A report commissioned by the Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA) claims search engines play an “influential” role in leading consumers to so-called infringing content even if they are not looking for it.

Global market research specialists Millward Brown Digital surveyed an online panel of US and UK consumers on behalf of the MPAA in its study, Understanding The Role Of Search In Online Piracy.

The report found that search engines influenced 20% of the sessions in which consumers accessed infringing TV or film content online between 2010 and 2012. Infriging content is defined as film or TV that has been stolen and distributed online without any compensation to the owner of the intellectual property.

Seventy-four percent of consumers surveyed cited using a search engine as a navigational tool the first time they arrived at a site with infringing content. 

Furthermore 58% of searches that led to infringing content contained general keywords such as titles of films or TV shows or phrases related to watching films or TV online.

According to the study, first-time consumers at sites with infringing content were more than twice as likely as repeat consumers to use a search engine in their navigation path. 

Eighty-two percent of queries that led to the infringing content examined came from the largest search engine, Google.

The study also found no evidence that the change Google made to its ‘signal demotion’ algorithm in August 2012 to take into account the number of copyright takedown notices a site has received had an impact on search-referred traffic to infringing sites. The share of referral traffic from Google to sites included in the Google Transparency Report remained flat in the three months following August 2012.

“This study reaffirms the significant responsibility that search engines share with all of us in the internet ecosystem to help prevent the theft of movies and TV shows online,” said MPAA chairman Senator Chris Dodd, who announced the findings alongside a number of House Representatives.

“Search engines bear responsibility for introducing people to infringing content – even people who aren’t actively looking for it. The television and movie community is working every day to develop new and innovative ways to watch content online, and as the internet’s gatekeepers, search engines share a responsibility to play a constructive role in not directing audiences to illegitimate content.”

To read the study visit the official MPAA website.