Search engines, especially Google, are likely to feel the heat later today when a House subcommittee holds a hearing reviewing the voluntary efforts by the Internet ecosystem to combat Internet piracy.
Ahead of the hearing, the Motion Picture Association of America released a study that found search engines often are the gateway to consumers finding content that infringes copyrights, with 74 percent citing a search engine as the key means to find it.
Between 2010 and 2012, search engines influenced 20 percent of the sessions in which consumers accessed infringing TV or film content online. For infringing TV and film content, the largest share of search queries, 82 percent, came from Google, the largest search engine.
Reacting to the numbers presented Wednesday morning, a number of lawmakers singled out search engines as a sector that needs to do more to protect copyrighted material online.
"This study shows that there is much more that search engines must do when it comes to pointing consumers toward legal outlets," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), co-chairman of the congressional international anti-piracy caucus.
The study found no evidence that Google, which recently released a report about its initiatives to fight Web piracy and changed its algorithm in August to incorporate takedown notices for pirated content, has had little impact on reducing search-referred traffic to infringing sites.
Expect Google to come up a lot during the hearing this afternoon before the subcommittee on the courts, intellectual property and the Internet.
In his testimony, Cary Sherman, the chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, will point out that the one Internet sector missing from the voluntary efforts to fight piracy is search engines.
"There have been occasional instances of progress, but with disappointing outcomes," said Sherman, referring to Google. In an advance copy of his remarks, Sherman recommends that it would be useful for search engines to voluntarily take into account in its search results whether a site is authorized to provide content.
"Google has announced that it intends to develop and deploy technology to eradicate links to child pornogrphy images from the Web. Certainly similar technology can be used to remove links to other illegal content," Sherman said. "Also, Google has tools in its Chrome browser to warn users if they are going to sites that may be malicious. Shouldn't that technology be used to warn users of rogue sites?"