The Downside of Content Remixing

 

Yesterday DIGIDAY published an article on a new web service called Bo.lt with a seemingly radical proposition: it allows users to copy, modify and share web pages. This raises several questions for publishers, considering it’s their content being altered by just about anybody. The dangers are clear, as we noted.
But David Berkowitz, senior director of emerging media and innovation at digital agency 360i, decided to show them more clearly — and in a way that got our attention. Berkowitz, who has a Bo.lt test account, decided to change our story in significant ways that caused more than a little heartburn. Our headline: “Publishing in the Remix Era” got the addition “More BS From Digiday.” Not ideal. Berkowitz altered the story significantly, changing names, dollar amounts and other things. My own title suddenly became “Lord of the Digiday underlings.”
Matt Roche, one of the founders of Bo.lt, acknowledged that the service would freak out many publishers and also needed some tweaking. But what’s clear from the Berkowtiz experiment is that the entire idea will be seen as a threat to many publishers — and moreover could easily confuse users. Berkowtiz shared a link to his altered story on Twitter. It came across as a typical URL shortened link: http://dave.bo.lt/boltdigiday. People are pretty used to shortened links, and clicking on some that frame the page in a way that makes the domain name obscured. That appears the case with the copied (I’d even call it fake) Digiday page. A casual clicker would see the branding, the name and page elements and would most likely conclude this was the real deal. There is a small bug at the bottom of the page noting a link back to the “original.”
Roche admits Bo.lt presents thorny problems from content owners. But his view is it will be a messy transition to making all content “social objects.”
“I do not trivialize the challenges,” he wrote in an email. “I have had my IP appropriated by Google, and I can feel it intensely. But I also know that this technology demands change, and whomever introduces this idea, it will happen. My goal is to work towards a service that is mindful but forward-thinking.”
Bo.lt has $5 million in venture backing from Benchmark Capital. I asked general partner about how much the legal concerns were discussed. He acknowledged the question as “valid,” but noted copyright violation was “not the intent.” He went on to provide a Silicon Valley-style cheery take on copying, altering and then passing along other people’s content.
“My view is this is going to drive more revenue for digital publishers than curtail them,” he said. “We’ve seen that through YouTube. If you can get more distribution for your content it’s a good thing.”
This might be the case, but it’s hard to believe publishers would see the brand risk as worth the extra ad revenue. The service might be protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but it is sure to ruffle the feathers of publishers if it catches on much. Roche makes clear the ads travel with the content and can’t be eliminated. This might cause even more problems. Top-tier publishers attract brand publishers (and charge premium rates) with the pitch they’ll not only reach a desirable audience but will do so in a “clean, well-lit environment.” That’s pretty much obliterated when anyone can alter the content.
Roche said he has no desire to create “The Onion of the Internet,” but it’s clear there is a high risk for it to become just that. At the very least some notice that a page has been altered — and how — would help clear up confusion. Everything is on the table, Roche hinted, but publishers will need to take a bit of a leap.
“Making page content social is more than putting a like on it,” he said.
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