To “test”—(**wink, wink**)—a new technology that allows newspapers to track their content across the net, “sans serif” is pleased to run this report from The New York Times on a new technology that allows newspapers to track their content across the net, in full.
By RICHARD PEREZ-PENA
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, and a number of big publishers of copyrighted material say Attributor just might be right.
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, and a number of large magazines and newspapers have been in talks with Attributor. Executives at both wire services said they were still adapting the software to their needs and deciding how to respond to its findings, but they do not doubt it will have some long-term value.
“For the first time, we now have a consistent way of getting this data and knowing what actually happens to our product, rather just ad hoc reports,” said Srinandan R. Kasi, vice president and general counsel for The Associated Press, which has used the software for several months.
For newspapers and magazines, financial survival increasingly means raising traffic on their Web sites and revenue from online ads. Executives of some major publishers, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss their talks with Attributor, said they were somewhat optimistic that such software can help.
“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.”
Attributor, based in the San Francisco area, was founded last year by Jim Brock and Jim Pitkow, veteran executives of technology companies. Mr. Brock, the chief executive officer, was a senior vice president at Yahoo. Mr. Pitkow, the chief technology officer, has a doctorate in computer science and has headed other technology companies.
The problem can be seen in the enormous attention given to a series of articles on Dick Cheney published in The Washington Post last June. One passage in the first article drew particular attention, revealing details like the unofficial stamp used by Mr. Cheney to label documents as secret, and the man-size safe he used to keep office papers.
But a lot of the people who read that passage had no easy way of knowing that it came from The Post, or of finding its source. A recent Google search found more than 80 blogs and political Web sites that lifted a few hundred words of the article or more, verbatim or nearly so.
Some attributed the material to The Post, but offered no link to the original article; others offered a link, but made no mention of The Post, and some had neither. And about half of those pages had ads on them.
The appeal for wire services is different. The Associated Press and Reuters said searching for use without permission may lead to potential sales. “What you find is that the user can become a licensee,” said Mr. Kasi.
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?”