2008: The Year in Content Theft

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Creative Commons License photo credit: ladybugbkt

Every year, at about this time, I take a look back at the year that was and, specifically, my predictions that I had made for it going into the new year.

It’s always fun, and sometimes a bit comical, to look back on year, see where we thought we would be now and compare it to how things actually went down. As my predictions in 2007 showed, this is a tough field to predict and one where my guesses end up being a mixed bag. Still, it is humorous to look back at where we thought we would be and see how far off we were.

So let us take a look back at the predictions I had made for 2008 and honestly evaluate them to see how on or off the mark I was. For each item I’ll do my best to determine if I was “right”, “Wrong” or if no conclusion can be drawn. Then, shortly after the new year, we’ll delve into the predictions for 2009.

Prediction 1: Spinning Spam Increases

This one is a tough one to analyze. The very nature of spinning spam, a means by which content is scraped and then altered, usually by substituting synonyms, is one that makes it difficult to detect. I have noticed a larger than usual number of spam blogs that contain content likely spun, but it seems that the bulk of the shift in spam blogging has been in severely truncated posting.

It appears that many spammers have decided to forgo CPU and time consuming automated spinning (when you factor in the fact that they are running thousands of spam blogs) in favor of simply truncating their posts tightly in a bid to fly under Google’s radar and limit the copyright claims that bloggers can make.

It is an unfortunate situation, but not an altogether surprising one.

Verdict: No Conclusion

Prediction 2: New Technologies Change the Game

In this prediction, I stated that 2008 was going to be a banner year for new technologies and that companies like Attributor were going to drastically change the game. Sadly, that isn’t the case.

Though Attributor and iCopyright both have excellent content detection tools, iCopyright’s being released this year, both are only available to large scale clients at this time and there is no “down market” version available for bloggers and end users. As a result, neither have had a chance to really change the game any.

The good news, however, is that both are working on such a product though release dates are unclear.

As it turned out, 2008 was actually a banner year for the stalwart, battle-tested service in this area. Copyscape took top honors in a broad plagiarism detection challenge and Bitscan released one of the most interesting and exciting new products of the year.

Will 2009 be the year where plagiarism and content detection takes a great leap forward for the average blogger? I guess we’ll see.

Verdict: Wrong

Prediction 3: False DMCA Notices

To be fair, this was a cheat. It was obvious that there would be false DMCA notices filed and, as a result, controversies about them.

Still, there were more DMCA controversies than ever this year. A few examples include Liosgate foiling their own promotional effort, the Church of Scientology filing over 4000 DMCA notices with YouTube, the International Olympic Committee going after a “free Tibet” video on YouTube, Viacom going after a film they don’t own and Mahalo Daily being supspended from YouTube.

All of this being since July first.

However, it was the election that brought out the worst in this area. Takedown notices were exchanged more frequently than barbs. Things hit an all-time low when CBS demanded takedown of a commercial using a very small clip of Katie Couric prompting the McCain camp to ask for special treatment on these matters.

It was an ugly year on this front, but we all knew it would be.

Verdict: Right

Prediction 4: RIAA Loses Traction

I was right about this one but wrong about the way it would happen. The recent news that the RIAA is abandoning its lawsuit strategy is a clear indication that its policy has lost all traction. However, before things got too ugly and the labels started heading for the door, which was something that I predicted would begin this year, they shifted to a strategy that favors working with ISPs.

I was definitely right in spirit that this was a major year of setbacks and reflection for the RIAA, however, they were smart enough to change course and avoid the beginnings of disintegration. It was a good move on their part, as it preserves their legal options and, almost certainly, helps reassure uncertain labels.

Verdict: Right (I’m Giving Myself this One)

Prediction 5: Perez Hilton Loses

This one is tough to call. As I reported on the Blog Herald, this case has been settled and the terms were not disclosed. The images have been removed from Hilton’s site, but it is unclear if he has paid any money in damages.

I have a hard time calling Perez Hilton a “loser” in this settlement since I don’t know the terms, but since the images are gone I think it is safe to say that he did not stick to his arguments and I am hard pressed to call him a “winner” either.

So, in the end, I have to kind of take a pass on this one. We’ve got a conclusion, but not enough information about it to determine what that outcome really was.

Verdict: No Conclusion

Prediction 6: Old Media Joins the Fun

I was unsure about this prediction, which said that traditional media would move more to the Web, but it looks like it came true in a very big way. Not only is mainstream media putting more and more of its content on the Web, some, like the Christian Science Monitor, are going Web-only. There has been a major shift away from “dead tree” media, the paywalls are coming down and the walled gardens are being demolished.

However, the biggest step in this are was likely Hulu, which formally launched in March. Though it was already in private beta at the time last year’s article was written, it had limited support and not much was known about it. Now, it has become a powerhouse with licensed content from NBC, Fox and others.

Hulu has been viewed widely as a major success for TV networks on the Web and could be a sign of what’s to come in this area.

Verdict: Right

Prediction 7: Image Search Grows Up

Another one that was at least half right.

In this prediction I said that 2008 will be the year that “image search grows up and we can actually detect duplicate images on the Web even if the file has been renamed, has had the EXIF data changed or has been altered.” Indeed, that did happen in 2008, one needs look no farther than Tineye.

The problem with Tineye is that the database is still much too small for it to be practical. However, the technology itself is very solid.

So, I wouldn’t say that image searching, at least not end-user image searching, has really grown up fully, but it may be in what one might consider its “teen” years, still unsure of itself and where its going, still learning, but already shaping up to to become a powerful force.

Verdict: No Conclusion (Right and Wrong)

Final Total

Looking over the seven predictions I see one, the second, that was clearly wrong (2) ,three that were right (3, 4 & 6) and three for which there is not enough information to make a judgment or is otherwise half right/half wrong (1, 5 & 7).

All in all, this was a pretty good year for my predictions, well over 50% accuracy and made even better by the fact that the one I was clearly wrong on may change any time now.

All in all, it seemed as if I was more on-target this year but I was also more conservative with my guesses, at least two of my right answers were pretty easy to predict.

Conclusions

There is not much left to say on 2008. It was a wild year for copyright and content theft issues. I’ve done over 50 episodes of the Copyright 2.0 Show this year and every single one had good competition both for the lead story and the “Weird Story of the Week”.

I’ll come back in a few days with my predictions for 2009, but there is one thing I feel very safe saying, that it will be a very busy hear in this area with lots of excitement and news to cover.

I’m looking forward to it already.

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