Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tracking copies, dunnning copiers

Richard Pérez-Peña, Publishers See A Way To Track Their Content Across The Net, New York Times, November 5, 2007.

Copyrighted work like a news article or a picture can hop between Web sites as easily as a cut-and-paste command. But more than ever, as that material finds new audiences, the original sources might not get the direct financial benefit — in fact, they might have little idea where their work has spread.

A young company called Attributor says it has an answer....

The company has developed software that identifies an electronic “fingerprint” for a particular piece of material — an article, a picture, a video. Then it hunts down any place across the Web where a significant chunk of that work has been copied, with or without permission.

When the use is unauthorized, Attributor’s software can automatically send a message to the site’s operators, demanding a link back to the original publisher’s site, a share of revenue from any ads on the page, or a halt to the copying.

The Associated Press and Reuters, each of which publishes thousands of pieces of material each day, are among the company’s clients....

“There are probably thousands of examples every year where our stuff gets copied without authorization,” a newspaper company executive said. “The ad revenue they get from it might not be much, but if each of those just gives a link back to our original, that could be a significant amount of traffic.” ...

Reuters began using Attributor last month, and Chris Ahearn, president of Reuters Media, said that first he wants to learn how his company’s thousands of customers are using the vast stream of information it sends their way.

But finding unauthorized use “clearly is a big opportunity for us,” Mr. Ahearn said, both to drive traffic to the Reuters site and to turn cheaters into customers. He added, “Our attitude is there are enough lawyers in the world, so why don’t we turn this over to our sales people?” 


  • How does Attributor know when a copy is unathorized?  Before I started using CC licenses, I authorized online copies of my work silently or by private email.  The answer is that Attributor isn't designed for people like me.  It's designed for publishers who rarely authorize copies.  It looks like Attributor will simply presume that copies are unauthorized.
  • Newspapers using Attributor seem to be more interested in links than fees, and more interested in fees than take-downs.  Are any academic publishers using Attributor?  If so, do they have roughly the same priorities?