Attributor Launches Service to Track Copyright Infringement Across the Web

Attributor Launches Service to Track Copyright Infringement Across the Web

Links are the currency of the Web. They are the way attributions are made. In most cases, media companies would be better off if they could just get everyone who is copying their stuff to link back to them than by trying to extract licensing fees out of them or suing them. There is a lot less friction in asking for a link, and it doesn’t cost anything to give one out. Yet all of those links can turn into traffic, both directly and by imbuing the original source with higher search karma (i.e. a higher ranking on search engines).

Links may be the currency, but domain names are the gold backing the currency. This works because domains actually cost something.

15 thoughts on “Attributor Launches Service to Track Copyright Infringement Across the Web

  1. “Links are the currency of the web.”

    Well, currency is currency. Links may generate traffic which, can generate currency but, for whom?

    “media companies would be better off if they could just get everyone who is copying their stuff to link back to them than by trying to extract licensing fees out of them or suing them”

    I think that’s fine for a blog post. If you wrote an article and somebody uses it, throws you a link; Then you will get some traffic and possibly generate some money with that traffic.

    Lets say that you are a songwriter that wrote a tune that was cut by Artist A, who is signed to Label Z. Somebody wants to use the song on a website on which something is being sold; ads or widgets. When you click on Somebody’s site, the song plays along while you browse. Somebody dutifully links back to Label Z’s site where the song can be purchased. Artist A is happy-Label Z is happy-Somebody is happy.

    Meanwhile the songwriter, the person who created the work that is being used by these various parties has his income cut in half.

    Traditionally, over the life of a song the two ways a writer gets paid (mechanical royalties and performance royalties) work out to be about even.

    How do you keep the writer happy, now that the web is a major source for selling music/using music to sell stuff? Well, maybe the label or artist could pay the writer more of a percentage on each unit sold.

    Didn’t work out that way. In fact the label or artists have demanded their own performance royalties when music is used for Internet radio.

    Now, the way the writer (creator) is getting the short end has been apparent for quite a while in the music industry. It is now coming to light in other places. I have a suspicion that the current Writer’s Guild strike has less to do with DVD sales than it does future Internet revenue.

    It seems that public opinion is not on the side of the writers. The public perceives the writers as being part of a larger, bloated, ugly industry.

    So, if the links are the currency and the domains are the gold standard then; what is the content?

    In the end, if the creators of the content (writers) are not compensated, the quality of the content is going to continue to weaken.

  2. I don’t get your math. How come the composers are earning less than the performers?

    About this bit: “Links may generate traffic which, can generate currency but, for whom?”, it never matters who else is earning money off your work. The only thing that ever matters is how much *you* are earning. So if you’re making a bit of money off of linkbacks but linkers are earning even more, well, you would have earning nothing at all without them.

    About the Writer’s Guild strike, a couple rank and file members that I chatted with last night were a lot more focused on the internet than on DVDs. But IMO it’s too soon for them to negotiate over internet rights, given that the business of presenting the kind of big budget mersh stuff they do is so immature. DVDs are where they really stand to make or lose money.

  3. Also, about “the quality of the content is going to continue to weaken” — is content quality going down? I didn’t know that.

    In my lifetime television has been getting better and better. “Six Million Dollar Man” vs “Heroes”? “Gunsmoke” vs “Deadwood”?

  4. “I don’t get your math. How come the composers are earning less than the performers?”

    I don’t know that it’s a matter of whether or not composers making less than performers. It’s more a case that playing field has changed.

    Frank Sinatra once said; “Records are for chumps”. I think that what he meant by that is this fact; The real money in the music business has always been in live performance rather than record sales. You look at artists that have extended careers; if you could tally it up in the end, more money would lie in the performance side than the record sale side. Obviously there are exceptions, certainly the Beatles have made more off of records than live performance. That is the exception though because, most performers, that have full length careers, continue to make their living from shows long after the record sales peak.

    So, when a song gets played on, say an oldies station, the performer who is still out there playing, is going to still reap the benefit of exposure/advertising, even though the catalogue is not selling much anymore.

    If you look at a songwriter’s royalty statements over a 30 year period, the mechanical’s (record sale) generally peak and decline right along with the commercial life of the record. The performance royalties continue and at some point, equal and sometimes surpass the total made from mechanicals.

    I have had many record producers tell me that they were looking for a “career launching song” for their artist; meaning a song that will help continue to make the artist a viable concert draw after the sales peak.

    In the case of Internet radio, artists/labels have demanded a performance royalty. This has never existed in traditional radio. The performance royalty for artists/labels on Internet radio, is the factor that often makes it impractical to operate an Internet radio website.

    Now, if a domain uses music to generate traffic and all they are required to do is provide links instead of license fees, the label/artist will still reap the same benefits that they would if a song were played on the radio; over the long haul. The composer, who is going to make half or more of his money over a career, from licensing/performance will not.

    “is content quality going down? I didn’t know that.”

    I think that if you reduce the incentive to generate content, that the quality will go down.

    Now, I have never seen “Heroes” or “Deadwood” so, I’m not qualified to comment on them.

    I am, however, aware of how much of the quality of TV, over all, depends or writing. The Writers Guild strike is a dramatic example of how quality will suffer if writers feel that the incentive/compensation to write is not sufficient. Can anyone make a case that more reality shows, re-runs of late night talk shows and shooting with scripts that can’t be modified by writers, will improve the quality of content?

