Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 8.19.57 PMI don’t need a study to prove that search engines are an integral force in fueling online piracy, but since the piracy debate is awash in dueling studies I’ll happily chime in on the subject again.

Last week Google published a report–a characteristically self-congratulatory piece of fluff–declaring themselves to be a leader  in the fight against piracy and that took great pains to deny the significance of “search” in maintaining the online pirate economy.  The report repeated claims made in a recent study (published by a consortium of tech giants including Google) that it’s poor SEO techniques that are the problem–not search engines.

Today, the MPAA came riding to the rescue with its own study, Understanding the Role of Search in Online Piracy,” that sticks a pin in Google’s hot air balloon.  Of course the MPAA is one of the anti-copyright lobby’s favorite whipping boys, because, after all, they represent big, bad Hollywood–an industry that employs more than three hundred thousand people in the U.S.  (according to 2012 federal labor statistics).

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May 2012 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
NAICS 512000 – Motion Picture and Sound Recording Industries

Why do I believe the MPAA study more accurately reflects reality? Because it jibes with everything I’ve discovered while digging through the world of online piracy (and profits) these past three years; and although I’ve never worked for a major studio, my interests as an independent filmmaker dovetail with those who do.

Whether grips, gaffers, makeup artists, script supervisors or caterers–we all have a shared interest in protecting our livelihoods so I’m thankful that the MPAA commissioned and released this study.  The results are relevant for all content creators whose livelihoods are threatened by rampant online theft.

The MPAA study methodically examined how consumers, intentionally or not, ended up on pirates sites.  It found that between 2010 and 2012 “approximately 20% of all visits to infringing content were influenced by a search query.”  As wrote in an earlier blog post criticizing the Google funded study, its search engine should be considered a “gateway” to pirated content online.  The MPAA study affirms this:

“Search is an important resource for consumers when they seek new content online, especially for the first time. 74% of consumers surveyed cited using a search engine as either a discovery or navigational tool in their initial viewing sessions on domains with infringing content.”

Even more troubling was the finding that many people who use search aren’t actually looking for pirated content, but by using typical  generic search queries to look for content they often end up on pirate sites.

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Ironically, the only good thing about the fact Google search makes it easy to find pirate websites is that content creators (like me) can use it to track down pirated copies of their own work so they can send those beloved DMCA notices.

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At any rate, I’m sure there will be those who disparage these findings, but in my view, these results mirror my reality.  I recommend reading the full report, including the methodology if you’re so inclined, and drawing your own conclusions.  You can read the full version here.

While you have your reading glasses on you should take a look at another very comprehensive report (commissioned by NBCUniversal) released yesterday titled, “Sizing the Piracy Universe.   This study found, among other things that, “Users of piracy ecosystems, the number of internet users who regularly obtain infringing content, and the amount of bandwidth consumed by infringing uses of content all increased significantly between 2010 and 2013.”

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There’s an executive summary available if you don’t have the patience for in-depth analysis, but either way, the reality is that online piracy continues to be a growing problem.

Statistical analysis is helpful in putting the issue into context for policy makers in Washington and beyond who will debate what, if any, action to take.  However, as content creators worldwide hope for progress in the fight against piracy, the reality detailed by these studies is a sobering one.