Arr! Publishers Losing Money on ‘Pirated’ Stories

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The audience for unauthorized copies of newspaper articles online is nearly one and a half times larger than the readership on the newspapers’ own Web sites, a study released Thursday found.

Attributor, a company that monitors copyright issues, said media companies could capitalize on the trend if they could figure out a way to get a piece of advertising revenue from the traffic flocking to their pirated stories.

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 Web sites where the content originated.

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

The company said the estimate was based on an assumption that advertisers would pay $1 for every 1,000 pages of unauthorized material viewed on Web sites that are not owned by the copyright owners.

If anything, Attributor believes its calculations understate the loss to publishers. The company is already 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.

“The people creating all this content are not being justly rewarded and publishers are clamoring for every dollar of revenue that they can get in this environment,” Pearson said.

Attributor, which is privately held, would stand to profit if it could persuade potential customers that the Internet is riddled with copyright abuses that could translate into more revenue if the poachers were identified. Attributor’s customers include The Associated Press, Reuters and The Financial Times.

But the issue of copyright infringement was a sore point for media executives long before the company began developing its detection system in 2006.

Attributor’s study reviewed 30 billion Web pages hosting copies of stories from more than 100 major Web sites. None of the sites belonged to Attributor’s current customers. After excluding all properly licensed content, Attributor then discarded any page that copied less than 50 percent or fewer than 125 words of a copyrighted story.

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