Licensing in an online world

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Copyright is a complex topic and has become more complex in a digital world. Christopher Kenneally of Copyright Clearance Center considers ways that authors and publishers can communicate and protect their rights

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, authors and publishers who held copyrights for text works became increasingly concerned with changes in printing and duplication technology. The new, smaller, on-site photocopy machines made easy copying possible, but jeopardised the intellectual property rights of authors and publishers by doing so. Forty years on, people share knowledge faster and easier than ever thanks to incredible advances in technology, and innovations in content licensing are helping to ensure that rightsholders receive compensation for the use of their works no matter what comes next.

On the internet, content sharing knows no borders. This lack of borders can create a lack of responsibility, as knowledge workers assume that, if they can freely access articles, images and other material online, then they can freely share it. They often don’t intend to violate the intellectual property (IP) rights of authors, photographers, publishers and other rightsholders; they simply don’t understand their responsibilities. With the right education and content licensing strategy, rightsholders can extend the value of their intellectual property in new markets, give customers a better user experience, and help to promote respect for their IP rights.

Rights on the move

Rightsholders and content users are working with rights brokers to create solutions that maximise the latest technology and facilitate knowledge sharing. Consider the recent popularity of mobile devices. Smartphone and tablet owners increasingly turn to these devices for access to factual information, particularly reference, documentation and educational interests. Even some lab coat manufacturers are redesigning their products to include a pocket for iPads and tablets.

Earlier this year, the American College of Chest Physicians installed our RightsLink content licensing service on the publisher’s popular CHEST journal iPad/iPhone app. RightsLink allows CHEST customers to purchase reuse permissions without ever leaving the journal’s smartphone/tablet app. The licensing process is seamless and intuitive, which means the publisher has made it easy for people to use and share its content responsibly and pay the requested royalties. Positioning licensing wherever content exists helps customers to comply easily with the copyright on that content.

In addition to licensing, we deliver copyright education programmes to help content users and rightsholders understand their rights and responsibilities.

Such initiatives are vital because, although the basic principles of copyright are the same in 2011 as they were in 1978, content consumption and reuse habits have transformed dramatically. Many of those new habits are encouraged by developments in technology. However, if they are adopted without any particular thought or analysis, they can fly in the face of the traditional acceptance of rightsholders’ intellectual property rights.

When people disregard the law, they assault the fundamental tenet: that the creator of a work should have the right to grant permission and expect compensation for that permission. Through education and adaptive licensing solutions, we can help to highlight the IP rights of authors and publishers and still ensure the seamless sharing of knowledge.

Christopher Kenneally is director for business development at Copyright Clearance Center