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Since last year's hotly contested anti-piracy legislation, which awakened a grass-roots lobbying movement of Internet activists, lawmakers have had little appetite to revisit the issue. And industry has said it has abandoned legislative reforms in lieu of voluntary measures, such as ad networks advising members not to advertise on sites known to offer illegal content. Payment processors like Visa, MasterCard and PayPal also have agreed not to do business with sites that continue to pirate copyrighted material.
And, last August, Google announced it would tweak its search engine to lower the visibility of any site that acquires a high number of copyright removal notices.
But the music and movie lobbyists said this week that by their account, the change hasn't worked. MPAA's eight-month study, conducted through online surveys by the Boston-based consulting firm Compete for an undisclosed amount, found that 20 percent of visits to sites with illegal content were "influenced" by a search query.
NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast Corp., commissioned a similar study, also released this week. That study, done by a London-based digital brand monitoring company called NetNames, found that illegal content available on the Internet jumped some 159 percent between 2010 and 2012.
David Price, the chief researcher on the study, said his analysts came to that conclusion by reviewing the top 12,500 files out of 3.5 million on a public BitTorrent network -- it enables people to swap large files -- to determine how much of it was legal. After omitting pornographic files, the group determined that 99.97 of files shared using the popular peer-to-peer protocol were illegal.
Not everyone is swayed.
Matthew Schruers, a copyright law expert with the Computer Communications and Industry Association, which opposed last year's industry-backed piracy bill, said the 12,500-sample size used in the NBCUniversal study would be too small to determine an accurate percentage of infringing content. He also questioned MPAA's definition of what it means to be "influenced" by a search engine.
"Nobody is saying infringement isn't a problem," Schruers said. "The question is what to do about it. ... Bad numbers lead to bad policy."
Rep. Adam Schiff, co-chair of an anti-piracy caucus, said he remains sympathetic to the plight of industries reliant on copyright. But he is hoping that the two sides can work out their disagreements on their own.
"I'm a big fan of voluntary agreements," said Schiff, D-Calif. "I've seen what happens with legislation."
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