When it comes to companies and providers of copyright services, most offer a legitimate service that, while maybe controversial to some, doesn’t violate any laws or put their customers at any risk. I include many people who might be considered my competitors in this.
But there are some services that, to be frank, scare me and worry me. They provide services that are either legally dubious, dangerous or just outright ineffective.
While all of these services have been around for a very long time, in recent years, they seem to have blossomed and grown, becoming more numerous and winding up more and more in the public eye.
Long story short, before you go to any company or person that provides a copyright-oriented service it pays to have a basic understanding of the law. That way, you can avoid services like these and not get taken in by the dubious promises that they make.
Here are just three examples of types of copyright services that you should be suspicious of.
Note: Due to the nature of these services, I will not be naming the companies involved and will be removing any identifying information from screenshots I use. Also, I have not vetted these companies personally and am basing my criticism solely on their promotion.
1. Use Copyright to Fight X
There are a lot of difficult issues people face online, libel, cyberbullying, harassment, etc. Unfortunately, while there are often laws against these types of behavior, they are still, in many cases, very difficult to deal with.
Despite these challenges there are many services out there that claim to be able to remove libelous comments, bullying and other activities with near 100% success. However, the law doesn’t back up that idea. The Communications Decency Act provides immunity to web hosts and other intermediaries that host libelous content, meaning they have no obligation to remove it.
Legitimate reputation management firms either work within the law to remove unwanted content or by promoting positive pages about the individual or company. While this can cross a line and become spam, at least it is legal.
Others turn to copyright. Either through legall and ethically dubious means, such as having patients sign over the copyright to all future reviews they post, or through simple abuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which requires hosts to remove infringing content after notification if they want to maintain their “safe harbor” or protection from infringement claims.
Unfortunately, copyright is rarely a factor in these cases. Most of the work, though often horrible, is original and non-infringing. Even the limited use of content from the subject is likely a fair use.
These services, by trying to misuse a law to resolve an issue it was never intended to address, not only create legal risk for their clients, but also often cause the unwanted speech to spread farther than previously possible. This is especially true in cases, such as those above, where the speech was warranted.
While I’m certainly sympathetic to those victimized by true cyberbullying and defamation, copyright is not the way to handle these problems and doing so often makes things worse.
2. False Copyright Registration Services
Non-repudiation service such as Safe Creative and Myows can provide a valuable service, providing verification of when a work was created and by whom as well as offering tools to track licenses and and handle transfers.
The problem is that many non-repudiation services present themselves as an alternative to the U.S. Copyright Office, often using deceptive language and official-looking sites, including badges, such as those to the right, that appear to be “official”.
They claim that you can register your work for “international copyright protection”, even though copyright protection, generally, exists from the moment of creation and such unofficial registration can only, at best, provide a thin layer of evidence of ownership.
The tragedy in this is that the legitimate companies that are working to solve problems like orphan works and license tracking are being pushed out by services that do ore than take the money of creators while promising a quick fix that they can’t provide.
Truth be told most of these services wouldn’t be able to flourish if creators had a basic understanding of copyright. One doesn’t need a degree in intellectual property to know the inappropriateness of using copyright to resolve non-copyright matters or the importance of registering with the U.S. Copyright Office.
These services, more or less, feed on the ignorance about copyright that is ripe among many creators and Internet users and either directly or indirectly make promises that are ineffective at best, illegal at worst.
If you have even a basic understanding of copyright, you should be able to avoid the traps and pitfalls that are laid out when selecting companies to work with. If you’re reading this site (and others like it) there’s a good chance that these warnings are not really very helpful to you and your situation.
Still, for those who might bec aught up in or tempted by the more questionable copyright services, I wanted to offer up this warning: Check the law before doing business with anyone and make sure that what you’re doing is both legal and will actually help you in a meaningful way.
A few minutes of research can save you countless hours of headache and, in some cases, hundreds or thousands of dollars.