MPAA hits Google as ‘gateway’ to piracy

Google and other search engines need to do more to stop online piracy, lawmakers and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said on Wednesday.

Search engines are “a major gateway” for users, leading them to infringing content even when they’re not looking for it, MPAA Chairman and former Sen. Chris Dodd said, citing an MPAA study that was released Wednesday.

According to the study, 58 percent of searches that led to sites with pirated content “contained generic or title-specific keywords only, indicating that consumers who were not even seeking infringing content in the first place were directed” to the pirate sites.

Lawmakers said Google’s decision last year to demote search results on sites that have received takedown notices for copyright infringement is a step in the right direction. Dodd said he would support Google tweaking its algorithm to further demote sites with pirated content.

The MPAA study proves that “search engines do play a critical role in leading consumers to infringing” content online, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said. “They also can play a critical role in reducing this illegal activity.”

The current online piracy ecosystem “requires everybody step up,” Dodd said, including creators, who are making their copyrighted content available online more and more.

“Content needs technology,” but “the technology community clearly needs content,” Dodd said.

Dodd said voluntary agreements, rather than regulation, is the way to tackle the online piracy problem.

“You can litigate and legislate forever on this matter, but I like the idea of sitting down and figuring this stuff out.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said voluntary anti-piracy agreements with payment processors and Internet service providers have had a positive impact.

But Schiff was less eager to praise voluntary agreements with online advertising networks, which are “frequently a source of profits for pirates” online. “Though the picture with the ad networks is somewhat less positive, we have seen progress.”

“Search engines aren’t there yet when it comes to working successfully against infringing content,” Schiff said.

Schiff joined others at the MPAA event in urging Google to take the lead in a broader crackdown on piracy.

“Where Google goes, the rest of the search engines are likely to follow.” 

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on the MPPA study, other than pointing to a recent company report on online piracy, which describes its algorithm change last year.

Michael Beckerman, CEO of the Internet Association, which represents tech companies, said the entertainment industry is seeking a scapegoat.

"The content industry persists in its fixation on blaming the Internet and technology for its problems," Beckerman said. "In reality, the Internet is empowering content creators and consumers to access more lawful content than ever before.”

But Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Google and other search engines must decide whose side they’re on: content creators or pirates.

“Do they want to be the digital highways for legitimate information … or do they want to be the getaway car for stolen content?” she said.

— This story was updated at 3:02 p.m.