An online security expert is urging start-ups to take a more hard-line approach to their online content to protect it from copy, theft and abuse by their competition.
Shay Rapaport, chief executive of SiteBlackBox, which provides tools to protect websites against breaches of their business interests and policies, says the anonymity of web interactions puts web publishers at risk.
“Web publishers want to monetise their content, but in order to do it they open it to the anonymous masses and lose control over its usage… [These risks] are an obstacle to content and service monetisation,” Rapaport says.
“The online content industry, unlike others, relies heavily on page hits and ads… If your content is an important revenue channel, or if it gives you any competitive advantage, you don’t want it to be copied.”
“Moreover, since their content is publicly available, scraping or abusing it is not a security breach per se and, in most cases, [is] legal.”
Rapaport says he knows of web companies who claim they have learnt to “co-exist” with vertical aggregators scraping their content because the aggregators provide links back to the “stolen” content.
“If you’re both monetising the same content, ultimately a user would have to decide where to go and consume it,” he says.
“No matter how you look at it, you’re in competition and it is not your content that the aggregators are after but rather your users; your clients.”
Rapaport says start-ups must prioritise the user experience above all else, particularly as start-ups are less inclined to have a solid customer base.
“I’ve seen many websites too paranoid about their content being stolen and displaying CAPTCHAs [too frequently] – you don’t do that,” he says.
“An anti-scraping solution must be flexible and have a reasonable threshold before taking actions.”
“On the other hand, it should be consistently rough on those who get caught. It’s not easy. Today there are both services you can lease, which scrape sites from hundreds of different IP addresses simultaneously.”
Rapaport highlights the 2007 case between Telstra and Local Directories, which saw Telstra launch Federal Court action against Local Directories on the grounds it had infringed copyright by reproducing data found in the phonebooks.
Telstra lost its case in February 2010 after Justice Michelle Gordon said a lack of “creative spark” in the creation of the directories meant they were not afforded copyright protection.
Rapaport says start-ups can learn from Telstra’s failure to win its case, describing the law as “ineffective” in enforcing business models over the web.
“Moreover, you turn to court after the actual damage has been done. What we say is simple: take proactive technological measures and avoid litigation,” he says.