From Policing to Business Opportunity

Sites and content purveyors are removing DRM, the digital rights management software that restricts use of their material. There are various reasons, including the hassle to legitimate customers -- keeping them from making legitimate use of something they buy on multiple machines, for example -- while not really stopping people who want to make illicit copies. Burning, ripping and copying software is freely available and relatively easy to use.

Then there’s the issue of pilfered content like photos or text or video taken from TV shows, which also is hard to control or stop.

In come the tracking companies, like Teletrax and Attributor, both of which (full disclosure) my company has worked with and I've covered. I notice that these companies, that may be seen as helping police the Web, are now positioning themselves as business partners: We’ll not just help you find out where your content’s going so you can slap others’ wrists (or sue their pants off, if need be), not only be digital police, but ALSO be business partners. We’ll help you gently request that whoever’s using your stuff, and, say, putting ads on it, cut you in on that ad revenue.

It’s an appealing model for someone who wants to see win-win solutions, and make at least incremental revenue relatively hassle-free, instead of the lose-lose solution of lawsuits and wrangling and all that. But can it really work in our legalistic, lawyer-heavy sytem? Ultimately the sites that cooperate will do so if they see the threat of punishment for not. We’re talking everyone from fly-by-night link farms to the Google/YouTubes of the world.

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