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7 Factors that Affect Infringement

Image of Weights for a ScaleLast month, we talked about why, with copyright, every content creator is in a different position than their peers. No two creators have exactly the same issues and problems when it comes to copyright and, as such, no one solution is best for everyone.

But what are the factors that affect infringement? Why is it some rightsholders see almost no infringement and others are overwhelmed? Why do some see a great deal of straightforward piracy but others are plagiarized or spammed more?

There are many factors to consider but here is a quick rundown of seven of the most important ones to consider when trying to figure out what your copyright situation might look like.

1. The Medium

The medium of choice will have a great bearing on the type of infringement you see. Those who work in text will likely see more plagiarism (save for eBooks that see more piracy). Those who work in audio and video will see a lot more piracy and other attributed copying. Images tend to see a good bit of both as they are commonly used as clip art without permission or attribution but are also often reposted with credit.

This has more to do with the difficulty and usefulness of plagiarism than anything. Editing out attribution is harder in audio and video and plagiarism has greater benefits with text works (SEO, academic use, etc.) and attribution is much easier to hack off.

2. Popularity

The more popular something is, the more likely it is to be stolen, by humans at least. Though less-popular content will see less piracy and, most likely, less plagiarism, it may still see high levels of automated scraping and other content misuse depending on other factors.

Bear in mind though that popularity can shift in a matter of a moment. In addition to content going “viral” on the Web, Google results can fluctuate wildly and a previously unknown work can be come high-traffic overnight.

3. Target Audience

If you look at the demographics of who is on Bittorrent, you can get an idea of who is doing the most piracy. Typically, that audience tends to skew both young and male. Thus, content targeted at that audience will see more piracy and, likely, other types of infringement as well.

This also explains why some genres of music and movies are more pirated than others.

That being said, older audiences are often less aware of copyright and often engage in accidental infringement. Younger audiences are also more likely, in general, to plagiarize though there are few absolutes in that area.

4. Cost

This one should be obvious, but the more expensive you make a product, the more it is going to be pirated, at least compared to other works with a similar audience.

The smaller audience will ensure that it is plagiarized less, but the temptation to share a work or posted illegal copies online will be greater as there will be more people who want it but can’t afford it. Thus, the “reward” for piracy is much higher as the price tag on the work goes up.

5. Ease of Access

The harder you make it to access a work legally, the more likely it is others will try to take illegal shortcuts to obtain it. While cost is a part of this, it’s only a small element, the bigger question is whether or not the work is where the potential users want it.

For example, a movie available on Netflix streaming will likely see less piracy than one that isn’t, all other factors being equal. The more barriers that a rightsholder puts up to getting a work legally, the more tempting piracy becomes.

However, barriers do seem to reduce plagiarism as that most plagiarists stick only to works they can access quickly and there is no shortage of them.

6. Licensing

There’s a huge debate as to how licensing affects infringement. Many believe that using open licensing, such as Creative Commons, reduces infringement by giving users a legitimate way to do what they want with the content. Others, however, believe that the licensing causes confusion and leads to the mistaken belief their is no copyright.

In my experience, clear licensing that gives a good path to legitimate use can and does reduce infringement in most cases. However, the problem is that sometimes this strategy increases availability and, to a degree, popularity of a work increasing piracy in the long run. It’s a give and take.

However, generally speaking, the clearer the licensing, the less piracy and infringement there is.

7. Copyright Enforcement

Effective, well-targeted copyright enforcement can reduce the amount of piracy and plagiarism. However, it can’t stop it outright and it works better on works that are seeing only a moderate amount of infringement as it is possible to wipe out a large percentage of the access points.

As such, it’s only effective when applied well and in conjunction with other methods of reducing infringement.

Bottom Line

The problem with this list isn’t identifying the factors which can affect infringement, of which this is just some, but rather, weighing them properly. Popularity and target audience seem to be the “heaviest” factors in determining the amount of infringement though media type is the biggest at determining the types of infringement one sees.

However, once again, as with all things, the weight and the importance of each factor often fluctuate wildly between different types of content creators. For some, their genre has more to do with their level of infringement than their relative popularity. Others are so popular their genre almost does not matter at all.

That being said, almost every work out there will have a few factors that encourage at least some kind of infringement. That’s why it’s important to remember that these are relative to each other, meaning that there is a relative increase or decrease in copyright issues, not an absolute guide as to who will be bit the most or the least.

Still, if you take a look at these factors and analyze honestly how they apply to you. You’ll likely understand roughly how much and what kind of infringement to expect in the long run and how that situation will change as your situation shifts.

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