Opening Cross: Big Data, Bigger Data Licensing Challenges

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Unauthorized redistribution of data remains a major issue for the market data industry, whether it’s fly-by-night data vendors in distant jurisdictions scraping data from legitimate vendors’ feeds, trading firms deliberately under-reporting usage to keep licensing costs down, and hoping that they won’t get audited, or unwittingly allowing data to flow to end-users or clients that command a different tier of fees, or companies creating structured products based on indexes that they haven’t acquired a license to use.

In the case of newswires and news media such as ourselves, our data asset is our news. And while we expect to find the occasional rogue website blatantly copying our copy, it’s unusual to find examples of this from companies familiar with the data industry and its licensing issues. Yet we encountered exactly this instance last week, when a company copy-and-pasted an entire story onto its website, and linked to this story in an email blast. Other news sites then picked up the story, believing it to be a legitimate press release, and posted it word-for-word on their sites. One of these was, to say the least, miffed when we explained the situation, because they had unwittingly been exposed to plagiarism, and immediately removed the story.

For the record, we do offer a range of choices for anyone who just can’t live without their own personal copy of an IMD story—for a fee, of course: We can produce custom PDFs of individual stories, either for printed materials or for posting on websites—in fact, to date we have only produced reprints in PDF format (though we now also offer a more affordable text-only reprint license), so for now, if you see the text of an IMD story posted elsewhere in any other format, you can draw your own conclusions about that company’s policies—and also offer the option of paying to make a story freely available to all visitors to our site. And for those who can’t afford (or resent) the fees, we encourage companies featured in our stories to link to our website.

As with any data provider or consumer, protecting our premium content is something we take very seriously. Of course, there are other instances, such as people posting stories with a broader public interest on discussion sites, or the technology provider with a business line devoted to monitoring data consumption that seemingly-obliviously re-posts our stories, or the desktop hardware provider that has a poorly scanned version of one of our stories on its site (originally a press clipping provided by its then-PR agency). It shocks me that anyone operating within the realms of our industry is unaware—or willfully ignorant—that content is content, and the restrictions that apply to one type of premium content apply equally to other premium content sets.

Thankfully, this view is rare today, and most responsible vendors and consumers take compliance very seriously. Hence, McGraw-Hill Financial’s Content Acquisition and Strategic Alliances group—which recently hired several seasoned industry players—includes a function for managing compliance with contracts and licenses from the third-party data suppliers that it uses in-house to produce ratings, research and analysis, and those whose content forms part of its services.

However, the rise of Big Data analysis and growing volumes of unstructured data may make it harder for the industry to track and reconcile data use as efficiently. For example, tracking signals created from unstructured social media data—such as those being combined with structured data by analysis platform provider AnalytixInsight—may require more sophisticated monitoring tools such as the market surveillance application being rolled out by Software AG, or the wealth of contextual text-based information being exposed by Perfect Information’s new Filings Expert tool.

How successfully the industry can manage and track this data may play a role in how widely and quickly it is adopted in trading environments, and in whether its value can translate from promise to profit.

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