Date of Original Version

9-2014

Type

Working Paper

Abstract or Description

There is an ongoing public policy debate regarding the role search engines can play in the fight against intellectual property theft. However, for any sensible policy discussion it must first be the case that changes in search results can influence consumers’ decisions to pirate or purchase legally. Surprisingly, there is little empirical evidence on this important policy issue.

To analyze this question, we design a customized search engine and conduct experiments on a general population of users and on college-aged users where we manipulate the positions of infringing and legal sites in users’ search results.

Our data show that users are more likely to purchase legally when legal links are promoted in search results, and users are more likely to pirate when pirate links are promoted. Together our results suggest that reducing the prominence of pirated links can be a viable policy option in the fight against intellectual property theft.

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