Copyrights gain online ally 

A new Redwood City firm hopes to lock up the market on searching the Internet for violations of copyrighted material, allowing publishers of text, images, audio and video to see where their content is being reproduced and setting the terms — financial or otherwise — of that reproduction.

Attributor, founded by former Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) Senior Vice President Jim Brock and former Moreover CEO Jim Pitkow, will launch its first commercial product in early 2007. The Web-based service will be available at price points that enable both large music, television and movie firms and small, nonprofit publishers to use the product, CEO Brock said, including a free version.

"I spent a lot of time in my career both when I was practicing law, and when I was working with startup companies, and working with Yahoo [thinking about] the incredible power of the Internet and how it was getting more and more interesting," said Brock, who left Yahoo in November 2004. "When I was thinking about the next thing, I was thinking about something I wanted to do from the ground up. This was a necessary component for the content economy to create its full potential."

Clients of Attributor would have their content "fingerprinted" by the firm, and then the firm would go out and seek other sites online carrying content with that same fingerprint. Once it found the content — say, a clip from television embedded in a blog — the owner could either request that the material be pulled as per the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, request distribution or request a cut of the advertising revenue generated by the content, Brock said.

"We want to support any number of possible outcomes," he said. "We’re really committed to the idea that this kind of transparency is something that any content owner deserves."

The technology might also resolve some of the issues of content providers who are fearful of putting their information on the World Wide Web because they don’t want it republished willy-nilly, he said.

Venture capitalists, including a second round of funders announced Monday, have put some $10 million into the firm in its two rounds, Selby Venture Partners Managing Director Marco DeMiroz said.

"According to some, about 40 percent of Internet traffic is media-based traffic," said DeMiroz, who met Brock some 15 years ago when DeMiroz was at BigBook.com and Brock was that company’s outside counsel through the Venture Law Group. "We have not seen a solution of this breadth and depth. Our vision is to become the de facto standard and solution for this."

Attributor has fewer than 20 employees to date and intends to remain in Redwood City, DeMiroz added. It is presently moving into beta testing.

Greg Gretsch, managing director of funding firm Sigma & Partners, said he has spoken with major content providers such as Turner Broadcasting and ABC News and identified copyright protection as a major issue for these firms.

It remains to be seen how this technology will affect content distributors, such as Google Inc. (GOOG), and whether it will impact their revenues if this desirable content is more rigorously protected. The firm’s backers say they see "hundreds of millions" in revenue potential, and in-house solutions and audio patrol firms such as San Francisco’s SnoCap as the only competitors.

"Google is committed to copyright enforcement and adheres closely to provisions outlined in the DMCA. We do a variety of things to discourage users from posting copyrighted material, and we have a strong policy of taking things down very quickly when requested." Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker said. "Google has robust content verification tools that many content owners use to streamline the DMCA process. Content owners can easily remove the content."

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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