Punditry Saturday: Electronic Snake Oil

I tend to be very skeptical of eBooks. Though many legitimate authors use the medium to distribute their works, some just seem content to cram as much free information into a book and then try to sell it, often for a higher price than the book would fetch in hardcover. It’s a rather sad perversion of the information age, but it’s a fact of life.

On that note, when I ran across an eBook that promised to show me how to copyright my site, I was very skeptical. The form one fills out is very short, I did it myself in a matter of a few minutes, the whole process is self explanatory and, if you have any trouble with it, the form comes with a very handy guide to walk you through the process (see page one of the link above). If you can fill out a job application, you can fill out a copyright form.

However, as I dug deeper into what the book promised, it seemed to include more than a simple “How to” on the copyright process and included a great deal of discussion about copyright law and how to give notice of copyright. Unfortunately, all of that information is freely available on many sites, including this one, with no cost or downloading involved.

The only thing that stood out to me as remotely interesting was information about handling common problems with the copyright office. Since I filled out my own form correctly with no problems, I’ve never had any difficulties with the copyright office and can’t address those issues.

It was then, while I was debating how much that information could possibly be worth, I realized something. For sixteen dollars plus the mandatory filing fee, you can get GoDaddy’s C-Site service that will not only file your registration for you, but also be your personal liaison with the copyright office.

Though I hesitate to pass judgment on a book that I have not read (I don’t have forty bucks to spend on information I already know), it seems silly to spend that much money to read a book when you can pay sixteen and have someone do the entire process for you. If you find the whole thing that scary, I doubt an eBook is going to calm your nerves and, unless you have many Web sites or compilations, it’s cheaper to let the pros handle it anyway.

Besides, though the author has published articles in some impressive places and is clearly a very talented tech journalist, he doesn’t seem to have a significant amount of copyright background. In fact, this seems to be the only thing he’s written on the subject.

The point that I’m trying to make is that, when trying to deal with copyright issues, beware of snake oil solutions. Fear of plagiarism and copyright infringement has combined with a lack of understanding to create a very ripe market for opportunists and outright con men. As with any kind of security, you need to think long and hard about what you’re buying before you plunk down the cash.

I wish I could say that everyone in the world has your best interests in their heart. Then again, if I could say that, I wouldn’t be running a site called PlagiarismToday.

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