Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Attempts to Game the iCopyright System Thwarted by Good Checks & Balances

We were contacted this week by a number of publishers and reporters about publicized attempts to "game" the iCopyright system. They wanted to know what measures are in place for minimizing fraud and inappropriate uses of the system. This post explains the checks and balances that ensure the integrity of the system.

iCopyright is an automated system for obtaining both free permissions and paid licenses to copyrighted content on the Web. It also provides article tools for content that may or may not be copyrighted, such as Print, Email, Post, and Save. Each publisher decides which tools to deploy and how they are configured, to best serve their audience.

The system is deployed on millions of articles published by the wire services, newspapers, and b2b websites. iCopyright Creators is also used by thousands of freelance writers, bloggers and photographers. Before the web, obtaining copyright permissions was an arduous, manual process, taking days or weeks. iCopyright was designed to make the process of acquiring rights to use copyrighted material fast and simple. The system was also designed to make it easy for users to share content, while preserving the publisher’s brand, format, links, and in some cases, their advertising. The iCopyright system processes more than 25,000 voluntary licenses each day.

We emphasize the word "voluntary" because the iCopyright system does not force anyone to acquire a license. It’s an honor system. People and companies decide for themselves whether it is appropriate to get a license, depending upon how they intend to use the content and how much of the content they intend to use. Respecting the ecology of the Web, iCopyright does not restrict the free flow of information or constrain the fair use of copyrighted content. Instead, iCopyright operates on the principle that individuals and companies who may want to make productive use of another party’s intellectual property will be respectful of the effort that went into creating the content. Every content owner also enjoys certain rights under the law, so corporate users in particular want to be legally compliant with copyright.

Most people and companies use the iCopyright system because they want to do the right thing. This is the core principle of the system's design: Let creators and publishers publicly declare their ownership in their works, and allow others to quickly and easily acquire rights to use them when those uses go beyond legitimate fair uses. The system provides education and help at every step of the process. It explains the honor system for copyright licensing and provides information on fair use and fair dealing, so that users can decide for themselves whether their intended use of the content requires permission or not.

Not surprisingly, some people may try to game the system. It's not fool proof, but it does provide reasonable checks and balances. First, users must agree to the publisher's terms of use and iCopyright's terms of use before the license is issued. The license is invalid if a user does not abide by the terms. The act of “gaming” the system is in and of itself a violation of the terms. Second, most licenses granted by the system are reviewed by a human being. When a user is caught gaming the system, the license is revoked and refunded. Third, and most importantly, the iCopyright system issues a public record identifier with each and every license. The license identifier allows the people who see the content to validate that the provider has a valid license from the owner. It's a community-policing feature. The publisher does not necessarily have to police the licenses granted to their content. Those who see the content can police it. People keep other people honest.

To illustrate this patent-pending feature, the following is an excerpt that has been properly licensed from a white paper:

"In the digital age, content travels to all corners of the world via the web and digital devices in a nanosecond. It is instantly indexed and syndicated by millions of publishers, bloggers, and aggregators. It is subsequently downloaded and passed along to others by billions of users. This is both a blessing and a curse for creators because they can easily lose their ownership rights and their ability to monetize their works." - Excerpted from iCopyright News

The word "Excerpted" links to the public record, where you can see that it is a valid license. Had Mike ODonnell tried to game the system, the public record would show that the license has been revoked and that he no longer has a valid license to be using the excerpt. This license validation feature works whether one is using all or part of a publisher's material. A user of copyrighted content via iCopyright either has a valid license or they have no license, and it is easy for everyone to see. So the next time someone posts content belonging to another party and claims they have a license via iCopyright, you can check the public record to see if it is a valid license. If they fail to post the validation link with their reuse, then it is automatically invalid because that is a breach of the terms of use.

The iCopyright system, like any system, can be gamed. But it provides publishers and users with reasonable checks and balances to ensure a high degree of voluntary compliance, and to catch those who are not using the system properly.

Most people appreciate the value iCopyright provides for instant licensing of full articles for commercial use. Some people dislike the idea of having to get a license for excerpts, or for educational or non-profit uses. We believe each publisher has the right to decide what types of licenses are appropriate, and what to charge for them. We don't set prices or terms, the publishers do. Many publishers offer educational and non-profit discounts via the iCopyright system. Most also offer a limited number of free uses. Also, see our previous post on excerpt licenses.

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