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MPAA: Google Gets a Failing Grade for Anti-Piracy Efforts (Updated)

New study shows Google’s fine-tuning of search results has had no effect

The MPAA delivered Google a failing grade on Wednesday on the company’s year-old effort to lower the prominence of search results featuring pirated content of movies and TV.

Unveiling a new study of internet searches conducted before and after Google acted a year ago to fine-tune its search-engine algorithm, Motion Picture Association of America Chairman Chris Dodd said that there is no evidence that the tuning had any effect.

At a Capitol Hill news conference, Dodd said search engines — including Google’s — still prominently feature sites with pirated movies and TV shows, even in instances when searchers haven’t asked for infringing sites.

Also read: MPAA, Internet Giants Take Piracy Battle to U.S. Patent Office

He called on Google and other search engines to do far more to eliminate — or at least lower — the rankings for sites with infringing content.

“Search engines have a responsibility as a discovery tool” to not point to infringing content,” Dodd said.

The MPAA study used information on searches involving TV and movies. It looked both at searches featuring titles of movies and programs as well as more generic searches using a keyword that might be in a movie or TV show title.

Also read: MPAA Sounds Piracy Alert for Kim Dotcom’s New File-Sharing Site

The study looked only at results featuring complete movies and shows, not at sites offering excerpts or clips.

According to the study, 20 percent of the instances in which consumers accessed pirated content came as a result of consumers having that content listed on search engines. It said the Google had 82 percent of the search queries led to infringing content.

Dodd said consumers who showed no intention of accessing pirated content were often led to the content by search engines.

But he made clear that despite the Capitol Hill location, the MPAA is not looking for either legislation or litigation and specifically insisted that it was not trying to rekindle a battle with tech companies.

“This is not an attempt to revive the battle between technology and content. Not at all,” he said.

“The study reaffirms the significant role that search engines plays,” Dodd said. Adding that fighting infringing content has to be a “collaborative” process, and search engines have to play an active role.

Several congressmen joined Dodd in urging action.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the study demonstrated the need for all players in the internet ecosystem to do more.

Rep. Marcia Blackburn, R-Tenn., said that internet browsing companies need to do more. “Do they want to be the internet highway or the getaway car,” she said. “We think it is important to global competitiveness, economic success and private property right” that they do more.

While Google itself declined comment, the technology industry reacted angrily to MPAA’s report.

“The content industry persists in its fixation on blaming the Internet and technology for its problems,” said Michael Beckerman, president-CEO of the Internet Association in a statement. “In reality, the Internet is empowering content creators and consumers to access more lawful content than ever before.  The fact remains that we have a law — the DMCA — to deal with removing infringing content, and it works very well.

“MPAA fought the VCR years ago and that technology ended up being a boon to their industry. We’ll see the same story repeat with the Internet,” he added, saying the internet provides “a massive opportunity” for creators to reach consumers and build their audience.

Michael Petricone, the Consumer Electronics Association’s senior vice president, government and regulatory affairs said the study represents another attempt by Hollywood to blame technology for its problems.

“This is a Hollywood formula as familiar as a rom-com: Blame the technology instead of providing your customers with the experiences and products they want … Search engines don’t ‘introduce’ consumers to infringing content — most consumers simply want legal, conveniently accessed digital content at a reasonable price. Indeed, studies show that unauthorized downloading decreases as legal alternatives proliferate.

“Commercial piracy is wrong and illegal. Violators should be prosecuted under existing laws. But the answer is not restrictions on search engines or the ability of Internet users to access information,” he said.

Matthew Schreuers, VP-law and policy for Computer and Communications Industry Association, told TheWrap that the movie industry is trying to come up with expensive technical solutions to a simple problem — the industry’s failure to make available content that consumers want.

“The best defense is a good offense in the marketplace. Instead of SOPA-like initiative, you have to get the content available in the places consumers are asking for it,” he said.

“I do not doubt there are a number of sites that have access to content, but it is not the content consumers are necessarily looking for,” he added.