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Seminar:  Do Search Engines Influence Media Piracy? Evidence from a Randomized Field Study

Date:March 17, 2014 
Talk Title:Do Search Engines Influence Media Piracy? Evidence from a Randomized Field Study
Speaker:Rahul Telang
Time & Location:12:00pm - 1:00pm
CIC Building, Pittsburgh


There is an ongoing policy debate regarding the role search engines can play in the fight against intellectual property theft. However, for such interventions to be effective it must first be the case that search engine results influence consumer piracy choices, and there is very little empirical evidence one way or the other on this question. The goal of this study is to use a randomized field study to analyze whether search results can influence consumers choices for piracy versus legal consumption channels.

Specifically, our study uses an experiment in which participants were asked to acquire a movie online. Subjects who choose to use a search engine in this task were presented with results from a custom-built search interface. Our search interface manipulates the search results from a major search engine such that in one treatment condition piracy sites are artificially promoted in the search results and in another treatment condition legal sites are artificially promoted.

Our results show that relative to the non-manipulated (control) condition, consumers are more likely (15% more) to choose a legal option to acquire the movie when legal sites are promoted, and are more likely to choose a piracy option (24% more) when piracy links are promoted. These results suggest that reducing the prominence of piracy links can have a significant impact on consumer behavior and thus is a viable policy option in the fight against intellectual property theft.

Speaker Bio

Rahul Telang is a Professor of Information Systems at Carnegie Mellon University. Professor Telang’s research interest lies in two major domains. First is on Digital Media Industry with a particular focus on digitization of songs, movies, TV and books is affecting the incentives of content provider, content distributors as well public policy challenges in terms of innovation and copyright. In particular, he has examined the issue proliferation of distribution platforms including online piracy and its impact on traditional music, movies and books industry. Recently, he is investigating the role of social networks on music diffusion, technology adoption, and employee job search. Some of his prior work explored the challenges of interaction of multiple platforms (web portals vs telephony for customer service; SMS and voice for cellular phones). He was the recipient of Sloan Foundation Industry Study fellowship for his work in this domain and is a co-director of Digital Media Research Center at the Heinz College. His work is also funded extensively by industry participants including Google.

His second area of work is on economics of information security and privacy. He has examined the issue of vendors’ incentives to improve the quality of their products and role of policy making and standards in changing these incentives. His earlier work explores the challenges of vulnerability disclosure and how competition and policy making affect these patch release decisions. Recently, he is examining the role of data breach disclosure laws on identity thefts. He was the recipient of NSF CAREER award for his work on economics of information security.

Dr. Telang has published extensively in many top journals like Management Science, Marketing Science, Information Systems Research, MIS Quarterly, and Journal of Marketing Research. He is on the editorial board of Management Science and ISR. He has organized many conferences and workshops and many of his papers have received top honors at journals and conferences.