As copyright issues play a bigger and bigger role on the Web, organizations and companies are created to protect both consumer rights and the rights of copyright holders. Some organizations, however, manage to do both.
Registered Commons (RC) is such an organization.
A free non-repudiation service, RC hashes and timestamps each work that comes in, verifying its owner and the date/time of creation. However, it also affixes Creative Commons License information to each work, ensuring others that they can use it without fear of reprisal.
It’s a win-win for both rights holders and the people that want to use their work.
How it Works
Like any other non-repudiation service, RC works by first creating an account and then uploading your work to it. It then creates a page, like this one, where the the work is made available for download. It also generates a hash, used to verify identical files, a timestamp file, to verify time and date of upload, and other information to identify the work and its owner.
The idea is that, in the event of a dispute, the owner of the work has proof of both ownership and time of creation. This can prevent others from later claiming the work as their own or otherwise violating the Creative Commons License. Users of the content, on the other hand, have the added protection of being able to prove that they were granted the rights to the work and they can not be held liable should the owner change their mind later.
It’s a win-win situation that helps to secure the rights of both copyright holders and copyright users.
Registered Commons has some interesting features that add to its usability.
First, the site offers levels of trust. By registering for the site, you are granted one star, by taking extra steps, you are able to increase your level and the number of stars. At the moment, the only other level appears to be four stars, which is obtained by using a valid CAcert Class 1 Certificate. You can obtain such a certificate for twenty dollars per year at Verisign.
Though the higher trust levels do not add any new features to the site, the do “mean more reliability that a work is in fact from the author it is assigned to.”
Second, RC offers a Wordpress plugin that can be used to automatically submit posts to the site. I am experimenting with that plugin using this entry.
Update: I was able to get it to work after some effort. The link to the page to input your RC information is hard to find. You can view the results from the plugin here.
Finally, RC users can, for a fee, request a printed and signed certificate of their registration. This provides physical proof of ownership and a potential back up in the event something should happen to the Registered Commons site.
There are other non-repudiation services available, perhaps the best known are Numly and DulyNoted. Of the two, RC bears the closest resemblance to Numly. Both offer online registration of works, Creative Commons integration, similar tools for bloggers and identity verification services.
Between the two, RC has several advantages. First it is free for unlimited registrations, compared to three free registrations per month in Numly. RC also allows file uploads and hashing for free, both are paid services with Numly. RC also stores the documents on their servers, making them available for download, and offers printable certificates. Neither of those features are available on Numly.
On the flip side of the coin, Numly provides serial numbers for easy identification of the work and an internal means to communicate with the creator. This helps guard the work against the orphan works legislation by both clearly marking it and providing a means of contacting the author. Also, Numly’s registrations are designed to last forever where RC registrations are only for seven years. Finally, all works registered with RC have to have a Creative Commons License, Numly supports “all rights reserved” works as well as CC works.
In the end, there are strengths and weaknesses to both systems and it will be interesting to see how they both grow and change to fill these gaps.
RC is a great tool and a very interesting Web site. It does an excellent job protecting both copyright holders and the users of copyrighted works.
The saddest thing, at this moment, is seeing services like RC and Numly being so underused. Though some of it is due to the nature of the tools themselves (I have trouble with the Numly plugin and Blogdesk) much of it is just lack of awareness.
Though copyright disputes that involve questions of ownership are rare, they do happen. It’s something that is so easy to guard against that it makes almost not sense to not at least take a few basic steps.
Especially when the tools are free and easy to use.