Do Search Engines Influence Media Piracy? Evidence from a Randomized Study

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Many papers in the literature have analyzed the role search rank plays in influencing user choices for the same product offered through different links. However, the literature has not analyzed whether search position can cause users to change their consumption between two ex ante distinct product categories. We analyze this question in the context of the ongoing public policy debate surrounding the role search engines can play in anti-piracy efforts. Specifically, we analyze whether reducing the prominence of infringing links can impact users choices between legal and infringing content. To do this we design a customized search engine that allows us to manipulate the positions of infringing and legal links in users’ search results. We then use this search engine to conduct experiments on a general population of users and on a subset of college-aged users. Our data show that reducing the prominence of infringing links in search results causes users who otherwise would have consumed infringing content to switch their consumption to paid legal content, and that these results hold even among users whose initial search queries express an explicit preference for infringing content. These results suggest that even small changes in the cost of discovering pirated content can have a relatively large impact on user behavior. As such, our results inform an important public policy debate by showing that search engines have a vital role to play in the fight against online copyright theft. 07/22/19
Additional Details
Author Liron Sivan, Michael D. Smith, and Rahul Telang
Year 2019
Volume 43
Issue 4
Keywords Search engines, piracy, copyright, anti-piracy, randomized experiment
Page Numbers 1143-1154; DOI: 10.25300/MISQ/2019/14404
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