Copyrights and the Internet

Copyrights and the Internet

The Internet makes possible the rapid creation and publication of a vast amount of content. By necessity, copyright protection has become an inherent and integral part of the World Wide Web.


Metadata is data about data. Usually expressed in the form of meta tags, it is part of the HTML code that forms the basis of online content. The information in metadata is invisible to the user but is formatted so that internet browsers and search algorithms can read it. Meta tags reveal who created the data file, when it was last created, and what keywords describe the content. Appropriate use of meta tags is essential in order to index files for search engines.

Meta tags are also critical for marking copyright on the internet. For example, suppose you take a beautiful photograph of your daughter in the candy aisle at your local supermarket. You upload it to your favorite photo sharing service and post it on your social media. You tag the photo with your name, copyright and the year.

If a stock image company comes across your photo and wants to lease it, the metadata will help them locate you. Metadata acts as invisible signposts that do not interfere with a user’s experience of the web. They also allow authors, artists, and other creators to mark their works in a robust way.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) limits the liability of internet service providers (ISPs) when web pages that they host infringe on a copyright. In order for an ISP to claim limited liability, they must block access to content that infringes on a copyright. If someone infringes your copyright on the web and they will not remove the offending content, then you can report the matter to their ISP. Likely, the ISP will block the content because they do not want to be liable for the infringement.

The DMCA is a powerful tool for any copyright holder. If you have a dispute with a rival blogger who is copying your posts and refusing to remove them, the DMCA gives you the option to take up the issue with the ISP that hosts your rival’s blog. Using the DMCA is also part of how Hollywood polices video sharing sites to make sure users are not uploading films without permission. The DMCA is able to resolve conflicts large and small and is a solution created for protecting copyright on the web.

Protecting Copyrights with Automation

The way we use the web relies on several automated processes. When you type a search query into your search engine of choice, the results you get and the order you get them in is the result of an algorithm-driven process. Similarly, service providers use automated processes to avoid infringing the intellectual property rights of others.

For example, when you upload a video to your favorite video sharing site it most likely runs several analyses in order to determine if the video contains copyrighted materials. The analysis is more sophisticated than checking if you are uploading a movie or TV show that someone else produced. Most video sharing platforms analyze still photos that you use, background music, and numerous other components of your video.

Automated processes are increasingly relied upon to identify copyright infringement, which makes it more and more important to mark your works with identifying meta tags and index them so they can be found.

Sharing Your Work

Automation, metadata, and the DMCA make it easier for you to claim and assert a copyright. But perhaps the web’s greatest contribution to the value of copyright is when not to assert it. The web has re-written the business models in many publishing fields and changed our expectations about what information we pay for and what information we expect to get for free.

Sharing is a choice. You own the article you write the second you type it. If you choose to share that content then it may impact your ability to enforce that copyright in the future. That being said, sharing does not contradict, destroy, or otherwise compromise copyright. It is simply what you choose to do with the copyright. Whatever your motivation to share your work, the work still belongs to you and you can still claim your copyright.

In the modern age of the Internet, copyright is more important than ever. Creators have more options for what they do with their works than at any time before. No matter what you want to do with your works on the web, protecting your copyright will always give you more options.