The French get it wrong again: Removing piracy from Google doesn’t do anything

It may be time for film studios to support the pirates.
It may be time for film studios to support the pirates.
Image: Reuters/Scanpix/Fredrik Persson
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Recently, the High Court of Paris ruled against Google, ordering the internet behemoth to remove from its search results a number of sites alleged to habitually infringe on French copyrights. The suit began in 2011 and was brought by an assortment of film organizations representing major studios, distributors, editors and producers.

The decision (link in French) requires, not only Google, but also Bing, Yahoo, and French search engine Orange to delist 16 file-sharing sites that offer pirated films, including, Allostreaming, Fifostream and Allomovies. But, groups that want to prevent the illegal sharing of movies and TV shows would be better off pursuing nearly any alternative to quelling search results.

The simple fact is that only a fraction of traffic to file-sharing, torrent, and content-pirating sites has ended up there from a search engine. A report this year from Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) (pdf) pegged the percentage of search engine traffic referrals to infringing sites at just 15%, and as of August a full 30% of searches leading to popular file-sharing site The Pirate Bay, included the full site name in the query. “This,” according to the CCIA, “suggests that users are quite aware of their intended destination before they arrive at a search engine, and that any facilitation was minimal.”

Levels of internet piracy continue to rise globally, but it’s not at all clear that pirating content doesn’t just provide valuable exposure for entertainment content.

For instance, the best-selling DVD release last month was Warner Bros. latest Superman film, “Man of Steel.” Torrent queries for the film first show up on Google trends in August 2011, when principal photography began. Such queries peaked in June 2013, when the film was released in theaters. But upon its release on DVD last month, the queries dropped to just 37% of their peak. This could be because, having legal recourse, fans bought the DVD, a double-disc, that contained content that was unavailable in early pirated versions.

For another example, look to Home Box Office’s popular “Game of Thrones” (GoT) television show. It offers even more evidence for the that pirating doesn’t significantly impact legitimate content sales. This year, GoT was at once both a top-selling DVD Blu-Ray disc and the second most pirated show. A producer of the show went so far as to say that being widely pirated is “better than an Emmy” award, and Vince Gilligan, the creator “Breaking Bad,” which has the most illegally-downloaded single episode, has said that being pirated helped his show find new viewers.

Perhaps the best bet for content providers with regard to copyright violators is: if you can’t beat them, leverage them to increase your audience. At least there’s some evidence that can be done.