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Google Your Favorite Artist + 'MP3' And What Do You Get?

March 20, 2012

IFPI’s Digital Music Report 2012 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 examines 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 England, 23% 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% of users who illegally downloaded music said they found the unauthorized music through a search engine (Ipsos MediaCT, October 2011).

Instead of leaving it at that, IFPI conducted 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% – 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%

Source: IFPI

Contrast these with results from a different survey in the UK recently 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 here on how best to address 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 digital copyright theft by de-prioritizing illicit sites. After all, according to a joint survey by Jupiter Research and marketing firm iProspect, 62% 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 search results prioritize illegal sites – those which we’ve flagged for Google via multiple notices covering hundreds of thousands of infringements – before legal ones, and for them to brazenly refuse to do anything about it. Search engines should come to the table and work with content owners to find meaningful ways to discourage this unlawful activity that costs the creative community thousands of jobs and exposes consumers to harmful viruses and spyware. 

Cara Duckworth Weiblinger
Vice President, Communications