‘How do I protect my idea?’ is a question I’m often asked. The answer is simple; ‘You can’t protect your idea, but don’t worry because the way you express it will probably be covered by copyright.’ So, the great idea you have for a computer game or the indispensible app that everyone is going to download whilst you sit back and watch your bank balance swell, is not protected until you actually record the idea permanently in code, onscreen or on paper.
Once you’ve done this, you will almost certainly have created a copyright ‘work’ that is protected by a raft of intellectual property laws. That’s reassuring, but do you really want to rely on costly and time consuming legal proceedings to stop people pirating or cloning it or would you rather prevent users copying it from the outset? As most people do not consider that digital duplication can be theft, and because it is so easily achieved, business sense surely demands some sort of digital rights management (“DRM’) to protect your work.
DRM at its most basic is a way of preventing a copyright work from being used or duplicated by using key codes, online authorisation (usually via a registered account) to activate the work, or in the case of products such as computer games, embedded programs that install themselves onto the end-users hardware before they can play.
Although there is a general public backlash against DRM, it was initially envisaged to protect the revenue stream for the creator of the work by dis-incentivising copying. The World Intellectual Property Organisation demanded such protection as far back as 1996 and the US Digital millennium Copyright Act 1998 was the first piece of legislation to criminalise DRM circumvention. The EU implemented similar laws in the Copyright Directive and Electronic Commerce Directive, again intended to protect the owners’ rights by prohibiting DRM circumvention, but the digital world has moved on and now most of this legislation seems outdated.
Arrangements such as Creative Commons Licenses and Creative Barcode now offer individuals and businesses the chance to determine how their work may be used and to indelibly mark it with their copyright. Is there a downside legally to using these mechanisms rather than DRM? Probably not. Creative Barcode enables creatives to authenticate, protect and safely disclose their concepts to third parties before commercialisation. The Creative Barcode micro-barcode enables the rights owner to authenticate, protect and communicate their ownership and permit use for completed works displayed on their websites or third party portals.
Creative Commons on the other hand provides standard licenses from the rights owner permitting use of the work according to pre-determined parameters so that the creator is always acknowledged and a revenue stream may be created.
So when it comes to protecting your copyright you have options. You can record your work and rely on a judge to agree it’s protected. You can install DRM in your work and rely on users not to circumvent – but what do you do to police this and do you want to? Or you can consider Creative Commons and Creative Barcode mechanisms of permitting accredited use. These signal a more open and co-operative approach to commercialisation of copyright works and may even open discussions about collaborative use and development of your work going forward.
If you would like advice about how to protect your creative output, please contact Joanne Frears at firstname.lastname@example.org