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Taming the Wild West of content

Digital-media veteran Jim Brock says that for all its vaunted progress, the online-content economy still lacks transparency and accountability.

It only took a few years for the Internet to explode into a new channel to promote and deliver all types of content. The impact continues to reverberate, as traditional media companies try to capture the new efficiencies and potential of the online-content economy while battling threats to their ownership and control of content assets. Despite its rapid growth, the online-content economy still lacks attributes that all successful economies have: transparency and accountability.

In fact, we're in the Wild West stage of the content economy.

Without a system to give content creators and publishers visibility into where and how their assets are re-used, there can be no effective accountability and copyright infringement proliferates.

While much of the focus has been on copyrighted video, text content remains the core navigation and advertising currency of the Web, powering billions of dollars in contextually served advertising. "Sploggers"--essentially plagiarists--duplicate text content to increase keyword density and optimize their sites on search engines to boost ad dollars. Rightful content owners experience a lower ranking in search engines, fewer visitors and less revenue.

Media companies cannot compete when they must bear all costs of production--while others profit from it.

Images are the eye candy of the Web, yet the explosion of image search sites translates into millions of photos being re-used without permission every month. Photographers lack the tools to understand which sites are publishing their work without permission or to calculate the resulting revenue impact.

As a result, publishers of all sizes are either holding back much of their content or releasing it under tight restrictions. And who can blame them?

Media companies cannot compete when they must bear all costs of production while others profit from it. Photographers are smart to be cautious when unauthorized use is just a right-click away. Think of the advertising and transaction revenue opportunities if publishers were able to push their content out as far as the Internet would take it. Add to this the consumer benefit of a higher-quality selection of content without silos, and then we are much closer to fulfilling the Internet's original promise.

Unleashing the broad syndication and licensing frameworks necessary to achieve a vibrant content economy may present a challenge in terms of complexity and scale; however, the industry must provide all publishers with solutions that fully exploit the Internet's reach. Filing suit for every copyright infringement is not the answer, nor are point-to-point solutions that force publishers to play whack-a-mole with every site that lets people upload content.

June 1 marks the eighth anniversary of Napster's launch. Since then, we've seen terrific growth in the online-content economy. The next eight years can be even more amazing, but only if publishers of all sizes have visibility into how and where their content is being used and flexibility to pursue new business opportunities that leverage the distributed syndication potential of the Internet.