Copyright licensing and content tracking firm iCopyright announced earlier this week a new excerpt service for its customers. The service, entitled “EZ Excerpt” is designed to encourage visitors to consider whether they should license the content they are about to copy and also discuss fair use.
iCopyright has been the subject of controversy over fair use issues in the past, most recently regarding Canada’s CBC, and is attempting to mitigate those issues while working to make the licensing process more clear and prominent to users.
The new system, which is already available to current iCopyright users with the latest toolbar installed, attempts to be proactive in reaching out to users by asking for a license, but it remains to be seen if this will be off-putting to visitors or if it will help better explain the licensing process.
How it Works
The basic idea of EZ Excerpt is that it works in conjunction with the existing iCopyright buttons/badges to add an extra layer of protection. When a user goes to copy a portion of an article protected by such a badge, they are given a prompt that asks if the user would like to post the excerpt to the Web.
If the user clicks “Yes”, they are then given the choice of either purchasing a license or clicking a “fair use” link that outlines whether the use is a fair one that doesn’t need a license. iCopyright provides a stock fair use page for this purpose though publishers are free to create their own.
The word count of the excerpt is automatically calculated based on the amount copied and, from that, the cost is tallied. If the user purchases a license, they are given code to embed into their post, including plain text, HTML and HTML blockquote formats.
Once embedded, the quoted content is displayed along with a small iCopyright Logo or ICL (referred to as an ICICLE) that links to a license page. This not only services as a public indication of the license, but also lets Discovery, iCopyright’s content tracking system, know that it is a legitimate license.
All in all, the system seems to be fairly seamless. However, the question is whether bloggers and other excerpters will react positively to this new approach at encouraging licensing.
I’ve long been uncomfortable with the way Tynt modifies the clipboard contents without warning, forcing cleanup after it has been pasted (though this feature can be disabled, as it is in Plagiarism Today) and I do feel that iCopyright’s system is a bit more honest. However, it is also more annoying in that popups are almost universally despised and, though a use can just click “No” or “Quit Asking Me” it is still an extra step. Also, clearly, fewer people are likely to pay even a token amount for a quote than include a link back, as with Tynt.
Though iCopyright’s service is more aggressive, it will also likely result in more sales. However, what is less clear is if those sales will justify the annoyance experienced by other users. That will depend largely on the site and how the service is used.
Finally, on the fair use issue, I’m not sure how well the new system addresses it. The fair use link is mixed in with all the information about buying the rights to the excerpt. If one isn’t looking for it, its hard to see and find.
I worry that this approach may confuse more people than it helps. By having the request come up by default, it might seem as if iCopyright has already made the judgement that this not a fair use and is trying to push people into buying a license, not also trying to explain about fair use.
Though the copyright savvy might not see it that way, one thing I know well is that most people are not very copyright savvy, especially on matters of fair use.
The system is very new, only available for a few days, and doesn’t seem to be widely adopted. It will take some time for adoption level to pick up and then we can see how it is received. In the meantime, it does not seem to be available to users of iCopyright’s Creators service, the one for bloggers and smaller publishers.
Still, I have a feeling that this could be the trend we start seeing when it comes to content licensing, more aggressive and more proactive approaches to the problem. Where traditionally publishers have just added the badges to their site and trusted their visitors to do the right thing, now it seems as if publishers are going to get more aggressive about promoting their licensing options.
Though what iCopyright is doing isn’t technically DRM, it doesn’t do anything to prevent the copying, it will still likely be greeted similarly to it. As the CBC controversy illustrated, many aren’t comfortable with licensing text content by the word, as iCopyright does, and a more aggressive approach probably won’t win any further minds.
That being said though, it may get others to think about these issues and, hopefully, think twice before copying outside of what is allowed by fair use.
Disclosure: I am a former paid consultant for Attributor, a competitor to iCopyright.