Copyright Protection: How to Manage Copyright in an Unregulated Space

‘I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.’ – Charles Dickens

Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a tale of generosity, giving, and a story often attributed to reigniting the Victorian Christmas spirit at a time when it had started to wane. Indeed, it has been attributed as being partly responsible for the way we celebrate Christmas today.

Dickens and ‘Piracy’

When it was published the book was an immediate success, selling six thousand copies on the first few days of sales. However, despite the book’s success, Dickens did not make much money out of it in part because his work suffered at the hand of ‘pirates’.

Unlike today, copyright laws in the Victorian times did not give protection in countries outside of where a work was first produced and created. Therefore after ‘A Christmas Carol’ was published, copies started popping up abroad in America, produced by publishing houses very cheaply.  They gave Dickens absolutely no financial benefit.

Berne Convention

As the world continues to change, laws, and in this instance copyright laws, sometimes take a while to adapt to the new problems these changes present. It was not until 1893, 50 years after the publication of ‘A Christmas Carol’, that the Berne Convention was created to give authors copyright protection over their work abroad as well as in the country in which the work was created

Copyright in the Internet Age

However, even though nowadays owners of copyrighted work no longer have to worry about the lack of control over work being produced abroad, there is a new challenge that has not yet been solved by current copyright laws: the Internet.

Your company might not be looking to create the next ‘A Christmas Carol’, but content your company produces may still be extremely valuable for the business – yet the Internet can make it difficult to ensure that people don’t misuse your copyrighted content.

Sometimes when the laws have not caught up with advances in technology, it is an unfortunate reality that there is little you can do in practice to tackle infringement, beyond prevention.

You can campaign for changes in the law (as Dickens tried to do in the Victorian times), or hope that there will be a way for the law to better protect your work or content.  However, sometimes the best that you can do is to understand how to benefit from the work you produce in the unregulated world of the Internet, despite the fact that some people may take advantage of your work and infringe your copyright.

The ‘Freemium’ Business Model

An important factor in building success online is attracting customers to your website. And in this Internet age one of the main things people are looking for is information, meaning that freely available and useful online content can be vital in achieving online success.

Giving information away for free can actually prove financially beneficial in unexpected ways. For Dickens, despite the fact he did not make money in the US from selling copies of his book, when he went over there to visit he discovered that he had a large fan base, and managed to make a good amount of money from giving readings of his works.

This just goes to show that just because the law might not adequately protect your copyrighted content from pirates; it does not always mean your company will suffer. Some successful bands have also profited from giving material away for free.  For example, Radiohead decided to allow customers to decide how much they paid for their album ‘In Rainbows’. And The Grateful Dead managed to create a devoted following and generate $60 million a year through their unorthodox approach to protecting their intellectual property, such as by allowing audiences to tape their concerts.

Managing Your Copyright Online

However, if you are concerned about keeping your copyright protected, here are some tips that might help:

  • Before publishing content online, evaluate what the consequences might be for your business if someone copied your content
  • Consider using measures like backlink, Google Alerts or copyscape.com to help you track down people who copy your site’s content.
  • If you know the Internet Protocol (IP) address of a copyright infringer, you can ban them from using your website (although they could still get round this by changing their IP address).

If you want to learn more about how to protect copyright or other IP online, buy a copy of Legally Branded. You can download free chapter of the book here.

This post was co-authored by Chloe Smith

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