When personal computers started trickling into the hands of more and more ordinary Zimbabweans a few years ago, some of the more enterprising owners quickly became the bane of the existence of almost every musician, author or anyone really who was trying to earn a living off their published work in the country. Pirated disc copies of music, movies and other types of content lined local street pavements with local and international content alike falling victim. Even soulful songs composed specifically to bemoan piracy were quickly pirated. Book authors were not spared as even our more cash strapped schools discovered that all they needed was exactly one copy of any book—the difference could be made up for with a photocopying machine.
Fast forward to 2020, computers and their cousins—the smartphone—have made the creation of content and its distribution even easier because of the increasing accessibility of the internet. Unfortunately for the creators of content being distributed over the internet, its unauthorised reuse and sharing whether its text, images or video has become even easier. However, since making money through online content is already hard enough as it is, here are a few ways in which you can prevent—or at least reduce the possibility—of your online content getting stolen or republished elsewhere without your permission.
Actively protect it
One way in which you can protect your content from being shared or distributed without your permission is actively seeking out instances of this happening. However, before taking this approach to ensure that the likelihood of your content getting stolen is actually worth the effort. You must also take into consideration the actual value of your content—yes it may be valuable because you took the time to create it but if you never intended or are unlikely to ever make any money from it, maybe you should distribute it under a permissive license (e.g. consider one of the Creative Commons licenses).
One of the simpler tools in the protection of your online material is using a search engine like Google to search for copycats on the internet now and then. If your content appears where it shouldn’t, then you can take action. For smaller sites, you can contact the site owners and request that the material be removed. Search engines also allow copyright owners to request that results linking to their pirated work be removed from search results.
Creators of text content can also use tools like Copyscape and Plagium to see if their work is being plagiarized anywhere on the web. Duplicate content elsewhere is problematic for website owners as it can affect their site’s search engine rankings and lose its potential visitors (and revenue).
Publish on platforms with DRMS
Another way of protecting one’s content online is by publishing or distributing it through platforms with digital rights management systems. For instance, e-books sold through Amazon are more or less protected from all unauthorized copying and sharing. However be warned, if you are in Zimbabwe and your work is most likely to resonate with Zimbabweans then using international distribution channels (most of which use payment methods which are not widely used in the country) will alienate a very substantial portion of what should have been your primary audience.
If you feel that your content is valuable enough then you might also consider a bespoke Digital Rights Management System. In many cases, this will entail you creating a custom piece of software for viewing (and/or listening) to your content. If the content cannot be accessed using any other software, then you can effectively control how and who can view it. However, a lot of consideration must be made before taking this approach as many people would be hesitant and even suspicious to download any file which requires its own software for viewing. You must also note that DRM systems often tend to be very unpopular even among users who have no intention of infringing on your copyright.
Sometimes watermarks and other forms of text are used on documents such as e-books to discourage their unauthorised sharing and distribution. The owner’s information such as their name or account number is imprinted onto the document copy before they download it. This has the effect of dissuading the owner of the document from widely sharing it as their personal information would also be shared. This is sometimes called “social” or “soft” DRM.
Sometimes merely slapping your own name and logo on content such as images and video is also very effective at deterring those who might wish to reclaim it as their own.
Prevent copy/pasting of text
If you don’t wish for your website’s visitors to copy/paste entire articles for sharing elsewhere because you feel that this might lose you, potential visitors, you can easily prevent that. In most cases disabling right-clicking (or long presses in the case of mobile browsers) on your website is enough to prevent casual copying. Those with websites built using WordPress can install a plugin like WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click.
The effectiveness of most copyright protection techniques depends on how determined the potential infringer is and their level of technical know-how. Most of the techniques outlined here should be enough to deter casual sharers but they are far from effective against a determined opponent.