Business Matters: If Big Radio Had Pandora's Royalty Rate, It Would Owe Billions
Business Matters: If Big Radio Had Pandora's Royalty Rate, It Would Owe Billions

If most people simply want to do the right thing when it comes to downloading, the upcoming Copyright Alert System could help more than searching at Google. Over three months after Google implemented a system to lower the search ranking of domains based on the number of DMCA takedown requests received, Billboard.biz finds legal options are still buried in the search results for many popular artists.

Billboard.biz took a sample of 30 popular artists and used a standard query of the artist name plus the term "MP3" in Google's search engine to gauge where legal and illegal sites ranked in the search results. For two artists, Ke$ha and P!nk, alternative spellings were also used. In all, 32 searches were conducted.

The average rank of the first legal result of any kind was 7.9 - which would place the average item near the bottom of the first page. The first legal result was almost always a YouTube video. Occasionally it was an embedded stream, such as a SoundCloud widget in a music blog.

The average rank of the first legal MP3 store listed was 11.75. That would place the first MP3 store returned in the average search result near the top of the second page. (There were almost always 10 search results per page. Occasionally there were fewer than 10 because links had been removed due to content owners' takedown requests.) Amazon was the first legal MP3 site in the search results in 31 out of 32 instances. 7digital was the top legal MP3 site once.

One illegal download site, MP3skull, was the top search result 31 out of 32 times; MP3skull was also the top illegal search result 28 out of 32 times. The domain has received the 23rd-most removal requests from content owners over the last 12 months, according to the Google Transparency Report. Billboard.biz calculates MP3skull has accounted for 3.6% of the 14.07 million URLs removed from Google's search listings over the last 12 months.

Some domains that were frequently seen in search results are near the top of the list of targeted offenders. One was beemp3.com. It has accounted for 5.1% of all URLs removed over the last 12 months, making it the 11th most targeted domain over that time span. Another was MP3bear.com. Content owners have requested that 106,050 URLs -- 0.7% of the total -- be removed from MP3bear.com domains. Nevertheless, the site is the fourth result returned for a search for Kanye West MP3s. The first three are MP3skull URLs.

Country and rock artists had a better tendency to have a legal MP3 site on the first page of search results (although one should note this is a small sample). Amazon MP3 was the first result for the Lumineers and Little Big Town, the second for Adele and Taylor Swift, the third for Carrie Underwood and Mumford and Sons and the fourth for Neon Trees and Jason Aldean. For artists other than the Lumineers and Little Big Town, the Amazon MP3 link was the first legal link returned in the search result.

Results varied by genre, however. Pop, R&B and hip-hop artists were more likely to have legal sites buried further in the search results. Justin Bieber's first legal result, a YouTube video, was #13 and his first legal MP3 site was #17. Kanye West's first legal result and first legal MP3 site was #16. Big Sean's first legal result was #14 and first legal MP3 site was an astounding #93.

Some domains commonly seen in the search results have accounted for a good portion of takedown requests. Beemp3.com, for example, has accounted for 5.1% of all URLs removed over the last 12 months. Although seen less frequently, 4shared.com has accounted for 6.2% of removed URLs over the last 12 months. The domain targeted most often by rights holders, filestube.com, was rarely spotted.

Five major US broadband companies will soon begin receiving infringement notices from copyright holders under the Copyright Alert System they negotiated with the RIAA and MPAA. Infringers will be pointed to a list of legal options at the website of the Center for Copyright Information. The combination of increased awareness and better education could have a positive impact. If the average person wants to do the right thing but doesn't know what legal options are available, Google search is not always a good avenue to find out.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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