MyFreeCopyright: Free Copyright Verification
Sometimes the biggest challenge to protecting your copyright is proving the work is yours in the first place. Though the United States Copyright Office provides the only official service, that makes available additional legal remedies, it is both pricey and slow, making it a waste for anyone who anyone who isn’t actively looking to go to court.
To fill the gap between the expensive and slow USCO system and the reality of the Web, several unofficial non-repudiation services have cropped up including Numly and Registered Commons.
However, these services have struggled to balance the elements a non-repudiation service. Numly, for example, is easy, fast has great plugins but the price point drives many away. Registered Commons, on the other hand, is thorough and free, but difficult to use.
However, a service known as My Free Copyright hopes to improve upon these systems not only by providing a completely free service, but one that is a better fit for your traditional blogger.
Fortunately, they seem to be well on their way as their service already offers some very enticing features.
How it Works
MyFreeCopyright works like any other non-repudiation service. After registering for an account, through a very short and simple form, you are then taken to a screen that allows you to choose what kind of work you want to protect.
There you are presented with three options.
The first lets you upload a file for registration, including, audio video and eBook files. The second option will allow you to registered a blog or a podcast via the site’s RSS feed. The third reads an HTML pages, extracts the text from it, and creates a registration similar to the one it creates for a blog entry.
If the item protected is a file or a HTML page, a single registration is created. This registration includes the text of the page, if an HTML work, a hash of the registered content, a date/time stamp of when the work was submitted and a My Copyright Number, or MCN, for easy reference.
If the registration is an RSS feed, then all of entries in the feed are indexed separately and all future updates to the feed are picked up automatically on a daily basis. Each entry is given its own registration, including MCN, hash and date stamp.
With each registration, you can opt to set the registration to private, meaning only you can view the content, and assign a Creative Commons License to the work.
The theory in all of this is that, if there is a copyright dispute regarding one of your works, this service can help support your claim of ownership by verifying that it was created and uploaded at a certain date and time. Anything that comes after will have an uphill battle to prove its authenticity.
Though it doesn’t provide the legal protections of a USCO registration and such a registration would still be necessary to sue in a Federal court, MFC can still provide some verification of ownership, especially if the dispute does not head to the courtrooms.
Lots to Love
When looking at MFC as a service, there are a lot of things to like about it.
First and foremost, as the name suggests, MFC is completely free. The site is free to use for unlimited registrations and has no advertising on the site. Though the owner of the site, Matt Whittaker, has said he plans to offer some paid services in the new year, he has promised to keep the basic services free forever.
Second, the site interacts with RSS feeds automatically, enabling bloggers to have “set and forget” registrations without having to install a plugin. This avoids a complication that is shared by both Numly and Registered Commons. This seems like a natural use for RSS and, though the system could be improved, the concept is solid, especially for those with full feeds.
Third, the service provides a simple button and badge that you can include in your site, or even embed into your RSS feed. This can be a great way to publicize your protection and, if you don’t wish to use the button, if you can use a text link to the MFC page for your site. If you’re using this on an RSS feed, a visitor can rummage through your entire blog by month, not just one entry at a time.
All in all, a visitor to the MCF registration page will find it much better organized than pretty much any other non-repudation service.
Finally, the site itself is very easy to use and very straightforward. You can easily register in a few seconds and set up your first item for protection immediately after. At no point did I find myself stuck or lost when registering various works.
However, though the service is solid, this isn’t to say that it is perfect, there are still some issues with it, as minor as they may be.
Before jumping at the chance to use MFC, there are a few things to bear in mind.
First, the RSS service, though convenient, could be improved. As it functions right now, you either have to manually log in and have the service check your feed, up to once per hour, or wait and have it do it during the automatic check, which takes place late evening Eastern Time.
Though manually updating the feed is a minor inconvenience, requiring you to log in to your account and click a link, it is easily forgotten. However, the automatic update can occur as much as a day after the post goes live, often well after scrapers have gotten ahold of the content and republished it.
This feature would be better expanded either through the development of a plugin, which Whittaker has said he is working on, or, even more ideally, through a pinging service that bloggers can add to be automatically updated.
Second, the simplicity of MFC means that there are no real advanced features to the site. This limits the amount of meta data affixed to the content itself such as author, licensor or copyright holder contact information. This might limit the effectiveness of the service for dealing with orphan works issues, if only marginally.
Third, when registering your work, you need to be careful to set your registration to “private”. MFC, by design, allows search engines to index its registration pages including the content on them. This can create duplicate content on the Web and cause some of the same problems a non-repudation service is supposed to help deal with.
Finally, during my retesting of MFC today, I noticed a few minor bugs in the system. The first being that my Creative Commons license on my PT registration was not being affixed to new entries, just old ones, and that the entries were being displayed out of order. Newer entries were being posted at the end of the line, something that is counter to how most blogs present information.
(Update: The two bugs mentioned above have been fixed, see comments below.)
However, these issues are relatively minor and all of them can easily be addressed in updates of the site. Overall, MFC has the right idea and is headed down the correct path.
MFC is targeted at your everyday blogger and Webmaster who doesn’t need an extremely powerful non-repudiation system and is willing to trade a few advanced features for simplicity and price tag of free.
Though the issues with RSS updating may limit the service’s functionality in some cases, it is still useful in most instances where a human plagiarist is involved. Fortunately, those are the cases most likely to become a major dispute requiring non-repudiation.
For bloggers seeking a fast, easy and free non-repudiation service, MyFreeCopyright is an almost ideal choice.
Considering that it is easy, free and automatic, there is little reason not to use it. Since you don’t have to paste the MFC information to your site in any way, no one has to know that you are even using it.
All in all, it is an extra layer of protection that can easily be added to any site or blog. It makes sense to protect yourself as much as possible and, if you aren’t using another non-repudation service, this may well be the one for you.