Attributor Gathers Publishers to Share Ad Revenue from Unauthorized Content Use

Attributor is rolling out the next phase of its multi-pronged content monetization strategy based on its text fingerprinting technology: a consortium of publishers that will attempt to get shares of ad revenue from other websites that use their content.  The company has begun publicizing the Fair Syndication Consortium, which has been in formation since January.

The Fair Syndication Consortium is meeting tomorrow in New York; one of the purposes of the meeting is to convince the major Internet ad networks to facilitate this business model.  The Consortium’s publisher members, which initially include DPA (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, the German news wire service), Reuters, and Politico, intend to use Attributor’s technology to find unauthorized uses of their content on the web.

At least for now, Attributor will only flag complete uses of content, not snippets or extracts, thereby sidestepping some (though not all) Fair Use issues.

The Consortium will need to convince the ad networks to give the publishers whose content is being used a portion of the user’s ad revenue — or at least to help track usage while the users themselves pay the publishers.  While publishers could threaten unauthorized users of content with infringement suits, there’s no legal force that can be used against the ad networks, not even in the broadest of secondary liability theories.

Therefore the publishers and/or Attributor will likely be talking to the ad networks about taking commissions from all that ad revenue — in addition to the fees that Attributor already collects from publishers to find instances of their content online.  Attributor hopes to build critical mass around an opportunity that it claims is worth a quarter billion dollars per year.

This is a clever strategy, one that complements both Attributor’s pre-existing content licensing models and those of other services, such as iCopyright and Ozmo from Copyright Clearance Center.  It’s a way to set up revenue-sharing schemes for content use that is proportional to the actual revenue being made.  I’m always in favor of content licensing and monetization schemes that are based on accurate usage measurement instead of statistical samples, estimates, predictions, levies, and other blunt instruments.

And the scheme has a handy side effect: it’s a weapon against splogs, which probably account for a high percentage of those unauthorized uses.

If the Fair Syndication Consortium takes off, it will be interesting to see how it gibes with the news publishing industry’s recent efforts to get paid for content — whether this ad-based model will conflict with the more direct revenue models that news publishers have in mind.

Yet there’s one piece of evidence that news publishers may not be united in their strategies for addressing unauthorized use: AP, the prime mover behind the news industry’s new aggressive stance against free riding and an Attributor customer, is conspicuous in its absence from the Fair Syndication Consortium.

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