Nov 14, 2008

Business - Unlicensed stories reel in Net readers

SAN FRANCISCO: Here is a reason for newspapers and magazines to wince: On average, the audience perusing unauthorised online copies of their articles is nearly 2.5 times larger than the readership on their own websites, according to a study being released on Thursday.

However, the problem, flagged by copyright cop Attributor Corporation, could turn into a golden opportunity if media companies figure out a way to mine advertising revenue from the traffic flocking to their pirated stories posted on blogs and other sites.

Attributor, which makes software that searches the Internet for copyright violations, estimates the average Web publisher could collect more than $150,000 in revenue by selling ads alongside its unlicensed material.

It is an unscientific estimate, based on an assumption that advertisers would pay $1 for every 1,000 pages of unauthorised material viewed on websites that are not owned by the copyright owners.

If anything, Attributor believes its calculations understate the opportunity. The California-based company is working with a few media companies that could generate more than $1 million in annual advertising by enforcing their online copyrights, said Rich Pearson, Attributor’s vice president of marketing.

There is a whiff of self-interest in Attributor’s findings. The privately held company stands to profit if it can persuade potential customers that the Internet is riddled with copyright abuses that could translate into more revenue if the poachers are identified. Attributor’s current customers include The Associated Press, Reuters and The Financial Times.

In the most extreme cases, the copyright backlash has triggered bitter legal battles like the one that culminated in the demise of the music sharing service Napster. In a showdown still unfolding, Viacom is suing Internet search leader Google for alleged copyright infringement on its video-sharing site, YouTube.

The worst copyright headaches diagnosed in Attributor’s study occurred in stories about automobiles, travel and movie reviews. The readership of unlicensed stories in those three categories was four to seven times higher than on the websites where the content originated.

Attributor’s study reviewed 30 billion Web pages hosting copies of stories from more than 100 major websites.. — AP

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