I had a nice chat last week with Mike O'Donnel of iCopyright about their new service for small and independent publishers. The company has a large for-pay service that is used by large publishers, including news wires, to track the digital progress of copyrighted materials and they're reusing some of that technical infrastructure for the new offering.
O'Donnell noted that previous attempts to let individuals control how their intellectual property is used, particularly Creative Commons, lack a number of useful features. iCopyright is promoting itself as an alternative that is free to small-scale creators, and supported by advertising and partner revenue.
But back up a step - what's wrong with CC and how can it be fixed? Well, some of the lacks are that there is no loopback to the creator. If I put a CC license on my works I have no way to track how those works are being used, or to confirm that something is in compliance with my CC license terms. CC also has no enforcement system and if I wish to charge a fee for use (a term specified in CC licenses) there's no mechanism to help me collect these fees.
iCopyright addresses each of these. When you use their service you build a ©reator tag and use that as part of your copyright notice on your writing, artwork, photo, etc. The tag links back to the iCopyright servers, which track clicks and loads so you can find out who's viewing your tagged material, where it's displayed, and so on. Separately, iCopyright has a scanner technology similar to Attributor, which attempts to find places on the Web where tagged content is being used, potentially without permission.
As the owner of the ©reator tag you get a profile on their site that you can use to publicize yourself and to set the terms for use of your work. Unfortunately, the free service doesn't allow you to vary permissions by item - you need to pick one model for sharing all content associated with that tag. For example, if you wish to charge a fee for use of your photos, iCopyright will give you a Paypal link so people can give you the fees you set. If, however, you also want to give away your blog entries for free you can't use the same ©reator tag - you'd have to create another one and attach the free license to the second tag.
As a free-to-creators service this seems like a step forward - we definitely need more active and more powerful tools to turn copyright flexibility and fair use ideas into actionable entities. It's far from the last word, I'm sure.