Do Search Engines Influence Media Piracy? Evidence from a Randomized Field Study
30 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2014 Last revised: 18 Feb 2015
Date Written: September 12, 2014
There is an ongoing public policy debate regarding the role search engines can play in the fight against intellectual property theft. However, for any sensible policy discussion it must first be the case that search engine results influence consumer piracy choices, and there is very little empirical evidence one way or the other on this question. The goal of this research is to use a randomized field study to analyze whether search results can influence consumers choices for infringing versus legal consumption channels.
To do this, we design a customized search engine that allows us to experimentally manipulate pirated and legal links in users’ search results. We then conduct separate experiments on a general population of users and on college-aged users where we randomly assign users to a control condition or to separate treatment conditions where infringing sites or legal sites are artificially promoted in the search results.
Our data show that relative to the non-manipulated (control) condition, the presence of pirate or legal links in search results strongly influences the behavior of both the general and college-aged populations: users are more likely to choose a legal option to acquire the movie when legal sites are promoted, and users are more likely to choose a pirate option when piracy links are promoted. By analyzing users’ initial search terms, we also find evidence that users who initially intend to pirate are more likely to purchase legally when legal links are promoted and that users who initially intend to consume legally are more likely to pirate when pirate links are promoted. Together our results suggest that reducing the prominence of pirated links can be a viable policy option in the fight against intellectual property theft.
Keywords: search engines, piracy, copyright, anti-piracy
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