Monday, November 15, 2010

The Attributor

I met the founders of the Attributor, a West Coast web tracking service, about four years ago.  I featured them at an MPA Innovator's session and introduced them to publishers.  Over the years I have watched the company undergo various iterations as they explored ways to get web sites and especially portals to pay for using content without permission.

From the beginning the central question was whether content producers would make use of this service? And did the Attributor have the guns and the staying power to get offending parties to remove content or pay a CPM-based revenue share? I was a big fan of this company from the beginning because I believe that technology can solve problems induced by the Internet; not legislation. But a getting a slice of a portal's advertising revenue seemed like a long shot, especially when you are using a hammer.

The Attributor through its Fair Use Consortium might finally have an answer to some of these vexing questions.  The company conducted a five-month study that looked at new models and rules for online content syndication.  Research shows that 75% of sites that copy content without prior authorization are willing to alter their behavior when approached in a reasonable manner.

In 2009 the Fair Syndication Consortium (FSC) developed a monetization model called FairShare. In short, syndicators share advertising revenue with content portals. But what to do about the bad actors who are unwilling to share revenue?  Next the FSC developed an approach called the Graduated Response, a development framework on top of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The assumption was that citizens of the Internet would do the right thing if given the opportunity to do so.

A Graduated Response starts with a friendly email reminding the site owner of multiple infractions--my term. If no response is received or the offending copy is not removed, a second email is sent informing the site owner that if no action is taken search engines will be contacted and told to remove the offending content from their indexes. If after 14 days there is still no response the host site is contacted and asked to remove the copy in question under DMCA.

The compelling question that remained; "Can site owner behavior be adjusted through thoughtful and strategic escalation, rather than starting with content removal notices?" The research seemed to say yes.

A representative sample of 70,00 original news articles, representing regional, national and international newspapers was processed.  More than 400,000 full, unauthorized copies were identified across nearly 45,000 web sites. Each of these copies contained one or more advertisements. That was the focus. The trial randomly selected 107 sites.  Within a month 75% of these sites had removed content or started a conversation with the content owner about becoming a licensee. Search engines and advertising networks complied with each of the more than 15,000 removal requests, typically within a 24-hour period.

FSC understands that some in the community don't like any system that uses the DMCA and others much prefer the hammer. But this seems an intelligent ways to use technology to police in a reasonable manner the use of unauthorized content.

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