  5. I am all for creative people wanting to sell their wares, and to realize value from ‘net uses. I am fine with reasonable measures to protect this interest. I could write volumes on this, but let’s just take that as read.

    Yet my first reaction when I read of this new infringement-tracking service is neither triumph nor dismay. Instead, I hold the ongoing belief that a sharing culture on the ‘net can and will provide ways for web users from the most humble weblogger to the cool-est Net 3.0 provider to find, use, and revel in attribution-only content. I don’t oppose artists making money–but I love the possibility in shared culture. I love in particular my belief that that indie culture will generate new shows, new icons and new content which users will get for free, or merely by enduring “in the margins” google-type advertising on the site.

  6. I’ve often wondered to what degree “auditing” might be able to serve an innocuous presence within the sharing economy, while then becoming part of the transactions of commercial economies, when needed.

    It seems like Attributor is working somewhat in this way: auditing “users” for a certain kind of behavior (creating a link), and brokering a transaction that exchanges the user’s behavior for (the right holder’s) copyright use permission.

  7. It’s hard to know how to feel about this kind of thing.

    I think one of the next big waves of internet technology that’s coming is various versions of content tracking. Between the dreamland of the semantic web and today’s internet reality is a great variety of opportunities for building value by dredging structure, metadata, and context out of the wetlands of multi-media web content.

    In the music space, this has taken the form of mp3 blog aggregators which (so far) mostly serve to provide better reading and listening experiences for users. As Hype Machine discovered early on, even if it comes from a love of the original writing, aggregation can be quite controversial with bloggers to the extent that it disintermediates them by refocusing their content around the thing their users really care about: the music.

    And content trackers get it from all sides. In the new Hype Machine redesign, a fear of the record labels is plain as day. And, in reducing access to mp3s — de-emphasizing playlist-access, etc. — they’ve greatly angered many of their users (they’ve actually done a good job responding to the feedback and so have moved to reinstate some of these types of features in the weeks since the relaunch).

    It seems to me that content trackers are going to have to become diplomats. Stuck between the copyright holders and the users they have three choices: 1) Take the side of the users, a la The Pirate Bay: ‘User experience is all, quaint local copyright custom be damned!’; 2) Take the side of content holders, a la Attributor: ‘I’m taking my ball and going home; and if you don’t like it, taste the business end of my 1000 staff lawyers!’; 3) Find a third way that tries to negotiate a peace between both sides. This third option is the one that is the least obvious, but also, I think, holds the most business opportunities: if you grant both sides the right to exist, and take it as a given that both have demands that need meeting, you have twice the number of possible products and you stand to be in the best position to participate in really sustainable solutions that constitute wins for all sides.

    In the music space, mandatory licensing is one vision for this third way (and at, we’re working on a few more ;) ). Has anybody seen any others in other media?

  8. Just came across a great recent post on John Buckman’s Magnatune block that gets at my point here a bit:

    Unless rights-holders change, we only will have one major distributor of each kind of content: one youtube, one itunes, etc.
    The solution? Aggregators, such as now exists for indie record labels, such as IODA and CDBABY, can do hundreds of deals and focus on nothing but rights licensing, enabling competition. 90% of the deals won’t make money for the rights holders, but if the rights holders outsource the task, this doesn’t matter. Amazon’s mp3 store would never have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for IODA and CDBABY, who provided DRM-free music for sale to a massive catalog, allowing Amazon to create a creditable competitor to iTunes.

    The alternative scenario, if the licenses aren’t granted, is piracy everywhere, with consumers obtaining all the content they want, illegally, and no revenue for the rights holders.

    Monopolies or piracy everywhere? Certainly we want a 3rd alternative.

  9. I like Greg’s description of the issue in terms of negotiating the interests between multiple parties–and the diplomacy involved in that position. This is along the lines of what I was thinking when I used the word “brokering” in my comment.

  10. I am whole heartedly for a tool to audit whether others are complying with your licensing terms. Attributor just seems like 100% a good thing. I have no misgivings at all.

    Ultimately this should be a really good thing for those of us who want to occupy the middle ground, because it empowers rights holders to take responsibility for letting people know when they have a problem. As it stands sites like, Webjay, YouTube, etc are supposed to magically guess what the rights holders wanted.

  11. “I am whole heartedly for a tool to audit whether others are complying with your licensing terms.”

    I was also thinking of something beyond this, as well. For example, people who buy music consistently might be given special treatment by artists, compared with people who consistently don’t pay. Or, whether or not there’s any payment involved, people who are good distributors on sharing networks are maybe more valuable to artists than leeches.

    Similarly, someone who downloads your song and listens to it only once is maybe someone who needs more free stuff rather than being required to pay for what they have.

  12. Links may be the currency, but domain names are the gold backing the currency. This works because domains actually cost something.

    I don’t get this at all. If registering and maintaining a domain name cost nothing, links would be worthless? Consider further: if people didn’t care about familiar-looking or short domain names, 100% of the price a domain would fetch would be due to the links pointing at the domain.

    (Regarding the subject of the post, I agree that Attributor is approximately 100% a good thing.)

  13. I read it in a paper on PageRank 4-5 years ago. Don’t remember keywords that I could use to look it up. I do remember, though, that the paper had a lot of fancy looking math that caused me to believe it one hundred percent.

    But the basic point is that the cost of a domain is the only thing supporting the value of an outbound link.

    Though I suppose you could say that the Shannon information in the pages containing those links is the real expense.


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