Archive for the 'Attributor' Category


I’ve been reading a lot about copyright for a while now. Intellectual property. Does something analogous to a property right make sense in a digital world?

It’s hard. As near as I can tell, we’re seeing two fundamental changes.

First, what are we to make of scarcity just vanishing? What’s a newspaper to do when I don’t have to buy their paper or watch their program because I can find the same information ten or twenty other places online? Or, just as importantly, when I can find other information that’s just as interesting to me hundred or thousand places online? This is important, for when I hit a paywall or am obnoxiously prompted to log in, I close the window or click a link and find something else that suits my tastes at least nearly as well in twenty seconds. Sure, your article about Barack Obama would haven been great, but I can find others elsewhere, and I like reading about Hillary Clinton too.

Second, what are we to make of the plummeting costs of duplication? What’s record label to do when I don’t have to buy their music because I can download it? What’s a newspaper to do when I can easily replicate their content in my feed reader by scraping their site? Or when a splogger does something actually harmful?

There are maybe some answers.

To the first, many propose inventing new business models around goods and services that are necessarily scarce. Bands, for instance, should let go of making money off CDs and embrace concert tours and t-shirts. Kevin Kelly writes about eight other ideas, which he calls generatives. Make your goods and services premium or easier to find or personalized, etc. Good ideas.

To the second, there’s something like Attributor, which could let us track our copyrighted material and force re-publishers to share the monetization. Copyright is still the basis here. Well, without copyright, there would be no basis for technologies like Attributor anyhow.

Are there more problems? I’m sure there are. But fighting ubiquity is a losing battle. Why not encourage it, track it, add up the duplications, and create something that tells us what’s most duplicated? Aggregate the publishing and the re-publishings. Then we’d know what to read or watch—that something is more duplicated indicates some kind of relevant popularity and interestingness (one hopes).

Re-publishers can each have some slice of the pie they helped grow. They keep a share of the ad revenue, and original authors get the rest. This should make everyone happy as long as the copyright owner’s slice of the new, larger pie is larger than the whole of the original, smaller pie. It’s win-win.

So, yeah, I suspect copyright’s still a useful legal construct. It can still promote economic efficiency. But it’s foolish to rely on copyright to enforce scarcity. Instead, embrace ubiquity and monetize it.

Gatherers and Packagers: When Product and Brand Cleave 4 Realz

Jeff Jarvis writes about the coming economics of news:

When the packager takes up and presents the gatherer’s content in whole and monetizes it—mostly with advertising—they share the revenue. When the gatherer just links, the gatherer monetizes the traffic, likely as part of an ad network as well.

I think this is right. In the first case, the content is on the “packager’s” page or in its feed; in the second, the content is on the “gatherer’s” page or in its feed. In both cases, advertising monetized the content (let’s say) and readers or viewers found it by way of the packager’s brand (a coarse but inevitable word).

To me, however, the location of the user’s experience seems unimportant—in fact, the whole point of disaggregating journalism into two functions, imho, is to free up the content from the chains of fixed locations. Jarvis writes, “The packagers’ job would be to find the best news and information for their audience no matter where it comes from.” I agree, but why not let it go anywhere too—anywhere, that is, where the packager can still monetize it? (See Attributor if that sounds crazy.)

Couple this with the idea that rss-like subscriptions are on the move as the mechanism by which we get our content, replacing search in part. (As has been said before, there’s no spam on twitter. Why not? Followers just unsubscribe.) The result is that the packager still maintains his incentive to burnish his reputation and sell his brand. After all, that’s what sploggers are: packagers without consciences who get traffic via search.

So I agree with Jarvis: “reliably bringing you the best package and feed of news that matters to you from the best sources” is how “news brands survive and succeed.” That’s how “the packagers are now motivated to assure that there are good sources.”

Give in order to get

We must loosen our grasp on our written property in order to keep it from slipping out of our hands entirely.

See here: “Design and presentation, eventually, won’t matter. Your core content still will.”

The conclusion is maybe one step more dramatic—because it’s important to stress that your “core” content is only any given part of your overall content. Expect another company not only to re-design and re-present your content but also to select only chunks or slivers, re-ordered and even re-mixed or re-worded.

But how to make money from content, then, if everyone’s pilfering and spinning? One answer is Attributor, which takes a “fingerprint” of your text. A system of presentation (say, a future newspaper’s own site) could then analyze any piece of content (say, article A) and detect whether it’s 50 percent original, 25 percent article X, and 25 percent article Y. The system could then share only half as much advertising revenue with the writer of article A and divert the rest in equal parts to the writers of X and Y. No harm, no foul. The writer of A didn’t necessarily plagiarize in any normatively bad sense, but article A is only half his, and it’s one-quarter X’s and one-quarter Y’s. They get their due, fair and square.

Or the writers of X and Y can serve a take-down notice. But if they do, they give up their 25 percent of the shared advertising. It’s just economics—remixed economics that may let us breathe a sigh of relief, loosen our death grip on our precious but ultimately fungible words, and begin to make profit and a living nevertheless.

If writers X and Y want the shared advertising revenue from our future newspaper, they must agree to let others replicate it. Some writers won’t, especially at first. But the smarter writers will.

Re-use is no blow to their writerly esteem. Their original works are no less poetic (or, more likely, godawful) because others spin them into new forms. We are not gawking through a looking glass into another world where re-use is an anonymous, miscegenated norm. Let us trust that the White Album won’t vanish, that the Blank Album won’t dissolve, and that the Gray Album will be a good listen—in its own right, appropriately so. Thank you, Mr. Beatles. Much obliged, Mr. Z. And a job well done to you, Mr. Mouse. Authorship is too human for us to ignore it when someone tells us something, his story, his story.

Could there be Attributor equivalents for audio and video?

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