User Generated Content Ownership

Since the creation of the <form/> elements people have been wondering about the ownership and copyright of content created online. From email and message boards in Web 1.0 to blogs and Twitter in Web 2.0 the same fundamental questions remain.

Lately, Twitter has been the focus. Twitter is actually pretty clear about it’s claims to user generated content:

  1. We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide to the Twitter service. Your profile and materials uploaded remain yours. You can remove your profile at any time by deleting your account. This will also remove any text and images you have stored in the system.
  2. We encourage users to contribute their creations to the public domain or consider progressive licensing terms.

It’s pretty clear that Twitter is taking a hands off approach, but it doesn’t let users decide what they want. I’m personally a fan of Creative Commons so my suggestion would be to let decide in their account settings how they wish to license and choose between CC licenses. That of course makes retweeting complicated to put it nicely (it’s more like a minefield). That’s likely the reason they avoid the licensing issue. Sure you can put some sort of an icon next to the tweet to indicate the licensing, but what if someone retweets it? Or modifies it ever so slightly? Is it a new tweet? How many characters must change for it to be a new one? This is where it gets murky.

Yahoo owned Flickr choose to solve this problem by letting users choose what copyright they want to impose, and include a Creative Commons option. A very graceful solution though admittedly their situation is much simpler than Twitter’s since they don’t have to deal with complexities like retweeting which would make things very complicated.

WordPress.com isn’t as clear in regards to it’s claims (or lack of) to copyright. Though they are far from locking people in considering you can delete stuff at any time and download your entire blog and move it elsewhere. Matt‘s been pretty open about giving users choice including the ability to leave WordPress.com. There is of course room for improvement to clarify their stance on copyright ownership.

Even Google has been criticized for copyright concerns regarding services like Google Docs.

They could adopt the Richard Stallman stance to “intellectual property” (his airquotes), though that would alienate at least as many as it attracts.

While Twitter might be the hot topic today it’s hardly a problem exclusive to Twitter. It’s an issue for virtually any site out there that accepts third party content. It gets more complicated when content can be remixed and redistributed.

The reality is people should know what rights they are giving up by putting content on these or any other services, but people rarely do. Perhaps a great Creative Commons project would be to create the same simplified icon/license system but for websites that allow users to submit content. The licenses would indicate what the impacts of the Terms of Service jargon are in plain English. It’s essentially the inverse of what they do now. Label the service as well as the content.

So what’s the best solution?

Copyright Office Compatibility Update

Macworld notes that the W3C objects to the Copyright Office Browser Compatibility plan (I mentioned this a few weeks ago). There are two particular quotes I wanted to share:

While stressing that the W3C is not criticizing Internet Explorer, the W3C officials said the office would be placing limitations on users of the Mac OS, Linux and Unix, who may have incompatible browsers. Cell phone and PDA users, and persons with disabilities also may be affected, Berners-Lee said.

So well said of Berners-Lee. What about Linux users? Where do they download the latest Internet Explorer? The Mac version is the same as the PC version in name only.

The W3C also stressed that the Web “was born and achieved widespread use only because of a commitment to open, vendor-neutral standards.”

I think that sums things up rather well. Not just about the problem with this proposal, but the problem facing the Internet in general. It applies to some patents, and to some monopolies.

You can find the complete W3C letter here.

Copyright Office Compatibility

According to the Copyright Office:

At this point in the process of developing the Copyright Office’s system for online preregistration, it is not entirely clear whether the system will be compatible with web browsers other than Microsoft Internet Explorer versions 5.1 and higher. Filers of preregistration applications will be able to employ these Internet Explorer browsers successfully. Support for Netscape 7.2, Firefox 1.0.3, and Mozilla 1.7.7 is planned but will not be available when preregistration goes into effect. Present users of these browsers may experience problems when filing claims.

According to the website, the comment and 5 copies should be sent to:

Copyright GC/ I&R
P.O. Box 70400
Southwest Station, Washington, DC 20024-0400

I won’t go as far as a “call to action”, since support “is planned”, though this is very concerning to Mac and Linux users in addition to all Firefox users. Let them know that everyone should be able to access the system, regardless of your computer or browser.

I’ll try and follow this, and post an update when more information is available.

[Hat tip: CNet News]

Habeas about to prove themselves

Habeas, an company who sells copyrighted x-header tags, known as “Habeas Warrant Mark” to companies who abide by their rules regarding spam, in return for avoiding spam filters (yes copyrights actually can benefit the internet community). It has a rather large backing from email providers and spam filters. Habeas has recently been under attack. As of about 11 AM, PST, Sunday January 11, 2004, an “unknown spammer” has been using the tags. The spam often has a title similar to “Get X(a)n@x, Valï(u)m, V|@gra, Som(a) Diet Pills Many Meds”, and is blacklisted by most DNSBL’s. Will copyright prevail and save the internet from Spam?