Slashdot shares news of publishers undertaking a massive campaign to pursue infringers on the web. Via Newsosaur, most of the details come from the technology company fueling the effort. Essentially, a web crawler, similar to what search engines use to build their indexes, will be used along with some unspecified content identification system. The plan is for notices to be sent first followed up by formal DMCA takedown letters if the targeted sites do not enter into a licensing agreement with the original sources.
While I cannot quibble with the legal basis of this effort nor find it practically different from similar undertakings by other players in the world of big content, I am concerned about the knock on effects. The web works by linking and to a lesser degree excerpting. I personally don’t think 100% utilization is morally sustainable but this plan has already moved towards just 80% re-use. I may also be more sanguine about that fraction as it still would tend to target folks re-posting the heart of an article rather than adding their own value through additional commentary and analysis while preserving an incentive to click through to the original material. How long, though, before the triggering portion drops to a level that get fuzzier and fuzzier, encroaching on what would commonly be considered a fair use?
The other issue I take with this plan is that it is attempting to solve the wrong problem. I seriously doubt extensive quotation is solely or even largely responsible for the failing revenues that publishers feel are forcing them down this path. In fact, I am convinced that some soul searching on why at least some infringers are so heavily re-quoting may inspire innovative changes by the original publishers. I will concede that this consideration has natural limits, there are a class of pirates who are simply outright thieves resistant to any reason whatsoever to participate in financially supporting content production.
That doesn’t change my conviction that a more constructive response is to look at the piracy first as free market research and at least combine efforts for reducing the outright thievery with a more compelling offering that gives readers and re-linkers more of a reason to shore up advertising revenues and other sources of income for those bearing the burden of producing original content online.