The term Intellectual property signifies a novel, physical manifestation of an idea. Intellectual property is one of the biggest competitive advantages a company can have and it also plays a major part in a company’s revenue. With the continuous development of technology, it has become difficult to protect and enforce the exclusive rights vested in an author/owner of a copyrighted work. This article will explain various threats posed by the digital environment to a company along with means of better protection, especially under copyright laws.
Copyright is an exclusive right given to an author/owner for the creation of a work. Section 13 of the Copyright Act, 1957 gives a list of creative works which are protected under copyright. The owner/author of the copyrighted work can exclude the public from reproducing, selling or using his work without his consent. This consent is usually given in the form of a license. A copyright is given for lifetime + 60 years in India. However, this term of protection varies in different countries. Works need not be registered for protection in India, but it is helpful in case of litigation where one has to prove that the work actually belongs to him/her. In some countries registration is mandatory in order to approach the court of law for a remedy.
Hence, the best form of protection for a company is registration of the work in various countries and jurisdictions as copyright laws vary from one country to another. This prevents the public from taking advantage of non-registration of the work by making derivative works and claiming ownership over them. It also helps in avoiding unwanted lawsuits and economic losses to stop them from doing so.
Companies have to be extremely careful about the following issues in the digital environment and must find effective ways to protect their copyright:
- Threat to principal of territoriality: The author/owner of a copyrighted work may not have control over the distribution of his work on a digital platform. When the copyrighted work is not in a digitized form, it’s distribution can be controlled. In the case of digital media, work which is meant to be published and used only by the people of one territory can be shared and used by people in the other territories as well. This leads to infringement and poses a threat to the principle of territoriality.
- Misuse of Fair use limitation: Fair use is an exception given to the owner’s exclusive right over his copyrighted work. Section 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957, defines all the acts which can be considered as fair use and thus not amounting to infringement. Such limitations can be misused on the digital media as such users can make high-quality substitutes of the original work which are indistinguishable from the source, this can be shared with multiple people and hence cause economic losses to the original source.
- Enforcement of rights is challenging: Certain exclusive rights such as rights of reproduction and prevention of derivative work are granted to the owner of a copyright. Once such a creation has been uploaded on the internet, it is difficult to enforce such rights.
- Software Piracy: Software piracy is when a person uses copyrighted software without the consent of the owner/author for economic purposes. It includes copying and selling of the pirated software and selling computer hardware with pre-installed pirated software. While dealing with software, a company has to be extremely careful as there are always hackers who are capable of bypassing any encryption. It largely affects the economic rights of the company.
Existing Methods of Protection in the Digital Environment:
- Blockchain Technology: It enables distribution of the copyrighted content but not copying of the same. It works in a similar way as peer to peer sharing, it creates blocks and stores information whenever the content is shared but it does not allow any person to copy the same.
- Digital Watermarks: Watermarks are embedded on the original work of the author, this cannot be easily removed by anybody. This will help the owner keep a track of the use of his content as well as let him know whether the content is being duplicated.
- Access Control and Copy Control: This is a software which enables the owner to check if his content is being used for fair use or illegal purposes.
- Use of Copy-Management or Copy-Protection Systems: Copy-Management or Copy-Protection Systems which contain technical devices prevents making of copies or reduce the quality of the copy so that it becomes impossible to use.
Copyright laws vary from one country to another. The 2012, amendment of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, inserted certain provisions for protection of copyrighted works in the digital environment. Section 52 of the Indian Copyright Act provides for acts which constitute fair use in the digital platform, Section 65A and 65B holds a person liable for punishment in case he circumvents encryption or a digital rights management information.
In the US, there is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 1998, which is an extension of US copyright laws and protects encryption, digital rights management systems, etc. It’s important to note that under the DMCA, any company which breaks encryption even outside the US can be held liable as long as the company does business in the US or even sets foot in the US.
Due to COVID-19 pandemic, use of the internet and social media has increased rapidly. In such cases, a company must take precautions in order to protect their work as much as possible from infringements. Unfortunately, no such technology exists which can be safe from hackers. The solution exists in educating the public about exclusive rights under copyright laws. Also as a company, one should take all necessary measures to comply with the copyright laws and prevent unwanted litigation. This way, even if the matter goes to court, the company can always prove that they took necessary precautions to prevent it. A company must also take measures in case of licenses, wherein such licenses must be explained to them in the simplest form so the general public understands their limitations when using a copyrighted work over the digital environment.