Friday, May 04, 2007

Publishers Hear Digital Fingerprinting Pitch

Publishers Hear Digital Fingerprinting Pitch
by Karlene Lukovitz

WATCHING GOOGLE AND VIACOM DUKE it out in court is interesting, but in the real world, publishers and other site owners are more interested in finding a practical way to monitor who's using their content and either get some reimbursement or get it off the Web.

As the business world read about Google/YouTube filing for a dismissal of Viacom's $1 billion copyright infringement suit earlier this week, a group of publishing executives gathered at a Magazine Publishers of America "Meet the Innovators" session to hear a pitch for one potential answer.

Attributor Corp., a privately held Redwood City, CA company started by Silicon Valley executives, is testing technology that scans and captures digital "fingerprints"--or identifying characteristics--of text, images and audiovisual content and then continuously scans its index of the Web to pick up matches.

The company claims that the system can spot content reuse within just about any Web area/format, including RSS feeds, self-published sites, social networks, advertising networks, search engines and aggregators, based on a few text sentences, bits of an image, or seconds of an audio/video clip.

Attributor doesn't claim to know exactly what is and is not "fair use" under the evolving legal precedents surrounding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act; rather, the system employs a site owner's own specified criteria to generate automatic responses to identified instances of reuse, explained CEO Jim Brock, a former Yahoo copyright counsel who co-founded Attributor in 2005 with Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jim Pitkow.

Depending on the scenario (the percentage of content used, whether it's being used for commercial purposes, etc.), a content reuser might, for instance, receive a request to remove content, or a proposal to allow continuing reuse of the content in return for giving the originator a portion of advertising revenue or licensing fees. A single console provides the site owner with ongoing monitoring of each issue's status until there is some kind of resolution.

Site owners can also employ a searchable public registry that allows anyone wishing to republish content to identify the owner and seek a licensing agreement.

In short, Attributor may present a more streamlined and wide-ranging solution than existing content monitoring systems like Indigo Stream Technologies' Copyscape, which relies on Google's search engine to seek out unauthorized uses.

Attributor is now in beta with several "large, international publishers," and is taking requests to generate free trial reports for interested publishers while the development phase continues, Brock said. Between 40 and 45 million Web pages per day are being added to the system through RSS feeds and periodic content scanning/conversions, he added.

In December, the company announced that it had received $10 million in funding to date from investors including Sigma Partners, Draper Richards LP, First Round Capital, Amicus and Selby Venture Partners.

Where does Brock think digital fair use definitions are headed? "At this point, nobody can say that a certain percentage of an article equates or does not equate to fair use," he says. "It's still subjective under the law. But once we have the systems in place for transparency, we believe those standards will evolve."

Meanwhile, he says, "if from a business standpoint, it's not fair use by your standards, you can address that, negotiate, respond as you see fit." For example, if no attribution is provided, a significant portion of a given piece of content is being used, and it's being used for commercial purposes, "then you've got three indicators that might set off a 'ding, ding, ding,'" Brock notes.

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