CIOs should fear the IP police ... have your get-out-of-jail files ready

Let's hope nobody wins this, it's disaster either way

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Creative Commons? IT means nothing to me

shutterstock_copyright_theft_burn must credit and link to shutterstock

Would we respect copyright more if more copyright holders
were the actual content creators rather than
massive media conglomerates? Image via Shutterstock

In a similar vein, the Creative Commons licences aren't a magic wand allowing free photocopying, elevator music and PowerPoint pictures for all. Since its inception, the number of Creative Commons licences has ballooned. They can range from free for any purpose to free only for non-commercial use, attribution required – or not – and every jurisdiction has a slightly different local flavour.

"Creative Commons licensed" means absolutely nothing. What matters is the specific details of the licence variant chosen. As with any other copywritten work, the licence the current copyright holder chooses to apply determines how much trouble you're in if you use it, who you have to pay, and under what circumstances you can use the work.

Adblock and the World Wide Wait

I am fearful of the very real business costs of intellectual property compliance. Every company – no matter how small – needs an accountant in order to be compliant with innumerable tax laws. We are on the cusp of requiring IP officers with a similar distribution. Larger companies need one of their own; smaller companies probably need one on retainer.

Increased adoption of advertisement blocking techniques in the corporate landscape may fuel this trend. As the copyright behemoths flail around looking for a new business model, advertising is a critical revenue source they are unwilling (and unable) to do without. They will defend it.

Not only can you advertise on the internet, but you can stalk people on an industrial scale. (Install collusion to see for yourself.) Behavioural advertising is big money, and everyone is trying to get in on the game.

While I have been patiently waiting for Orwell's bemused corpse to crawl up out of the ground and give us a good finger-wagging, slowly but surely I am seeing adblockers pop up all over the place. Adblockers are finally going mainstream.

Unfortunately, the result of this is once more attacking the revenue of copyright holders. We've seen how they react to this; it isn't pretty. What's more, it doesn't just hurt the traditional bullies of the copyright scene who have been making all our lives miserable; it hurts anyone who relies on advertising revenue to survive, The Register included.

The business driver for adblock adoption is the desire to eliminate lag. Your sexy fibre optic internet connection is worth little if the 30 or so analytics/advertising servers embedded in websites each need to time out in turn before your staff can get at the content they need. A minor irritation in 2005, this lag costs research-heavy jobs noticeable amounts of time, and the companies that employ them very real money.

The end game

The solution to this must be something we can all live with. We can't afford another 20 or 30 years of litigation that ultimately drives the cost of doing business – let alone enjoying content – through the roof. We already have a major lawsuit against DISH networks that bridges the gap between the old copyright infringement wars and the forthcoming adblock wars.

We need to work out an open, fast, stable, reliable advertisement and analytics system for the web. It must be a system that multiple advertisers – and brokers – can use; one which doesn't impact website load times, and prevents the distribution of malware through advertising networks.

We need to work with carriers to ensure that advertisements and analytics don't count against data caps. We need to get regulators, advertisers, brokers and civil liberties organisations in a room and hammer out privacy regulations that are sane and workable for the next century. We need to harmonise these across the western world so that we don't place our small businesses at a global disadvantage by burdening them with requirements for yet more warm bodies to ensure yet another layer of compliance and install yet more bureaucracy between staff and actual productivity.

If the extant copyright cartels succeed in their current endeavours, the licensing landscape will move from legal minefield to a sadistic version of Portal created by a creatively medicated zombie M C Escher. Big Content has proven completely incapable of adapting to change. The people in charge of these companies are not capable of bringing together the kinds of diverse political and business interests with the necessary group of skilled individuals.

If the anti-copyright crowd win, then a huge chunk of the economies that underpin the western world evaporate overnight. The answer is always somewhere in the fuzzy middle. Unfortunately, increasing radicalisation from both camps combined with decades of bitter feuding means that a workable compromise in unlikely in our lifetimes.

For businesses – as well as individuals – this means prolonged uncertainty. With no hope of regulatory rationalisation in sight, companies must take a proactive stance on copyright compliance. In reality it is impossible to be certain of compliance, no matter how many bodies you hire to police it. But if you end up in front of a judge, you need to be able to point to your ongoing efforts and say "we're trying". If nothing else, demonstrating an attempt at compliance may reduce damages below the level of 2,000 times the US national debt (PDF). There's really nothing more that any of us can do. Make your best efforts, cross your fingers ... and hope you never get audited. ®

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