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Software that can show news publishers if, and where, their content has been copied online has been launched.

Called Attributor, the program, designed by a California start-up of the same name, has been tested by AP and Reuters for the last six months. Reuters began using it for real in September. The software looks for big steals - more than half an article. It also checks whether a link back to the source has been provided, if there are adverts on the page, and how many visitors the site gets.

A publisher feeds the software with all their content for the day, then sends it off to check other websites. Attributor can be set to automatically email offending websites asking for a link or a share of ad revenues.

Big media organisations are increasingly asking for links rather than royalty payments. Negotiating a royalty agreement is time consuming and expensive while a link can provide more readers, and therefore more revenue, quickly and easily.

One newspaper exec explained the change of heart to the New York Times: "The ad revenue they get from it might not be much, but if each of those just gives a link back to our original, that could be a significant amount of traffic."

Attributor currently only works with text, though the company is aiming to create products for images and video. It is also working on a version of its software that could be used cheaply by bloggers and personal publishers.

More on the Attributor website here, or on the NYT here. ®

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