Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sharing Content is Easy, Tracking Isn't

A good friend of ours often tells us about the latest challenge they face as a publisher in tracking down copyright infringement. We find ourselves looking at digital copies that are often perfect copies and we hear stories of detective work and sweat that are incurred in tracking down a single infringement. The questions we ask ourselves are what is the extent of the problem and how will every single publisher or rights owner ever manage this tedious, time-consuming and costly exercise?

Wikipedia compares some 20 file sharing services which regard themselves as legitimate, after all when we want to share a large file, be it a large PowerPoint, video, podcast whatever, we simple do so via a file sharing service. These services allow you to upload documents and share these with others via a unique reference or URL. They are not open to all but only those who have the URL. However, a URL can be posted on a blog, twittered, virally emailed and you find a legitimate service could turn into one that is being abused. These file sharing sites exclude the likes of Scribd and Wattpad who also are protected under a ‘safe harbour’ shield and will all act to take down illegal material once notified by the rightful owner. As we have said before, a case of after the horse has bolted!

RapidShare, Megaupload, are the major file sharing services but there are many many more. The New York Times posted a good article written by Randal Stross on the issue ‘Will Books Be Napsterized?’ However what is the solution and is the effort in trying to fight pirates going to reach a tipping point where the effort in enforcement outstrips the reward and when we have to go back and rethink copyright protection?

The IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) has estimated that 95% of music downloads ‘are unauthorized, with no payment to artists and producers.’

There is no point not digitising content as the pirates will do it anyway and have even more incentive if it is being withheld and only available in physical copy. This also makes some of the advocacy on DRM (digital rights management) harder as you may lock up the official digital copy but you can’t lock up the unofficial one.

One of the problems is that we rights business without a rights registry, we only know what we know and not what we don’t know so what chance have others to understand who owns what and what is fair game and what is illegal? We are also in a transition from a mass market physical model to a mass market digital one and what we could control in the physical is merely replicated in the digital. However yesterday’s copying of books was easy and today it is even easier and certainly easier to distribute. So if we couldn’t fix it yesterday why do we expect to fix it today?

We do not have a silver bullet to address this issue? We do believe that the answers should be proactive and not reactive, but to do that there needs to be an identifier, a watermark and reference that says this is an infringement and not sharable. The current practices of digital distribution of ebooks should also be questioned as it will lead to a proliferation of copies based on a physical distribution model and is sustainable long term. DADs (Digital Asset Distribution) sounds good and in the beginning looks good but is a subject in its own right!

1 comment:

Randy Taylor said...

Two dynamics are converging. Every creative work put online exposes it to theft. And, a major movement (Orphan Works) is pushing to change the rules to make "fair game" of all unidentified content (thus diminishing the value of current law that says it's copyrighted even if not credited).

The problem is the worst in the photo space. Almost all web sites use images. Some estimates say there are a hundred uncredited copies online for every legitimately licensed image. There are 2-3 trillion images already online (and exposed to theft) with billions being uploaded monthly. And, stolen images are rarely attributed to their authors.

Several companies provide "detective" services to find infringers for a share of the revenue. The solution we've created is to enable every copy of a content file at any web site, regardless of language, to link back to its rights holder via an open registry. In this way, owned works need not be mistaken for "orphaned works". Though launched in the photo industry, this technology and approach would work for e-books, as well.

The essential ingredient to solve the problem of unauthorized use is a registry. Knowing who owns what is mission critical in getting permission for use. Once owners are identified, rights holders and the market will ultimately determine a fair price for use, which could range from being free (ie, Creative Commons or sharing ad revenue) to the opposite extreme, which could one day be a government-mandated compulsory license. Solutions to industry problems are readily available. Education and adoption are needed.

Randy Taylor
The Copyright Registry at