Keeping Up With Copyright In The Digital Age

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Going Beyond DRM
Along with legal attempts to manage digital copyright, publishers have long sought to thwart copyright infringement through the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies that prevent the unauthorized copying or forwarding of content. The success of those encryption and locking efforts has been mixed.

Gartner’s McGuire says, “Does DRM protect content? Virtually all types have been cracked.” CCC’s Burger takes it a step further, saying, “I think DRM is dead. I define it as the use of technologies to restrict access or distribution to people” who may have a legitimate need, and an ability to pay for, content.

Not everyone shares that pessimism around DRM’s ability to balance the rights of content publishers and consumers. Adam Ayer is president of LicenseLogic LLC, which provides content licensing and rights management training. “Publishers should certainly be allowed to put anything they want in terms of DRM on their content,” says Ayer. “It’s in their interest to invest the resources and try to prevent users from pirating their work.” However, Ayer also feels strongly that there’s a need for more third-party tools to help content buyers accurately monitor their usage. “It’s just not a good idea for them to rely on vendor tracking only.”

McGuire is excited about the fact that publishers are trying non-traditional approaches to DRM. “I see the role of DRM changing; publishers are moving away from a locking scenario and moving to improving tracking mechanisms,” he says. He also sees publishers experimenting with other revenue streams beyond play-based scenarios. “When NBC put full episodes of The Office online, its television audience actually increased,” he says, resulting in increased advertising revenues.

Along with the changing role of DRM and legislative attempts at keeping up with digital distribution scenarios, publishers and corporate content buyers should be taking a hard look at two other approaches: improved training and usage tracking.

Emphasis on Training
It’s critical that companies articulate their ethics and policies around copyright on a continual basis so that employees have a framework within which to evaluate each new instance of potential copyright violation.

O’Donnell of iCopyright says that in his experience, “Most people want to do the right thing.” The problem is communicating what the right thing is to large, distributed workforces that are empowered to act on their own. CCC’s Burger points out that ongoing training can be daunting. “It’s a challenge when rights vary by content, by country, and by individual user,” he says.

In response to this challenge, the Software Information Industry Association (SIIA) has introduced a Certified Content Rights Manager course, developed by LicenseLogic. The course, which culminates with a certification exam, examines all aspects of intellectual property protection, and is aimed at information professionals, corporate counsel, IT managers, and others who manage content.

The SIIA website also offers helpful resources on copyright law and sample corporate policies and procedures documents.

Making It Easier to Do the Right Thing
Additionally, there are a growing number tools available to corporations and publishers that are making it easier to identify, communicate, and abide by acceptable content uses, ranging from the simple to the complex.

Creative Commons was founded in 2001 by a group of academics inspired by the GNU General Public License for software distribution. According to Eric Steuer, creative director of Creative Commons, “The founders saw a need for tools to give them access to content they wanted to share with their students. They were able to find information on the open web and wanted to use it in their classrooms,” but weren’t always able to determine copyright ownership.

Creative Commons offers a free, easy-to-use set of boilerplate legal and technical agreements for content creators to apply to their works, which can be anything from an article to a song to a work of art, like a painting or sculpture. Using a licensing tool wizard, content creators are guided through a series of questions to determine what rights, and under what circumstances, they are comfortable granting. They also include contact details so that individuals interested in purchasing additional rights can easily reach them. In the case of digital content, a license icon is also generated that can be dropped into the content itself, linking immediately to the license.

“There are 150 million pieces of content licensed under Creative Commons licenses, and we’ve only had two court cases,” Steuer points out. Photo sharing site Flikr embeds Creative Commons licenses within all its photos. “The license attributes both the photo creator and Flikr,” says Steuer. “It’s a safe way to build reputation value for the photographers.”

Taking the Creative Commons model a step further, iCopyright offers publishers tools that embed copyright information and provide a seamless link to an immediate payment mechanism. Clients add an iCopyright tag to their Content Management Systems so that each piece of new content generated will automatically be rendered with the license information. According to president O’Donnell, “The tag, which most publishers prefer to render visible to the reader, says who owns the content, what you can do with the content, and enables you to transact the license immediately.”

Currently there are about 1,000 publications on the iCopyright system, with another 2,000 in the pipeline. As a part of its Content Anti-Piracy Program, the SIIA offers its members the ability to use iCopyright tags to create a digital audit trail for its members, monitoring end-user compliance with negotiated copyrights.

Both Creative Commons and iCopyright offer basic search functionality on their sites, which enables users to locate licensed materials. However, CCC’s Rightsphere product was designed from the ground up for corporations with vast licensed content resources to use inside the enterprise. Using this tool, corporations can permission and track legal use of digital content for all employees from a centralized location.

CCC maintains a generic rights database for thousands of titles, which corporate customers then customize based on their negotiated licenses, using the Rightsphere tool. “Our customers can have dozens of content contracts; there may be different rights for different types of users, or users in different locations,” says Burger. “Rightsphere encompasses all of a company’s licensing agreements.”

End users then have instant desktop access to answer the question, “What can I do with this information?” They may see, for instance, that they have rights to download and make copies for personal business use, but must pay for the right to email to external contacts. Additionally, the tool provides the feedback mechanism that Ayers recommends, aggregating total usage of content assets so that publishers and corporations alike understand how end users want to access a given piece of content.

Hitting a Moving Target
The most prudent stance for publishers is to assume that your content will not be adequately protected by even the best DRM technology. Explore the use of licensing and tracking tools that will encourage broader distribution while providing you with data on who is using your content and how. At the same time, investigate alternative revenue scenarios that rely less on play- or view-based usage and more on how your users want to view and use the content.

For corporations, the assumption should be flipped on its head. Assume that your employees are unaware of the ins and outs of digital copyright, and devote training resources to communicate your corporate policies and procedures. The goal should be to encourage your employees to always ask what they are legally allowed to do with a particular piece of information and to have the answer easily and immediately accessible. Rather than waiting for vendors to tell you what content your employees used, consider implementing content tracking mechanisms internally, much as you might with software asset management.

In the end, the biggest risk around digital usage of copyrighted content isn’t necessarily getting caught for infringement; it’s assuming that the rules and its applications have finished changing.

Companies Featured in this Article

Copyright Clearance Center  
Creative Commons
Gartner, Inc.  
iCopyright Inc.  
License Logic LLC  
Newstex LLC  
Outsell Inc.  
Software and Information Industry Association

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