The Copyright Evolution
Nancy Davis Kho
For information professionals, issues surrounding copyright compliance have traditionally been on the consumption side. It’s challenging enough to ensure that content usage within an organization is in accordance with negotiated licenses, especially as the channels for that content broaden, information centers decentralize, and the devices for consuming that content proliferate.
But these days, content consumption is only half the story. “Everyone is a publisher,” says Tracey L. Armstrong, CEO of Copyright Clearance Center (CCC). Blogging, tweeting, and commenting has become an integral part of more standard duties for workers as corporations seek to create authentic communications with customers. More people than ever before are finding that copyright concerns now extend to discovery, verification, and enforcement for works created within an organization.
Not surprisingly, opportunities to run afoul of copyright law continue to escalate. In its 2010 study “The State of Copyright in the Digital Age—What Is a Publisher to Do?” Outsell, Inc. estimated that information workers in the U.S. share information among themselves at a rate of about 370 billion events annually, nearly six times higher than Outsell’s research uncovered in 2005. And it makes sense that information managers are more attuned to copyright issues than ever before. A March 2011 study by FreePint Ltd. on copyright policies and practices found that 40% of information managers surveyed believe that copyright risk management is more important than a year ago, with pressure generated from content vendors, legal counsel, senior leadership, and heightened media coverage of copyright issues.
Copyright infringement can arise from nefarious intent or from a simple misunderstanding of what connotes fair use. Regardless of the motive, vendors are providing increasingly sophisticated solutions for discovery and enforcement of copyright.
Content’s New Frontier
With social media making it easy and almost imperative for organizations to make ongoing content creation a central tenet of customer engagement, companies must set policies about who owns the content created for the organization, whether it’s a white paper, a tweet, or a blog post on a corporate blog. Armstrong compares the need for such policies to the employment agreements traditionally made with engineers who create new products on the job.
“It’s a new frontier in terms of thinking about who owns what,” she says. “Is what you’re writing work for hire? Or is it legitimate personal independent views? We’re still feeling our way through this in the information space.”
The proliferation of self-publishing also increases the risk that third-party content can more easily be appropriated and misused. “It’s just so easy now to right-click and save a photo or take a high-res screen shot of a photo,” says Joe Naylor, president and CEO of ImageRights International, Inc., which offers photographers and agencies a service for identifying illegal use of images and providing recourse to recover proper compensation. “The rule is easy: If you don’t have a license, you can’t use it,” he says. But Naylor believes a great deal of confusion still exists about what constitutes public domain. And as is often the case, legislation isn’t necessarily keeping up with technology. “Just because I’m technically able to do something doesn’t mean that I’m allowed to,” says Armstrong.
The fact that copyright laws vary around the world complicates matters, and what may constitute acceptable use in one country could be a clear infringement in another. As tools make it easier for work forces to collaborate globally, the risk of potential misuse is high. “CCC works with rights organizations in 36 countries to do bilateral licensing, so U.S. users don’t have to navigate them individually,” Armstrong says. But it’s no short-term task. “Rights agreements globally take years to achieve,” she says.
Organizations that are embracing the democratization of content creation must shoulder the twin responsibilities of educating employees about what connotes proper use of third-party content (wherever they’re located) and setting a clear policy for who owns original content created on company time.
The classroom was one of the first battlefields for plagiarism detection, and iParadigms, LLC, which provides web-based solutions for plagiarism prevention, first made its name with the Turnitin solution. With Turnitin, educators were able to check originality and prevent plagiarism. It also offers plagiarism checkers for students who want to ensure their work reflects only original content.
But just as the problem has spread beyond the academic setting, so has iParadigms’ range of solutions. Its iThenticate product is a workflow tool designed for publishers and corporate users. Customers such as Elsevier and IEEE use the tool during the editorial process to find instances of plagiarism from contributors. “It’s not a substitute but rather a supplement to the editorial process,” says Robert Creutz, general manager of iThenticate.
For creators of images, video, and audio content, better discovery tools have succeeded in bringing cases of infringement to light. For years, locating a purloined image or video was happenstance at best for the photographers and videographers who created them. Google Image search improved the situation by enabling search on metadata for multimedia files, but it was far from a complete solution. “The results list can be overwhelming,” says Naylor, “and it can’t catch images on which the metadata has been stripped.”
