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Avoiding Copyright Scams

Avoiding Copyright Scams

It seems that every week a new product or service is announced that promises to protect your work in some way or another. Whether it is helping you “register” your copyright, detect plagiarism or even outright prevent infringement, there are tons of companies that want to take your money to protect your work.

However most of these products turn out not to live up to their hype. At best they are a waste of time, at worst they are an outright scam.

So who is out to scam you and who is here to help? Well, here are some of the more common types of copyright protection services and what you should look out for before you sign on the dotted line.

Plagiarism/Infringement Detection

For the most part, there are three types of companies that get involved in plagiarism detection:

  1. Good intentioned people who simply bite off more than they can chew.
  2. Scammers out to make a quick buck.
  3. Large companies that are investing real time and money developing a serious product.

The dirty truth is that serious content tracking and plagiarism checking is not simple. It is not a problem that a skillful programmer solves in a weekend. Text matching seems simple, but rarely is.

To make matters even more complicated, there are actually two types of plagiarism checkers. The first is the kind universities use, which check a work to see if it is original. The second is the kind bloggers and other content creators use, which searches for all matches to a work. Both have different standards of effectiveness and neither, typically, does the job of the other very well.

Generally speaking, when creating a detection service for content creators, you have only two choices. The first is to partner with a major search provider, such as Google or Yahoo!. The second is to create you own database, complete with the storage and processing requirements.

If a checker opts for the first path, then its results will always be less complete than standard searches on their partner engine. It is just a matter if the convenience and effort justify the cost and missed matches.

When selecting such a system for your work, find out where they get their results from and compare the results it gives you with your own searches. A good system will return almost all of the same matches as a regular search unique phrase in the work,

Also, make sure that you are using a checker that is designed for this exact purpose. Many will try to market to both groups but such tools seem to do neither job very well.

In the end, it is important to check behind your plagiarism checker, if nothing else than to make sure the results are as good as promised.

Copyright Registration Services

Right now there are literally dozens of sites out there that will promise to help you protect your work by “registering” it with their entity.

Unfortunately, most of it winds up being just an ugly scam.

What most of these companies provide is something that is called non-repudiation, meaning support or evidence in the event of a dispute.

While that sounds good, and isn’t a bad thing by itself, many of these sites advertise themselves as “copyright registration services”, causing laypeople to be confused, thinking it has a relationship with the United States Copyright Office.

If you are seeking extra legal protection for your work and you live in the U.S., you need to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, which can be found at Though some services will actually aid you in registering your work there, usually at a highly inflated fee, the process of registering is simple and can be done by just about anyone.

Non-repudiation services may provide some verification of ownership, they have not been tested in any courts. Their best use has more to do with the court of public opinion than a court of law.

If you wish to use such a service, free and very low-cost ones are available. Paying more makes no sense as the cost of storing a fingerprint of a work in a database is almost nothing.

Be especially wary of any company that uses scare tactics or has a very high registration fee. They often times are just trying to prey on people’s confusion about copyright.

Digital Rights Management

Though DRM has become something of a pariah in recent years, that has not stopped a slew of companies from coming out with ways to “prevent copyright infringement” or “protect content on the Web”.

This is especially common when dealing with images, where photographers and artists are eager to prevent their work from being repurposed and have less that they can do in the form of detection.

The problem is that such DRM tactics never really work as advertised. If billion-dollar companies such as Sony are unable to produce 100% effective DRM, even when they are installing rogue software on machines, how can any company, when delivering products over the Web, guarantee success?

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Typically, such tools do more to frustrate users than they do to protect work. Whether they range from simple JavaScript trickery to advanced tools that embed content in Flash objects, these tools fail to provide any real security but do a great job hindering people that actually wish to look at the content.

The good news is that image matching technology is rapidly improving, making it possible to detect where an image is passed around on the Web, similar to what we now do with text. As this technology improves, the need and desire for preventing copying is lessened.

In the meantime, the only 100% way to protect an image is through a visual watermark on top of it. Though it tarnishes the look of an image, especially if it is done poorly, and does nothing to prevent copying, it prevents the image from being distributed without correct attribution, hinders commercial use and aids others in informing you about where it appears.

All in all, though it probably makes sense to prevent leeching of your server bandwidth, steps to prevent copying of your audiovisual works will either be completely ineffective, or hindering to legitimate users.

Either way, they probably aren’t worth the effort and certainly aren’t worth the money.


When it comes to copyright, there are a lot of companies out there eager to make a quick buck.

It is a fertile field for individuals and organizations that seek to take advantage of others. When you combine the confusion that exists around the law, strange technologies that have only recently come into existence and a lot of fear on the part of content creators.

The simple truth is that people put a lot of time and energy into the work they post on the Web and don’t want to see it misused. Even if they are comfortable allowing a great deal of reuse, most still have boundaries they would rather not see crossed.

This makes for a field rife for both those that wish to create a legitimate business and those who those that just wish to turn a quick buck.

Fortunately, people are getting smarter about the laws and technologies, but if the search results and advertisements are any indication, we still have a long way to go.

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