Anti-piracy pushback

Not a good week so far for the Motion Picture Association of America’s anti-piracy PR campaign. A group of researchers at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center pushed back hard on a study released by the studio group last month at a full-dress press conference on Capitol Hill purporting to finger Google and other search engines as piracy “gateways” for including links to illegal sources of movie and TV content in search results.

According to the George Mason researchers, one reason illegal sites often turn up in search results is tht the movie people are searching for is not legally available.

“When movies are unavailable, illegal sources may be the most relevant search results,” Jerry Brito, director of the Mercatus Center’s Technology Policy Program, said in a statement. “Despite what the content industry might like to see, search engines are just telling it like it is.”

The researchers have set up a new website,, to illustrate their argument. Over the past three months, the site reports, 53 percent of the most pirated movies as ranked by TorrentFreak were available legally in some digital form. But only 20 percent were available for online rental or for streaming. In fact, none — o percent — were available from legal streaming sites over that time.

Meanwhile, a copyright educational curriculum developed by the the Center for Copyright Information, a partnership between ISPs and content advocates like the MPAA and RIAA, and aimed at grade-school kids, has been drawing fire for putting industry interests ahead of those of students.

The EFF called the campaign “thinly disguised corporate propaganda,” while Stephen Smith, a lawyer with Greenberg Glusker, told the Hollywood Reporter it seems more like “an attempt to brainwash than truly educate.”

Of course, as I noted in an earlier post, the actual research findings contained in the MPAA report aren’t really meant to be taken seriously. The press conference on Capitol Hill is the point, to try to get some conversation going again in Congress around piracy after 2011’s SOPA/PIPA debacle. And given the grade level at which Congress seems to operate these days, aiming their PR at kindergartners is probably not a terrible idea.