If you put content on the web, it is very likely that your content will be copied and used on other sites. That’s The Force of the Web and, like The Force in Star Wars, it has both a light side and a dark side. Much of the difference between the two sides is due to attribution, or the lack of it. I’ll quote to illustrate the light side, being even more careful than usual to provide attribution. Here are the wise words of Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch.
Links are the currency of the Web. They are the way attributions are made. In most cases, media companies would be better off if they could just get everyone who is copying their stuff to link back to them than by trying to extract licensing fees out of them or suing them. There is a lot less friction in asking for a link, and it doesn’t cost anything to give one out. Yet all of those links can turn into traffic, both directly and by imbuing the original source with higher search karma (i.e. a higher ranking on search engines).
Then there’s the dark side, manifested in sites that take content and republish it without linking or other attribution, but with ads. (Erick provides examples.)
Who will fight the dark side? You? A noble Jedi knight? A mercenary? In the latter category we find Attributor, a startup that crawls the web, looking for copies of its clients’ content.
Attributor already has AP and Reuters as clients. Its fees to such enterprise clients may run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. A limited version for humble bloggers such as me (and you?) is planned for next year, at a monthly cost of “as little as $6 or $7 a month.”
At the risk of being self-serving, it would make more sense to make the humble blogger version free. Why should we get free mini-Attributor? There are many reasons. One is that we’re used to the existence of a free version of pretty much anything on the web.
The closest comparison with which I’m familiar is Akismet: Akismet fights spam comments, Attributor fights spam blogs (splogs). I’ll make just one other comparison: Flickr. Like many bloggers, I use Flickr, started doing so in part because it was free, but now happily pay for the pro version.
But perhaps the best argument to Attributor for a free version is based on attribution itself. I am sure I’m not alone in saying that, if there was a free version, I would very likely use it on my blog, post about the fact that copies of my content are being tracked, and provide attribution to the folks who were doing the tracking. (Were I a sidebar-stuffer, I’d put its logo, with link, in my sidebar, but I’m not.)
It strikes me (on less than an hour’s consideration, I admit) that Attributor and Automattic might work very well together. Automattic’s products include, not only Akismet, but also WordPress.com, to which something like Attributor would be a very welcome addition.