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Copyrights and Trademarks in the Digital Age
(a case for ⓣ)
In the digital age copyrights are irrelevant. They used to be the way authors, artists, photographers, filmmakers, composers, and musicians protected their books, paintings, photos, movies, music, and performances from being stolen by others. All you needed to do was write down the copyright symbol, ⓒ, your name, and the year the work was created, affix them to your work, and everyone could see who the creator was and when it was created.
In the old days, that was fine, because to make unauthorized copies of copyrighted works was very time consuming, or impossible, for the average person. You had to handwrite it, type it on a typewriter, paint a copy, sneak a recorder into a concert, or take a picture of it. And, the copies or pirated recordings were never as good as the original.
Now, digital copies are exactly the same as the original, bit for bit, so you can’t tell the original from the copy or a copy of a copy (ad infinitum) from the original. And, the creators of the internet and operating systems have enabled the process to be as easy as right click, save as…
Trademarks, on the other hand, are unique images or words used in representing specific businesses or processes. You can put ™ after your mark for free if you just want to use it locally, but to make sure no one else, anywhere, uses it, it should be registered. The Ⓡ symbol designates such registration. Most countries have a department or office that keeps a record of each and every trademark that's registered. They are arranged in order of classes to make it easy to search, to see if a trademark has already been granted to someone else whenever anyone makes a new application.
A copyright can be registered, but most people don’t, for two reasons. There is a fee and while, on average, it's about ten times less than registering a trademark, it may still be more than the revenue of the work. More importantly, the process of enforcing your copyright, if it has been registered, goes something like this: Find out your work has been illegally copied, identify the person who did it, notify the person, if the person disputes your claim hire an intellectual property attorney and, if it goes to court, you still have to prove you were the original creator of the work. …an expensive hassle, to say the least.
To make matters even worse, in some countries (unlike the USA) there are no statutory damages available, so you could win, but only be given the cost of actual damage. Not a favorable prospect for anyone who has been robbed of $1.28. Of course, the problem isn’t that one person has denied the copyrighter of making $1.28, it’s that millions of other people have done the same thing! This has been most damaging to the music industry. No one respects the copyright. In fact, these days, musicians only make money by charging admission to their performances and by point-of-sale merchandise and/or autographed CDs.
Interestingly, trademarks, for the most part, have NOT lost their value even though they can be digitized exactly like copyrights. Why is this?
You might think the reason is no one would be foolish enough to call their donut Krispy Kreme® or their soft drink Coke® or their automobile Ford® because those companies are huge and have attorneys, on staff, at the ready, to sue for any unauthorized use of their trademark. But, no, that's not the answer as to why trademarks are still respected. Successful musicians have access to exactly the same legal services as major corporations, yet their music files may have been illegally copied millions of times, with no legal action taken, whatsoever, against the offenders.
The reason why trademarks are still respected is that before a trademark is granted, the organization granting the trademark searches a database to determine if it has already been registered by someone else. Of course, anyone applying for a trademark will do their own search first, before they apply, because they don’t want to waste their money on the application fee, knowing it’s only going to be rejected.
Yes, copyrights can be registered, but the organization that keeps the database, never searches the database. They register everything that is submitted. And, when a copyright is registered, only the original is registered. None of the copies may be registered because the whole point of having a copyright is that it protects the original, unique piece of intellectual property. Copies are not unique. So, these days, everyone knows they're making an illegal copy of a copyright work, but they do it anyway because there's no way to determine who the legitimate owner of a digital file is. And, in the age of big data, we wondered why?
The same technological advances that make it very cheap and easy to make and store illegal copies of copyrighted works also make it cheap and easy to put identification information of copyrighted works into a database. Moreover, beyond being able to see who the original creator of the work is, why not keep some identification of the owner of each copy of the copyrighted material, not just the original? Making this database available on the internet makes it available to everyone. So, no one can ever again claim they didn't know their copy of a piece of music was an illegal copy. All they need to do is check in the database to see whether they are the rightful owner, or not. The extra, added bonus is that the identification numbers can be sequential, so if a copyrighted work is popular, earlier copies may be worth more than later copies, just like first batch (matrix) numbers on old lp albums add to their value.
This new means of registering a file containing a copyrighted work, or works, is not a copyright or a trademark, but has elements of both. And, while it doesn't have all the requirements of a bill of sale, it is proof of ownership. The final step, to make it easy for everyone to see that a piece of copyrighted work is registered by this new, patent pending technology is the use of a small t inside a circle, ⓣ, at the beginning of the filename to alert everyone the file is on record.
We aim to put the owners of copyrighted works back in control. The only obstacle to be overcome is to make everyone aware this technology exists. So, spread the word. Everyone needs to know. In the digital age, ⓣ is just as important as Ⓡ.