Legitimate MP3 links are becoming harder to find even as the RIAA has sent more than 3,400 removal requests to Google relating to approximately 10 million specific URLs from its search results. Legal stores like Amazon and Myxer, as well as legal streaming sites like YouTube and legal streams and downloads at music blogs, are buried under more illegal MP3 links than when Billboard.biz examined 30 artists in November.

Now, using the same 30 artists as before, it took an average of 11.06 search results to find the first legal search result of any kind and 26.84 search results to find the first legal MP3 store. In November, the results were 7.9 and 11.75, respectively. (Each search was conducted by typing in “MP3” and then the name of the artist. Two spellings were used for Ke$ha and P!nk.)
 
Not all search results were worse than in November. The location of the legal MP3 store in the search results rose in 13 of the 32 searches. For example, a link to Myxer was the tenth result this time, five spots better than the Amazon link at No. 15 last time. But more searches were worse than better, and some searches yielded frustrating results. The first link to a legal MP3 store from a Jennifer Lopez search was the 219th result.
 
Amazon was usually both the first legal and MP3 store link in the search results. Myxer was the top legal MP3 store twice -- it did not appear a single time in November. Amazon MP3 was one of the more frequently seen links -- but only because Amazon paid for the privilege. A link to an artist's page at Amazon MP3 was usually seen at the bottom of a page's search results. These ads will show up unless the user has blocked certain advertiser or has opted out of personalized ads.
 
As TorrentFreak notes, the primary targets of the RIAA's removal requests have been Downloads.nl, MP3s.pl and Filestube. People looking for MP3s might see a different name: MP3skull showed up at the top of 28 of 32 searches (it was tops in 27 searches in November).
 
Searching for the term "music" on Google is a different experience. Legal sites are commonly found when "music" and an artist name are used in a search. For example, the first 10 results for "Jennifer Lopez music" are two YouTube videos, her artist page at various portals, her website and the Amazon page for her album, "Love?" No MP3skull.com link in sight.
 
These removal requests may seem like somewhat of an anachronism since people are already shifting to streaming services, but downloads are still extremely popular. Digital sales were up 10% in the first four weeks of the year over 2012, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Last year U.S. consumers bought 1.34 billion individual tracks and another 117.7 million digital albums. As for the free side of the market, in just the first six months of 2012, there were 96.7 million downloads using the BitTorrent protocol (read: mostly illegal) in the U.S., according to Musicmetric.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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