Copyright is not user-friendly. In fact, copyright issues are so complex it is hardly friendly to publishers or lawyers either. While publishers and authors want as many people as possible to use their content—with recommendation and sharing fueling new reader interest—digital distribution makes it far too easy to push pass-along to the point of piracy. The simple act of cutting and pasting an article into an email you send to a colleague, for example, might not be a legal use. Other common content activities like quoting, excerpting, or printing out copies and passing them around the office might also be restricted under certain content licenses.
Yet the complexity of copyright presents such a high hurdle that most users don't even try to decipher its vagaries and just hit the Send button and hope for the best. Even those who personally want to adhere to copyright or whose organizations mandate it often find the process of clearing rights so daunting that it hardly seems worth it, thus inhibiting their ability to share valuable resources.
Many organizations that license vast content collections and require that employees adhere to the usages outlined in these licenses work with Copyright Clearance Center, which has been in the business of managing publishing rights for almost 30 years. A few years ago, these clients started coming to CCC and outlining the problem above in search of a solution. They wanted to provide staff with a way to understand what they could legally do with a piece of content as easily as they could send an email.
CCC set out to deliver, and in June introduced Rightsphere, which provides "an instant, unambiguous answer to the user's question, ‘What am I allowed to do with this content?'" CCC will target this solution at its existing largest corporate customers, which (all told) license billions of dollars worth of content and have significant interest in compliance issues. Rightsphere pricing ranges from $70,000 to $145,000 or so, depending on the size of the customer organization, number of end users, and geographical (i.e., international) reach of the company. According to Doug Black, CCC's public relations manager, "We're targeting large organizations that are making their users comply with copyright, though," he says, "employees do want to do the right thing."
Eliminating the difficulty around knowing what the right thing is was a key Rightsphere objective. Black says, "Collaboration and content compliance have been at loggerheads. Unlike DRM, we're not at all about restricting use; we are a collaboration enabler."
When an organization uses Rightsphere, a bookmarklet icon will appear on its employees' browser toolbars. When the user finds content that they want to do something with (on the open web or within a service like LexisNexis), they simply click the icon, and a list of options will appear—choices like "I want to email this document to a colleague" or "I want to upload a copy to the intranet." All they do then is hit the Confirm Permission button and the answer instantly appears. Depending on the given publication, license, etc., the user will be instantly granted permission, told how to purchase rights, or any number of other options that might be available depending on the usage request. At that point, they can take whatever action they see fit, but given such an easy way to know copyright from wrong, CCC believes that most will do the right thing.
Each organization's administrator can define and present reuse scenarios phrased in the company's vernacular, or that of specific workgroups or job titles. The administrator also inputs all of that company's content licenses into its Rightsphere system, which allows it to instantly auto-identify ISSN/ISBNs and associated permissions. Rightsphere reconciles rights from multiple sources into a single result and enables users to purchase rights through CCC's ecommerce process, if not already pre-paid by the company.
Bill Cohn, CCC's product marketing manger, says, "Rightsphere is an advisory service that helps manage rights from multiple sources. We provide organizations with the means to leverage the content they paid for." In fact, the system gives content administrators a way to centrally assign, maintain, and organize rights for all of an organization's agreements and licenses. It also generates reports on reuse of copyrighted materials, which provides insight into the full lifecycle of content, helping content managers determine content value and see rights-coverage gaps. Cohn says, "Where most publishing services show primary content use, Rightsphere allows you to analyze content reuse at a very granular level to better evaluate value of content."
However, Cohn makes the distinction that CCC's Rightsphere solution will not track the action taken based on its rights advisory (if an employee goes against what the service suggested, for example, and reuses content without permission). "We don't know the action taken, but we can track the intent—what they wanted to do. Our clients didn't want us tracking actual use of that content, though they do want to know what their employees want to do with content. It's not big brother; it's an advisor."
Currently, Rightsphere only handles copyright licenses for text-based content; however, CCC is considering expanding its purview in the future. "The tool is flexible," he says, "and we anticipate growth of categories and media types, but we've got to walk before we run." Undoubtedly, digital content types will continue to emerge and grow in importance to organizations seeking to legitimately use and reuse content; and for better or worse, copyright will continue to shape shift in order to protect its use. Copyright Clearance Center plans for Rightsphere to be there to help clarify these emerging issues at the desktop level. As Cohn says, "Ambiguity is the enemy."