There is no question that the Web has changed the way we consume information. This is because it provides us with fast access to a vast virtual information store. This information store has become so easy to access with modern search engines that we tend to assume that everything on the Web is free. This is not the case, and this is a potential minefield, not only for information publishers that wish to protect their intellectual property (IP) on the Web, but also for organizations that consume and use that IP.
Controlling Web content of course is a controversial subject. Letâ€™s take a few examples:
â€˘ Legal action against file sharing services (and their users) that allow people to download music without paying for it.
â€˘ Legal action against YouTube for allowing its users to publish and access copyrighted videos and television programs.
â€˘ The Writers Guild strike where writers wanted residuals (i.e., payment) for delivery channels such as Web downloads, streaming, and smart phone programming.
â€˘ The recent National Football League (NFL) controversy over its attempt to control online photo rights and online newspapers that cover NFL sporting events.
Of course these examples apply to consumers using the Internet, but this type of issue is starting to occur in the business use of Web content as well. Let me share two personal experiences here.
At a portal conference I was chairing towards the end of last year, I was intrigued by the fact that one of the exhibitors was the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC). This seemed an odd event for this organization to participate in. Corporations, universities, law firms and government agencies use the non-profit CCC to assist them in reproducing copyrighted material. By offering licenses and permissions to reproduce content, the CCC enables organizations to obtain reproduction rights from a single organization (i.e., the CCC), rather than having to deal with payments to hundreds of copyright owners.
The CCC was at the portal event because organizations are becoming increasingly concerned about employees repurposing Web content that is may be copyrighted. The CCC is now beginning to extend its services to handle content published on the Web.
A second example concerns the republishing on the Web of presentation and education material (slides, audio, video) presented at physical business conferences. Conference speakers are beginning to complain that conference organizers often republish this material on the Web without permission, additional compensation, or any kind of control over its copying or further redistribution.
I began to think about this latter example, because part of my revenue comes from conference presentations. If we analyze this particular example then we have to consider three parties: the presenter (the author), the conference company (the publisher), and the web site (the distributor). The distributor and the publisher are often the same company. These three parties exist in other situations such as physical and online newspapers like the New York Times (NYT).
In a physical conference there are only two parties: the presenter (the author) and the conference company (the publisher). In this case, presenters agree payment for presenting and the publishing of their material. This payment is usually based on the type of presentation, audience size, PR value, etc. Note that the parameters here are fixed. Presenters know where the conference is located (avoiding potential conflict of interest situations with other companies they work with), know the size of the audience (this may affect the fees they charge), and they also know how the material will be distributed and used (printed material, protected CD, etc.). Note also that the conference company achieves its income through attendee revenue.
If the physical conference also becomes a virtual conference on the Web, then from presentersâ€™ perspective the parameters are no longer fixed, which potentially impacts income, and could cause a conflict of interest situations because the Web material has no geographical boundaries. Also, the conference company now becomes the distributor and may look for revenue not only from virtual attendees, but also advertisers (which again potentially impacts speaker revenues and potentially speaker independence).
The examples above clearly demonstrate the potential issues and pitfalls of publishing and consuming Web content. I donâ€™t have solutions for many of these issues, but it does demonstrate that organizations can no longer ignore them, and need to start thinking about how to handle then.
Posted April 30, 2008 8:01 PM
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