Tracking Content on the Internet – Attributor

Well, I know it’s their job, of course, but thanks again to Publishers Weekly for another fascinating bit of techie news that bears some relevance to the ebook world. We may not have conquered the universe in revenue and unit sales terms yet but we seem to be capturing a lot of time, thought and attention one way and another. And, by the way, we’re coming back to a subject, copyright, that we pay close attention to and about which we will continue to have lots to say.

A new company called Attributor launched a short while ago and the nifty bit of programming they have on offer is a tool for tracking content use on the web. Their first customers are places like Reuters and the Associated Press but they say that they expect to be running a test with a book publisher very soon. The company points out that they can help other companies with marketing, sales and editorial functions for the web but they admit that, no surprise, one of the biggest interests expressed by potential customers is tracking copyright compliance. Somehow, once you’ve invested your company’s money in producing something for wide distribution, you feel entitled to make money back for providing it to customers and equally entitled to prevent other parties from making money from your efforts without properly compensating you. Funny how that works!

Attributor apparently ran a test right after the last volume of Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling was released. That was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in case you’d forgotten. Attributor found a site where someone had posted the first ten chapters on a website, plugged the content into their program and discovered that 2,806 sites had posted part of the material. There’s a lovely box score in the PW piece that summarizes some interesting data about the sites that posted the material. Among the rather chilling facts are that 71% of the sites copied full chapter text (which falls well outside of Fair Use limits to my educated eye) and 80% of the sites which copied the content had ads running on the pages with the content–and were, thus, making at least some money off of what amounts to piracy (however innocent, or at least unthinking, the perpetrators may be).

Once you’re signed up with Attributor, you can give them marching orders and legal authority to respond to unauthorized use of copyrighted content by requiring links, requiring a share or ad revenue or demanding that a site take down the content. Perhaps some of those pirates will soon learn to think of Attributor as their own personal Terminator.

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