Digital publishing can be seen as both a positive and a negative for digital media creators. Every day, businesses and individuals invest their time and creativity into creating original pieces of work as both a means of expression and income generation. It can be infuriating to have someone else take your work without compensation—and arguably worse to have them pass it off as their own.
As a digital media publisher, it's important to understand your rights, which determine who owns your work, how it can be published, where it can be published, and when it may be published.
Media and Digital Publishing
As the collective term for all forms of mass communication, media comes in numerous forms, including books, magazines, news broadcasts, artwork, movies, and music. Digital media refers to any such forms available on electronic devices such as your desktop computer or cell phone. Both traditional and digital media become available to the masses when the work is published.
Digital media includes some forms that do not have traditional counterparts, including websites and blogs, internet games, mobile applications, and downloadable materials such as e-books. Any business or individual can now be a digital media publisher. This is great news, but it also means that the opportunity for your work to be stolen and used without proper attribution or compensation is greater than ever before.
Copyright Protection for Digital Media
Understanding the rights granted to copyright owners is the first step in protecting your digital creations. Any works in the form of digital media are protected by copyright. Copyright grants the creator of a work exclusive rights, such as the right to copy and to decide who can sell, perform, adapt, or use the work in other specified ways. Your copyright is protected internationally by the Berne Convention, which lays out the fundamental copyright protections for all countries that have signed the agreement.
Digital works are also protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which goes beyond copyright infringement laws covered under the Berne Convention. The DMCA increases protection for copyrighted materials in digital form and provides heightened penalties for copyright infringement on the internet.
You don't have to register your copyright: it is automatically yours as soon as you create an original work. However, registering your copyright provides additional protections.
Digital Publishing Rights
As the owner of a copyright, you have a number of exclusive rights to your works. This also means that if anyone else wishes to use your work, they must get your permission before doing so. This includes the right to:
- Reproduce your work
- Prepare derivative works
- Distribute your work
- Publicly display your work
- Publicly perform your work
These rights apply to both digital and traditional publishing, as both are covered under copyright law.
Digital Publishing Rights Management
Digital rights management (DRM) is a way to protect copyrights for digital media. Instead of trying to catch pirates who are stealing your digital media, DRM uses technology that limits the copying and use of copyrighted works—preventing the theft from ever happening in the first place. DRM allows publishers and creators to have more control over what paying users can and can't do with their works.
DRM can allow you to:
- Restrict or prevent sharing and forwarding your content
- Restrict or prevent printing your content
- Restrict or prevent editing and saving your content
- Restrict screenshots of your content
- Limit the number of times a user can access your content
- Watermark your content in order to establish ownership and identity
Understanding your rights and options to protect those rights is the first step in safeguarding your digital works. By doing so, you an also protect your financial interest in the works you've created.