Researchers Argue That Unavailability, Not Search Engines, Lead To Piracy


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Every few months, the MPAA comes out of the woodwork to claim Google's search results encourage piracy. According to their logic, the prevalence of illegal sources on Google's front page indicates that something is wrong. Now a group of researchers are pushing back against the logic.

The Hill reports that George Mason University's Mercatus Center has recently launched a Web site called The Web site takes the top 10 most pirated movies of the week and mashes it up with data from CanIStreamIt.It. The result is a graph detailing when a movie is available online for legal purchase, rental or stream.

As you might expect, the top 10 most pirated movies of the week are not available on any legal streaming services. In fact, not even all of them are available for digital rental or purchase. The researchers behind the project say that's the real problem - not search engines.

“When movies are unavailable, illegal sources may be the most relevant search results," Jerry Brito, director of the Mercatus Center’s Technology Policy Program, said. "Despite what the content industry might like to see, search engines are just telling it like it is."

The findings come over a year after the entertainment industry successfully convinced Google to alter its search algorithm to take piracy into account. As you may recall, Google introduced a ranking algorithm change in April 2012 that would demote sites based upon the number of takedown requests Google receives for that site. The change was controversial, but it remains in effect.

Since then, the entertainment industry and governments have doubled down their efforts to partially pin the blame of piracy rates on search engines. Back in November of last year, seven months after the algorithm change went into effect, the UK government said that Google still wasn't doing enough to stop piracy. It pointed out that searches like "Maroon 5 free MP3" returned links to sites that offered pirated music.

While the evidence may seem damning, it completely ignores that piracy rates have been plummeting thanks to the likes of Spotify and Pandora. As it turns out, giving people what they want in a convenient method at a good price leads to people paying for that service.

So, let's apply the same logic to movies. In an interview with Tweakers, Netflix CEO Reed Hasting said that the arrival of Netflix in Canada reduced local piracy rates by 50 percent. There's no comparable number for U.S. piracy rates, but it's probably has reached a similar rate thanks to Netflix.

Of course, you can only take piracy rates for TV shows and movies that are available on Netflix into account. For the past three weeks, the top 10 most pirated movies haven't been on Netflix or any other legal streaming service. The big movie studios would tell you that it's all about making the most money on a product, and how it doesn't make sense for a movie to hit Netflix at the same time as it hits digital marketplaces. The music industry has already blown holes in that theory as its embrace of Spotify has led to the industry making its first profit in over 10 years.

What does all of this tell the movie industry? It tells the industry that it should stop looking for the splinter in Google's eye while ignoring the plank in its own. The industry must embrace digital revenue models that aren't tied to crappy services like Utraviolet that limit what a person can do with their movies. It needs to be instant, seamless and easy - just like what Spotify is to music. Netflix is undoubtedly waiting with open arms to become the Spotify of movies, and it's just waiting for the film industry to finally pull its head out of its ass.

[Image: Nintendo/YouTube]