“The internet is cooperative, if you ask people to do the right thing, they will,” according to Jim Pitkow, CEO of anti-piracy solutions vendor Attributor. His upbeat take on the nature of web content users is based upon the results of Attributor’s Graduated Response Trial for News (released today), which it undertook to analyze the viability of alternative approaches for dealing with unlicensed re-use of news content online.
To date, content creators have responded to other sites’ unlawful use of their content with takedown notices. Essentially: If a content producer finds another site using its content in its entirety and/or serving ads around their content, they ask for the content to be removed from the site or ad network. Attributor has been working to develop alternatives to this approach and conducted this trial to see if content-usage-violators would be amenable to alternatives.
According to Attributor, the five-month trial conducted between March and July of this year involved many of the nation’s leading news organizations and found that 75% of sites copying full articles complied with the rights-holders requests without them having to resort to content takedown notices per the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
During its trial, Attributor identified over 400,000 unlicensed full copies (which contain more than 80% of the original article and were more than 125 words) across 44,906 sites from 70,101 online news articles from newspapers spanning pay wall, ad-supported and syndication revenue models with local, national and international distribution. The trial randomly selected 107 sites that used 10 or more full copies belonging to a single rights holder in a 30-day period and generated money from online advertising.
Then, Attributor tested the first two steps of its Graduated Response process: 1) courtesy notices of unlicensed copying sent to the site owner and 2) removal requests sent to the search engines to remove the listing from results and to ad networks to remove ads on the page of the copied content. (The third step, which is sending removal notices to the hosting site to remove the content was not part of the trial.) Attributor found that 75% of the copying sites agreed to either pursue licensing agreements or remove content voluntarily within the first two steps.
As Pitkow points out, most companies start with the take down notice, which can create an adversarial situation. He suggests that—given we’ve seen of the litigious approach taken by the music and film industries—there must be a better way, one in which content companies can make incremental revenue from some of the unlicensed proliferation of content online. He says, “Why treat the internet like it is filled with bad actors, when we’ve seen that when you ask the internet to do the right thing it will do so?”
For example, he says, “we could send a notice saying we know that this content your ads are on belong to someone else, so why not split the revenue with the company that produced the content?” While he admits that “The New York Times might not go for that,” he believes that “there are bloggers and others in the content economy who might go for this idea.”
Attributor chose to focus on the news industry in this study to follow up on its December 2009 Fair Syndication Consortium’s report, which found that more than 75,000 unlicensed websites reused U.S. newspaper content over a 30-day period. On these sites, nearly 112,000 unlicensed full copies of articles were detected, with Google’s and Yahoo’s ad networks dominating the unlicensed monetization of U.S. newspaper content. The study also found that articles from large national newspapers were copied as many as 15 times per article.
In addition, Pitkow points out that “The news industry is at an interesting point in time where they are figuring out their content strategy moving forward, looking at other industries’ attempts to control and manage syndication. We want to show that there are alternatives to what other industries have done in the past and not alienate content companies from their consumers and potential business partners.” Ultimately, Pitkow says, “We want to do for syndication what AdSense did for advertising.”
Not surprisingly, the study supports the Fair Syndication Consortium’s pursuit of innovating new business models and copyright frameworks for online content syndication. However, Pitkow says, “We certainly recognize that some will view these findings as self-serving, but our response to that is we’re proud to be one of the few if not the only ones producing this type of research and trying to innovate on top of the DCMA and create new syndication models. And if along the way we happen to uncover some interesting data, we will happily continue to share it.”