Journalist-blogger Alan D. Mutter writes on his blog Reflections of a Newsosaur that the first big web copyright content crackdown is going to commence later this month.

Jim Pitkow, CEO of Attributor—the company we covered a few days ago for its survey claiming that e-book piracy had cost the publishing industry $2.8 billion so far—says that “about a dozen” publishers and other media organizations are part of the coalition engaging Attributor to carry out this crackdown. They will start with sites that repost “80% or more of copyrighted stories more than 10 times per month.”

After offering violators a chance to come into compliance, Attributor will then, under the DMCA, ask search engines to remove offending pages from search, and banner ad operators to stop serving ads for those pages—and if worst comes to worst, they will ask hosting services to shut the sites down.

“We are not going after past damages” from sites running unauthorized content said Pitkow. The emphasis, he said is “to engage with publishers to bring them into compliance” by getting them to agree to pay license fees to copyright holders in the future.

According to Pitkow, the sanctions can be effective even against offshore websites, because most of them use banner ad providers located in the United States. He also notes that Attributor has had “a 99% success rate” in taking down unauthorized e-book postings on the web.

I found this entry interesting, but it left me with a good deal of puzzlement. I can certainly understand Attributor taking action against illicit e-book postings. In fact, since major companies got on the web ten to fifteen years ago, overt piracy on websites (such as the “W4R3Z” scene) has been rare given how easy it is to find and shut down.

But since the organizations Pitkow talks about are “wire services, traditional print publishers and ‘top-tier blog networks,’” I find myself wondering exactly who this crackdown is going to target. You hear about e-book piracy all the time, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of “news article piracy” apart from Rupert Murdoch’s opinions of Google News.

Apart from the fact that the idea of Attributor taking on Google brings to mind the image of a yappy little terrier worrying at an elephant, if they were going to take on Google I would have thought they’d say so.

The only other possible targets I could think of would be those automated linkblogs that slurp down content from other blogs and sites and then use it to advertise on search engines. I certainly can’t object to seeing those get taken down, but I would have thought they’d have been more specific in that case, too.

When we covered the Associated Press’s use of Attributor in 2007, David Rothman worried that the AP might be going the way of the RIAA. Not too much later, the infamous blog fair use flap occurred where the AP asked the Drudge Retort to take down articles with excerpts as short as 39 words long and intimated they might charge $12.50 for permission to quote as few as five words.

Though that flap eventually settled down, with the AP famously revising its fair use guidelines but refusing to say exactly what the new ones were, this makes me wonder if we’re going to see another. They say they’re going to start with sites that use significant amounts of content unchanged, but who knows what they’ll end up with?

Is Attributor going to be MediaSentry to the news media’s RIAA? Who is Attributor going after? We’ll just have to wait and see.

We also covered John Wiley & Sons’ use of Attributor in 2009.

We covered another Reflections of a Newsosaur piece, on why newspapers can’t stop selling their print editions, in February, 2009.


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