IFPI’s 2012 Digital Music Report offers many insightful observations about today’s music world, most of which give us further reasons to be bullish about the industry’s future. But we were struck by one particularly sober observation. Page 24 of the report looks at the important role search engines such as Google play in connecting consumers with music. Unfortunately, all too often the top search results provided by Google and others link to sites offering unauthorized music. In fact, according to research done in the UK, 23 percent of consumers regularly download music illegally using Google as their means to find the content (Harris Interactive, September 2010). Further research in New Zealand highlights that 54 percent of users of unauthorized downloads said they found the music through a search engine (Ipsos MediaCT, October 2011).
Instead of leaving it at that, IFPI did some research of their own and found that searches for the top five artists in November 2011’s Billboard Top 100 chart plus the term “mp3” (the dominant file format for digital music) found the vast majority of search results on the first page – on average over 70 percent – were illegal, with Google being the biggest culprit.
Artist infringing results from search for artist name and ‘MP3’
Google Yahoo! Bing
Adele 77% 62% 70%
Rihanna 86% 71% 65%
Maroon 5 82% 67% 75%
LMFAO 82% 81% 80%
Foster The People 55% 57% 60%
Contrast these results with data from a recent survey in the UK conducted by BPI and IPSOS that found that the vast majority (79%) of respondents stated that they rely on search engines to identify trusted websites at the top of search results, and 84% of respondents agreed that search engines should direct users to legal sites rather than illegal ones.
As we continue the discussion in the U.S. on how best to address foreign rogue sites, all this places a profound emphasis on the need for greater responsibility of search engines like Google in playing a more proactive role to address online piracy by de-prioritizing illicit sites. After all, according to a joint survey by Jupiter Research and marketing firm iProspect, 62 percent of users never navigate away from the first page of search results, which puts “increased importance of being found in the first top results.”
Given its dominance in the search market, it should be unacceptable that Google’s algorithm prioritizes illegal sites – those which we’ve flagged for Google via thousands of notices – before legal ones, and for them to brazenly refuse to do anything about it. Instead, they need to come to the table to work with content owners to find meaningful ways to prevent this unlawful activity that costs the creative community thousands of jobs and exposes consumers to harmful viruses and spyware. Google’s bandwidth is there, its will needs to keep up.