How On Earth Do You Enforce Copyright On The Internet?

As the internet floods the public with digital information, there become more and more opportunities for the public to utilize that information in their own work. However, much of that information is subject to copyright. Copyright exists as a bundle of rights which the copyright holder exercises control over. All or some of those rights can be exercised and the copyright holder may choose to extend some rights to others through various licensing agreements. Institutions are faced with the effectively communicating to each user of their website what they are allowed to do with each digital asset. As it is not possible to arrange individual copyright licenses for each potential user of a web site, a variety of trends have been implemented to help promote this crucial understanding.

Rights statements help communicate how something can be legally utilized by a user. Implementation of rights statements in online collections has generally been somewhat vague because of varying standards. Digital aggregators DPLA and Europeana have attempted to create formalized rights statements that can be applied to assets with a variety of different copyright statuses. Their project rightsstatements.org contains twelve different rights statements that vary in regards to known copyright status, commercial restrictions, knowledge of copyright holder, and other factors. This ensures that there is a rights statement for an object in almost any copyright scenario.

Creative commons licenses take the formula of rights statements a step further by creating individualized statements which allocate users a set of rights determined by the copyright holder. Unlike rights statements which are generally fabricated to reflect traditional copyright laws, creative commons licenses allow the copyright holder to choose which of their intellectual property rights that they want to exercise. A creative commons license acts as a blanket statement to all who may wish to use a copyrighted asset, that carefully outlines what can and cannot be done with that asset and which rights are reserved by the copyright holder. Therefore, a creative commons license sits somewhere between “all rights reserved” and the public domain, where no rights are reserved. To create a creative commons license, one needs to have ownership of the copyright.

There are many reasons why one might wish to use a creative commons license. The most common reason is so that others may be able to use and build upon their work. A researcher may invoke a creative commons in order for scholars to be able to make copies of their research in any format to share. An artist may wish to use a creative commons license so that others will be able to remix and iterate upon their work. Creative commons licenses are often used to enable sharing and remixing potential with the copyright holder still holding the commercial rights. However, sometimes a copyright holder may wish to waive all rights and essentially make their work public domain. A CCO license allows a copyright holder to waive all of their rights and make their content available for any commercial or non-commercial use.

Rights statements and creative commons licenses help define appropriate asset uses for all users, rather than initiating individualized agreements, in an attempt to control how users utilize the vast contents of the internet. Whereas rights statements are more formalized in nature in order to apply to as many scenarios as possible, creative commons licenses offer a greater degree of control by allowing copyright holder to choose which of their rights to waive or reserve. As the trend open access becomes more and more popular, copyright holders may continue to waive some or all of their rights in order to facilitate sharing and iterative content.

— Article by: Chris Rahmeh