RightsAgent: Total Rights Management

ra logoIn late 2006, I reported on a then-new company called Lisensa. The idea behind the company was to expand upon and integrate with Creative Commons Licenses, as well as “all rights reserved” licenses, by granting users a means to sell commercial rights to their work.

Lisensa, despite some early fanfare, never really took off and was quietly shut down some time last year.

However, one year later, some of the minds behind Lisensa have come back together and, with new backers, are creating a new content licensing system. This one, RightsAgent, is far more robust, easier to use and much more powerful than Lisensa. Coming so soon after the Lane Hartweel controversy, RightsAgent also seems to be a more timely solution.

This system, though still in heavy development, has a great deal going for it and seems to be very well positioned to greatly change how bloggers and other content providers license their works, even those that have no intention of collecting money for their creations.

How it Works

RightsAgent works very similarly to its predecessor in many ways. Based in large part up on the new CC+ system, which allows for extensions to Creative Commons Licensing, RightsAgent lets you easily create an account and then register your content sources.

rightsagentcontentCurrently, you can register any blog that you run as well as your Flickr and Revver accounts. The system will automatically detect any Creative Commons Licenses embedded into your work and place that work under your assigned license. The system will update to reflect any license changes and you can also change the license terms within RightsAgent at any time.

Content registered with RightsAgent is updated at regular intervals and inserted into your personal feed. Users can either visit your personal page on RightsAgent or subscribe to that personal feed to get updates about your content available for license across all of your sites.

When visitors access your personal page, they then have the option to license your work for their own sites and publications. However, what happens next depends on the license you provide and the use they desire.

If the use is one that you’ve decided you wish to charge for, the system will prompt the user to add “For Profit” credits to their account at the rate of $1.10 per credit. They can then exchange those credits for the right to license your work at a rate you’ve previously designated.

nonprofitlicenseIf the use is not one you’ve decided to request payment for, they are then prompted to give thanks via “Non-Profit” credits, which are free. Up to three non-profit credits can be assigned at once. Non-profit credits can not be redeemed for money, but do go to aid your reputation on the site.

Once the transaction is complete, the buyer receives one credit for licensing the work and the licensor receives as many credits as designated in the transaction. Credits bolster your reputation on the site which, as the site grows, will help to distinguish between high and low quality sites on the service.

All in all, there is a lot of reasons for rightsholders to take an interest in RightsAgent and many good reasons to look at using the service.

Benefits

The benefit of RightsAgent, fundamentally is that it offers a standard way for content creators to license their work. This protects both the person who is licensing the work but also the one offering it by eliminating much of the “your word versus mine” disputes that arise from informal licensing.

Since RightsAgent stores a record of every transaction, both paid and unpaid, in both user accounts, If a user oversteps the bounds of the license or a licensor tries to go back on the agreement, there is clear proof as to what was agreed upon and when the agreement took place. This guards against license changes and prevents people from using CC to “trap” others, as has been suggested by some critics.

rightsagent reputationBut what is best about the system is that it is truly all inclusive. You can use it to license both your commercial and non-commercial work. It can be used with content across a wide range of sites, with more sites to be available soon, and is a great way to provide a “one stop shop” for anyone interested in licensing your work, no matter what format.

Also, much like MyFreeCopyright, RightsAgent provides a non-repudiation element by parsing your feed regularly and displaying approximately when works are posted. However, the system does not currently provide a time of posting, just the date.

Finally, the site offers very granular control over how you license your materials. If you want to increase the price of one post or reduce it for another, you can do so. Though you can set a default rate, you can modify it on a per-item basis as you go through.

However, there are limitations to RightsAgent, many of which are still being worked on and developed. However, these limitations might still be grounds for some to hold off on using the system until it is more complete.

Potential Issues

Most of the problems with the system stem from the fact that it is still in heavy development. Many elements are expected to be corrected as the system grows.

RightsAgent 2122However, one limitation of the current system is that, as with Lisensa before it, that it does not distinguish between the New York Times and a small blog when determining pricing. Even though you can set the price per work, you can not set price points based upon readership or size of publication. This means all users pay the same price, regardless of their expectation of profit.

The second is that the fledgling reputation system, in its current form, can be gamed pretty easily. There are a few bugs in the system that allow users to easily inflate their totals. Though this is not an issue at the moment as the system is so new, it will need to be fixed before it is a useful barometer of performance.

Speaking of the reputation system, the use of “credits” may seem to be an inelegant solution. Though it is necessary to make the reputation system work, it adds another variable when trying to set price points for your work and adds an extra layer of complication when trying to

But perhaps the biggest limitation is that the system is currently not very user-friendly to those seeking to license content. Though content creators can easily set up accounts and license their works, it can be much harder for those seeking to use the content to find it. There currently is no search engine for applicable content, entries are not tagged in any way and the only clear means to find someone’s personal page is through the provided badges.

These are elements that are currently being worked on by RightsAgent and should be available in the near future.

Finally, as regular readers of the site will know, a “personal feed” that re-syndicates the content of your other feeds is a cause for concern, especially considering that it might be a target for scraping down the road. Though this is mitigated a great deal by the fact that the feed only displays partial content and can be disabled on a per-source basis, it is something that has to be turned off manually.

Still, many will likely find use for this feature and RightsAgent is looking at possibilities to let uses monetize this feed down the road.

Conclusions

Currently, RightsAgent is a very new service and its creators admit that it does not currently live up to its full potential. As one might expect, it is still building out new features, securing partnerships and trying to find how to best serve all involved parties.

However, the potential of RightsAgent should be easily evident to anyone who follows content licensing. It solves many of the problems associated with Creative Commons Licensing, including those both real and perceived, and it does so in a user-friendly way that fits in with nearly every site, no matter what license they’ve chosen for their work.

Considering that the system is free to use, RightsAgent only collects a small fee on transactions and when you try to withdraw credits on paper checks and when users add credits to their account, there is little reason to not at least experiment with the system. It can help you keep track of who is licensing your work, protect you against abusers and provide you with at least some non-repudiation as to your copyright ownership.

I’ve made the decision to add the buttons to my sidebar, at least on a trial basis, and would encourage others who are curious to do the same.

After all, if clear licensing systems such as RightsAgent became the norm, many of the ugly copyright-related incidents would be avoided.

Let us hope that, if RightsAgent is not the answer, that the real one does come along very soon.

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