Vendors such as ImageRights, PicScout, Inc. (which was recently purchased by Getty Images), and Digimarc have all made discovery of image copyright infringement more scientific. In the case of ImageRights, photographers upload images to the ImageRights system, where each image is assigned a unique “fingerprint.” The company then looks for those across the web using image recognition technology. Matches can be identified even in cases where an image has been cropped or rotated or has had color changes; however, Naylor says, “98% of the images we find haven’t been modified at all.”
Video content discovery is now much easier for content creators. For instance, Attrasoft, Inc. offers solutions for images and video, claiming that its VideoFinderLite solution can locate a single video in a corpus of 1 million videos in 3 seconds. Such tools point to increased odds that misuse will be uncovered as content creators begin to more actively use the weapons at hand.
A Spike in Piracy
Given the proliferation of e-reader devices and tablets over the past year, ebook content infringement has taken center stage for content creators. In May 2011, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that the share of adults in the U.S. who own e-readers doubled to 12% from 6 months earlier and that tablet computer penetration was at 8% (though experiencing a slower growth rate than e-readers).
In 2010, Attributor, which works with news and book publishers to protect and monetize online assets, commissioned a study to quantify ebook piracy as measured by the number of unauthorized downloads taking place. Pegging the economic loss to publishers for such piracy at $2.8 billion, the study concluded that there was a 20% spike in demand for pirated ebooks in May 2010, 1 month after the Apple iPad was released, and an overall increase of 50% in searches for pirated downloads from 2009 figures.
“Tablets and e-readers raise an issue that the book industry is grappling with,” says Matt Robinson, president and COO of Attributor. “It’s relatively easy to crack DRM [digital rights management] off a PDF of a book and post it, and once that’s done it’s replicated everywhere,” on peer-to-peer (P2P) sites and cyberlocker sites, which store personal digital files. Simply stripping out metadata or renaming the PDF makes piracy detection more difficult. “And thanks to devices like the iPad, those files can be rendered beautifully,” he says.
Publishers turn to content recognition systems such as Attributor to help uncover pirated content and enforce their copyrights. “Our goal is to find the content as quickly as possible and remove it as quickly as possible,” says Robinson. “Every minute that a free copy of a book is available is economically damaging to publishers.”
The Friendly Offense
For many involved in copyright compliance, enforcement alone is not a goal. “We assume that the web is full of people who want to do the right thing,” Robinson says. The trick is developing scalable processes to make it easier for them to do so and sharing educational resources on sites such as CCC’s OnCopyright Education page and iParadigms’ Plagiarism.org site.
That emphasis on education over enforcement is not coincidental. Publishers have watched how the recording and movie industries have struggled with content piracy and seem determined to follow a different track. While there are tools built on a litigation business model, many vendors are focused on the commerce opportunities that come from seeing copyright infringement as a sign of demand to be monetized.
For example, Attributor developed the FairNotice Feed, a widget that gives hosting sites, cyberlockers, and P2P networks a real-time view of unauthorized content that may be hosted on their sites. However, in cases of infringement, the next step isn’t a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice but rather a series of options: The host site can remove the content, replace it with promotional links consumers can follow to legally purchase the content, or swap the page with alternate content.
“We have a 99% compliance rate with the top cyberlockers,” says Robinson. He believes that many of the cyberlockers that once turned a blind eye to content piracy are now looking to legitimize their business models.
ImageRights takes a similarly commercial approach in cases where it discovers infringement of photos registered by its members in its vast database. “We keep the initial interaction in the business domain rather than the legal domain,” says Naylor. When an infringement is uncovered, the company sends a notice with details about how to put a proper license in place, along with an invoice. “That approach has been highly successful in engaging recipients,” Naylor says, not to mention monetizing content for their clients.
As copyright compliance continues to change in complexity and scope, the biggest challenge is best summarized by Armstrong who says, “It’s not about how to enforce it, but how to evolve it. We need to make copyright work for us the way that we all use content now.”