5 Copyright Wastes of Time

Image of ClockWhen it comes to matters of copyright, everyone is looking for answers. With such a confusing climate online, everyone is trying to find how to best maximize the benefit they get from their work, trying new licensing, enforcement and sharing techniques.

However, no two artists are in the same position. A strategy that works for Metallica is not going to work for an upstart blogger. So, nearly every tool out there, no matter how insane it might seem, probably does at least some good for someone.

But then there are the copyright ideas that just don’t do anything or, in extreme cases, actually do much more harm than good.

These are ideas that need to be shot down and put away so better ideas can take their place. However, even though some of these have been around (and debunked) for decades, they continue to linger.

So what are those ideas? There are many out there but here are the ones I’m seeing the most and would like to see finally done away with.

1. Badges and Buttons Everywhere

It seems that nearly every copyright-related service out there is offering badges, banners and buttons for others to use. Though many of these companies do great work and provide a valuable service, the badges and buttons are a complete, or at least near-complete, waste of time.

The problem is simple: Few, if any, would-be plagiarists are going to be deterred by such buttons (if they even notice them) and with so much of the copying taking place via automated means, especially RSS scraping, your infringer likely never even saw the site.

These buttons are just a means to generate links back to the companies. Nothing more.

Better Approach: Instead of using badges and buttons, make sure your copyright notice is in check and that it has all of the required elements.

2. No Right-Click/No Select Text Scripts

There are hundreds of scripts that block right clicks and text selection on a site and they, for the most part, do their job. However, the issue with these scripts isn’t that they don’t stop at least some infringement, but that they do much more harm than good.

My own experiments with Tynt have shown that the vast majority of copying is for use that’s clearly non-infringing. Far more people copy content to share legitimately than to infringe.

Couple that with how easily these systems are defeated and there is literally no reason to use them.

Better Approach: Tynt, if used correctly, can track your copied content and help you understand what’s being used. Be careful though not to use it to mess with the copy/paste function, only to track it.

3. Self-Written Licenses

I covered this in greater detail previously but it bears repeating: Never write your own copyright license.

Not only is it legally risky unless you are an attorney, but such licenses rarely get read and almost never change behavior.

Besides, you don’t need a license to require others to ask permission to use your work. Also, if you want to give permission, there are a slew of professionally-written and free licenses that you can apply at your leisure.

Better Approach: Either stick to “all rights reserved” and handle permission requests one at a time or, if you want, choose any one of the other, professionally-written licenses out there.

4. Fake “Copyright Registration” Services

Though there are some great non-repudation services out there such as Myows and Safe Creative, there are a slew of other services with insane pricing schemes and scare-tactic marketing strategies.

Some of these services will cost up to $20 or more to register one file. Worst of all, these services don’t even register the file with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO), which is a requirement in the U.S. in order to have full legal protection.

Instead, these services just accept a copy of your file, print you a certificate as to when they got it and take your money.

Better Approach: Non-repudiation services can be helpful but Safe Creative and Myows are both free and provide a slew of additional features. Even advanced certification services, such as EastTimestamping charge well less than a dollar per registration. Never pay more.

5. EXIF Data

Theoretically, this should be a great idea. EXIF, or EXchangeable Image File format, lets you embed text-based information in a jpg file. This includes information about the camera, the date it was taken and even the GPS coordinates. It can also include copyright holder and author information.

The problem isn’t the format itself, which works very well, but that the data is stripped almost everywhere it’s uploaded. In short, nearly every time that you or a plagiarist posts the photo online, including Facebook and Flickr, that information is ripped out as part of the compression process.

Basically, most sites remove the information in a bid to make file size smaller and reduce bandwidth. An unfortunate decision, to say the least.

Better Approach: Image watermarking, either visisble or invisible, is your best approach to protect and track your content. EXIF data just doesn’t get passed along reliably enough to be useful.

Bottom Line

Though I would love to live in a world where I could give the same, simple copyright advice to everyone, that’s not the reality we face. However, there are a few things that I can definitely tell creators to avoid using or, at the very least, avoid relying on.

Whether it’s snake oil salesmen trying to separate you from your money or people with good intentions dealing with unfair realities, some ideas just don’t work.

It’s best to move away from those as quickly as possible so we can find the ideas that do work and focus our energies or productive ways to protect ones work.

Disclosure: I have done paid consulting for both Safe Creative and Myows.

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