Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Does Your Web Site Suggest that Your Content is Free for the Taking?

The Print Email Share buttons adjacent to your copyrighted content may indeed suggest to your readers that they are free to reuse your content in any way they choose. Worse, a reader who reposts or redistributes your content (perhaps even profiting from it) may defend his or her actions by asserting that your article tools facilitated and even encouraged the reuse.


If you care about protecting your content from misappropriation and unauthorized distribution, you must read Wendy Davis’s “Blogger Sued by Copyright Troll Argues He Had ‘Implied License’” on MediaPost. Like any alleged copyright infringement case, there are unique twists to this particular situation, but aside from the legal issues there is a very simple business issue: Your content is valuable to others and they will use it to their advantage if you let them.

So why not let them? Let your readers reuse your content in ways that you approve, and set clearly defined limits on those reuses so they can honor your copyrights and reward you for your creative efforts. This is the idea and the practice behind iCopyright.

In the case of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Righthaven, as discussed in the MediaPost article, the publisher offers familiar Print This, Email This, and Save This article tools at the top of its articles as well as a dizzying array of Save and Share buttons at the bottom. One can easily understand why the blogger in question (and dozens of others who have been pursued for their reuses by Righthaven) assumed the publisher encourages reuses.

For example, the Print This and the Email This tools do not mention any limitations on these uses. It would seem that anyone can print and email any number of copies for any type of use, personal or otherwise. There are no publisher terms of use displayed, except those provided by the entity that manages the tools. The plethora of share options leads one to assume that anyone is welcome to share the content in any way possible—including scraping the text and posting it to a blog. Nothing at the website suggests that this is not acceptable to the publisher.

The alarming thing to most publishers and users is that a newspaper website that has taken such a laissez faire approach to the content it owns on a platform it controls would hire a third-party to chase after alleged content thieves with such vigor without first gently prodding them to observe copyright law.

All of this unpleasantness can be easily overcome when a publisher deploys the iCopyright service. Had the Las Vegas Review Journal deployed iCopyright, here’s what might have happened instead:

• A reader identifies an article worthy of reposting to his blog. He sees the iCopyright article tools at the top of the article, including a Post button.

• He clicks on the Post button and discovers that he can post the full article on his blog for free, for one month, supported by advertising that is served up by the publisher and iCopyright. Or, if he wants to post it for a longer term, or without advertising, he can pay a modest fee for a license to do so.

• He also notices that there is reminder to “Honor copyright” that is hyperlinked to a brief overview of the principles of copyright law and fair use. Reviewing these, he decides that his intended use is not really a fair use, since he wants to post the complete article.

• There’s also a Publisher’s Terms of Use statement that he has to agree to before proceeding.

• He ponders his options and then sees that there is an interactive copyright notice at the bottom of the article. Clicking on that, he sees that there are several other reuse options. He decides to get the free post. Maybe at a future time he’ll select a different option.

• With a few clicks, he completes the license for a free post and places this on his blog. The free post is nicely formatted, with a handsome logo of the publication and the publisher, preserving the branding. There’s also a copyright notice at the bottom and hyperlink to a license record that includes the name of the licensee and the type of license.

• When his readers see the article reposted from the original site, they can navigate back to the original publisher’s site and also obtain additional reuse permissions of their own. Slick. And viral.

• The blogger is happy; the publisher has preserved his copyright and branding and can be comfortable knowing that there is a valid license for this reuse. The publisher has also earned a modest fee from advertising—probably equivalent to the value of having the blog’s readers visit the publisher’s site directly.

Suppose the scenario above did not go quite as outlined? What if our blogger had clicked on the Post option and decided to ignore the terms of use and instead just scraped the content and reposted it without using the iCopyright tools?

We have an answer for that—our content infringement detection service, Discovery. Publishers who deploy iCopyright’s article tools have access to a state-of-the-art program that scours the web searching for unauthorized copies of their content and automatically sending out remedy notices. It is highly unlikely that a publisher who has deployed iCopyright’s tools would hear the “implied license” defense!

For more details about how iCopyright’s article tools promote and protect online content, see our white paper on Maximizing Revenue and Minimizing Piracy.

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