or someone else can come up with a foolproof, uncrackable, 100% reliable scheme to mark, identify, and prevent the unauthorized sharing of copyrighted content, stick with using the DMCA and get over yourself.

silverscarcat (profile) says:

Re: Re: Plain and simple for ya, Pirate Mike: Google is facilitating crime.

Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with Dotcom’s business model of being a file storage locker. The way he had it set up was pretty good.

No one defends a storage locker in California if it’s holding nuclear waste, but you wouldn’t want every storage locker removed because of it. (Well, you might in this case)

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Plain and simple for ya, Pirate Mike: Google is facilitating crime.

You’re really wasting your time pointing out blue’s idiocy. Better to just call him an idiot and move on, or even better – ignore him all together.

His tune will never change: Google is evil, MAFIAA is god, and TechDirt isn’t worth reading, even though he reads it every day and has for years.

His only defense is he thinks he’s better than all of us.

Ruben says:

Re: Plain and simple for ya, Pirate Mike: Google is facilitating crime.

Why are they going after google, then? Why not go after the actual pirate sites?

I guess that makes too much sense to actually consider.

If you search google for Pirate Bay, and you get Pirate Bay as the result, seems like it’s working exactly as it should.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Plain and simple for ya, Pirate Mike: Google is facilitating crime.

In most countries? Really? I think some evidence is required for that.

Regardless, even if TBP was illegal in all countries, it’s a mistake on every level to falsify search results because of that. Instead, go after the entity that is actually (hypothetically) illegal: the pirate bay.

Why are you so keen on punishing legal businesses for the (hypothetical) illegal acts of other, unrelated businesses?

Violynne (profile) says:

*Goes to Google.com

*Enters latest movie title, now longer in theaters but available on bluray.

*Sees list upon list of sites, not a single one of them legitimate.

*Gets fed up. Goes to wife’s cable-connected TV. Sees title. Keels over at $9.99 “rental” fee which lasts 24 hours.

Yeah, Chris, if you’re reading this: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG, YOU IDIOTIC MONKEY!

Transmitte (profile) says:

So Google is turning people into pirates by using them as a navigation tool?

So by their reasoning(highly insufficient as it is), any item used in an improper or “not designed for” use is the fault of the producer of said item?

Tell you what MPAA and RIAA, you keep throwing five year old temper tantrums like you have been and we as a discerning public will eventually deal with you accordingly.

saulgoode (profile) says:

Re: Lost in submission:

For me the lie in this statistic is that not all visits to “sites with infringing content” are for the purpose of accessing that content. By the MPAA’s own numbers, 30% of The Pirate Bay’s torrents point to non-infringing works; and TPB is the self-proclaimed poster child of online piracy. Visitors might also be interested in a particular movie’s popularity (even Netflix does this), or in reading reviews, or engaging in academic research on internet usage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

A more honest interpretation is that MPAA wants search engines to act like tobacco companies: If you illegalize smoking in public, recruitment will become impossible.

It is a very long term strategy where the next generation hopefully will not come into contact with the bad things. Unfortunately it doesn’t take mere years to see such an effect. It is more like 2-3 decades needed, if it will ever cause an improvement when so many workarounds exist!

Slamming only Google is very crude. Sure, it is the primary search engine on the net. However, there are other ways to learn about infringement networks. Unless they start squashing communication with mention of illegal content – which likely will take breaking encryption in the future btw. – it is pretty near impossible to stop what I believe is the primary recruitment methods.

DB (profile) says:

If you read carefully, they are blaming Google for not giving their distributors free advertising. Actually they want better than free advertising — they want Google to present authorized retailers as an “organic” search result, something you can’t pay Google to do.

I’m reminded of the reason IBM put so much money into building the world’s most powerful supercomputer: you can’t buy advertising ‘above the fold’ of the New York Times. If you could, it would cost millions. Getting a headline listing that isn’t obviously advertising is worth $$$$$.
That’s what they want, at not cost.

Anonymous Coward says:

no one in their right mind would search for TPB. they would already have the site in their favorites list! if there were no search engines, how would anyone find anything on the internet? does the entertainment industries think that nothing other than illegal items are searched for? everyone knows exactly what needs to be done, but POLITICIANS HAVEN’T GOT THE GUTS TO DO IT! GET THE INDUSTRIES TO SHAPE UP OR SHIP OUT WOULD DO THE ONLY THINGS THAT ARE NEEDED! while politicians keep doing as much as they can to keep what they should do from being done, there will never be any sensible solution!
wake up Congress for God’s sake! stop the entertainment industries from continuously delaying progress. if you dont, the Internet will cease to be! it’s getting closer to that every time you do something else to ‘help’ them. and remember, once it’s gone, it’s gone!!

Abara says:

Url searching

With firefox when I type something that doesn’t link to a direct sitepage I get automatically redirected to the google search. If I type ” thepiratebay ” in the url bar i find myself on thepiratebay.com . But if i put a space between one of the terms like the pirate bay I’m in google search so their “research” could be even less accurate than what you said.

Sammy Waid says:

Seriously, enough is enough. It’s time for Google to grow another pair and start standing up to these people. They need to start their own coalition of like-minded businesses and start doing like the MPAA does: buying off politicians to see things their way. Haven’t they learned yet that there is no appeasing these people, that the more you capitulate to them the more demands they will make? Just ask Rapidshare how well that’s worked out for them.

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