In the old days, wire service editors could easily keep track of which of their stories were picked up by the newspapers. That became a much harder task with the emergence of Web sites.
Now, however, there's a sort of digital clipping service that can keep tabs on which Web sites posted the articles and whether those articles were accompanied by ads or required subscriptions to view.
The technology is called Attributor and comes from a company by the same name. Attributor has signed contracts with two of the world's biggest wire services, Reuters and Associated Press, giving Attributor a good bit of street cred. The Reuters deal was set to be announced on Monday, while the Associated Press agreement was struck in May.
Basically, Attributor extracts essential elements of the text and images (and video later this year) and then scans the Web for sites where that content appears.
"The technique is similar to fingerprinting," says Attributor chief executive Jim Brock, who declined to divulge technical details.
In addition to finding legitimate distributors of the content, the service will be able to find sites that might be infringing on copyright by posting the content without permission. Attributor will provide a platform for the content owner to either ask the site to remove the content or ask for a link back to the original content site. But that's not the focus of the business, Brock says.
"We don't consider ourselves to be any kind of copyright police," he said in an interview. "We let the original publisher control the outcome."
Instead, the best business case for Attributor is to help a publisher analyze how its content is being used, which individual articles or types of articles are published the most, and whether the content is being monetized. Attributor can also help get revenue-share deals with the sites using the content, and then figure out other earning potential, according to Brock.
Reuters, which syndicates news stories and photos, wants to "get a better handle on how Reuters products are doing in the marketplace" so it can better serve its customers, says Ric Camacho, vice president of digital syndication. "Reuters is driven by an interest in getting more business intelligence over our syndication practice."
A representative for Associated Press was unavailable for comment on Friday.
Controlling the rights to original content in the digital age has become a big issue for publishers because of the ease with which it can be copied, pasted, forwarded and modified on the Internet.
The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse sued Google for alleged copyright infringement related to its aggregation of their articles on Google News, but later settled and signed distribution deals with the search giant.