Does the Blogosphere Need a Registry?

Imagine the blogosphere with a registry – what.clink.is

Introduction

An online search was conducted using keywords related to the title of this post. Nothing relevant to the topic resulted at the time this article was being prepared. This implied either no interest in the subject or a wholly ignored area of the Internet society. The latter appears to be the case.

Definitions should help to clarify what is under discussion. “Registry” as contemplated by this article refers to a registry of online content and its creators, rights holders, rights data, and meta-data. The results of a search for “Registry” in the context of the web related to domains, gifts, media outlet registries, or registration with search engine webmaster services. None of these pertained to the topic of this article. “Blogosphere” is defined to be the collection of all weblogs; in a broader sense “blogosphere” refers to content that may be accessed by the internet.1

Registries have proven to be indispensable in many areas of our life: health care, finance, transportation, real property, music, and motion pictures, to name a few. Regardless of whether these registries are private, public, or governmental, they are all digital today. Ironically the most prominent digital source of information, the Internet, does not have a global registry that could be used to determine the attribution and the associated rights of its content.

This article provides a brief history on registries (for the Internet and otherwise) and introduces a new platform integrating an interoperable registry with a content licensing system: CLinkTM.

Content Registries

Registries for printed publications have a centuries-long history in libraries. Pertinent information such as a publication identifier, title, author, and keywords describing the subject matter were printed on cards and kept in organized cabinets (“card catalog”). The publication identifier determined the location of the publication within a library. The card catalog made the selection and location of publications a manageable, efficient process.

Outside of libraries the proliferation of computers in book trades gave rise to the International Standard Book Number2 (ISBN) for uniquely identifying and registering books. Registries and identifier systems were also formed for other types of works and related information. Examples of other identifiers include the International Standard Serial Number3 (ISSN) for serials; the International Standard Music Number4 (ISMN) for notated music; and the International Standard Name Identifier5 (ISNI) for creators.

The DOI® System6 (“DOI”) is arguably the most prevalent registry in the publishing industry. DOI and its underlying handle technology7 are seeing use in scientific, technical, medical fields and in the entertainment industry. In the past 20 years close to 200 million records have been registered. DOI has not been extensively used for capturing rights data.

Registries for online content exist today. The most familiar of these are proprietary to search engine companies. Search engine crawlers collect comprehensive and up-to-date data not only of online content but also of its visitors. Public access to the registry is limited through search queries. Information about the user is sold to advertisers. The user often becomes the subject of unsolicited, targeted advertising campaigns.

Unlike library systems where the results are predictable based on the database fields and search parameters, the results and rankings generated by search engine companies are influenced by their business incentives. Google has been by far the most dominant search engine and, as a result, plays a major role in monetizing the Internet. The manner in which Google conducts its business has been the ire of consumer protection organizations and the subject of governmental scrutiny. For instance, the European Commission has fined Google three times between 2017 and 2019 for a total of 8.25 Billion euros.8

Search engine companies and other entities controlling particular registries are essentially the gatekeepers of information they did not produce. They determine which creations to register, what content to provide, and the ranking in search results. As a result, these entities are by design biased gatekeepers who engage in skewed promotion and suppression schemes – promoting some creations while suppressing others to sustain or maximize profits.

An open registration system should provide unbiased access to the registry and permit creators – besides entities – to affirmatively register their works.

Rights Registries

Over 70 years ago, Article 27, ¶2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights9 provided:

Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

This document is not legally binding but it has influenced or guided the creation of laws and legally binding treaties. This venerable institutional document recognized the pecuniary and moral interests authors and other creators have in their own works and how the public as a whole benefits from protecting those interests.

Perhaps the most widely recognized and adopted treaty concerning these rights is the Berne Convention.10 The Berne Convention requires participating countries to recognize the existence of rights held by creators of other participating countries as soon as a work is fixed in a tangible medium and without the need for formal registration. Absent some form of registration, however, there is no effective way to identify the existence of a claim to a creation much less track, determine ownership, or determine status of rights in the creation over time. Interested readers can find an outstanding paper by Jane C. Ginsberg, Professor of the Columbia Law School on this subject.11

To facilitate a marketplace for traditional media, such as books and serials, rights to works are frequently managed, maintained, or registered with Reproduction Rights Organizations12 (RROs) for institutional, academic and larger corporate entities. RROs are not governmental agencies. RROs operate on a collective licensing model. They license works from multiple creators and collect license fees/royalties. They deduct management and operational fees and then distribute what’s left among the participating rights holders. Filings with RROs do not fulfill statutory governmental registration requirements that may be required to obtain certain legal relief. However, RRO records provide evidence of the existence of claims to copyrightable material and licenses which can be effectively used in commerce. RRO registries have become one-step shopping for searching rights/claims, facilitating licensing, and legal reproduction and use of copyrightable content at least for larger organizations or institutions. RROs are not a viable option for smaller entities or individual rightsholders.

Established infrastructure exists for managing rights, attribution, monetization, licenses, etc. for some categories of creative works (e.g., airing music through radio stations, broadcasting movies through television channels, streaming audio and video through Internet services), but there is no comparable existing infrastructure for blogs or other typical online content. Although creators, rightsholders, and prospective licensees/users have an unfulfilled need for infrastructure, the adaptation of existing infrastructure for traditional media is not feasible.

Consider the sheer volume and growth of Internet content. There were 560,013 registrations filed with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2018.13 Copyright Clearing Center, the most prevalent RRO in the United States, has registered approximately 60 million records over the course of 40 years.14 In contrast, WordPress.com alone reports over 70 Million posts per month.15

In the absence of suitable marketplace infrastructure, creators and prospective licensees/users must rely on peer-to-peer transactions. Such transactions require promoting and discovering content, establishing contacts, and reaching and memorializing agreements. These steps can be overwhelming for individual creators/rightsholders and prospective licensees/users and impose significant barriers to a marketplace for online content.

While the Internet has revolutionized the way content can be disseminated to almost everyone, it has not provided tools to effectively protect moral and economic interests of ordinary creators. In the absence of such tools, there are no effective means to protect and enforce the rights of creators or facilitate fair trade of online content even though constitutions, statutes, and treaties recognize economic and moral rights creators have in the works they create and the public benefits of protecting those rights. For example, Art. I, Sec. 8 of the United States Constitution empowered Congress to adopt laws “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”.16 But how can rights be secured in a Writing unless the Author’s claim to the Writing is known and the Writing can be positively attributed to the Author?

The Copyright Principles Project17 was formed in 2007 to explore whether it was possible to reach some consensus on how current copyright law might be improved or refined in view of dramatic technological advances and the problems associated with the explosive growth of online content.  The participants included copyright experts, law professors, and intellectual property lawyers and law firms. In their report they envisioned a registry regime that “would allow for private registries to exist for particular communities of copyright owners, and ideally, public and private registries would be able and have incentives to share information about registered works, thereby increasing the social value of all of the registries”.

Technological Perspectives

 The Digital Object Architecture (“DOA”) is an extension of the internet architecture. DOA addresses storage, location, and access to digital information in a distributed network. DOA is designed to support the management of digital information more comprehensively than just providing access. DOA-based registries already exist: e.g., DOI® System for academic publications, Entertainment Industry Identifier Registry18 (EIDR) for audiovisual works including television, motion pictures, and radio programs, and European Persistent Identifier Consortium19 (ePIC) for eResearch for scientific/research data.

DOA has three core components for managing digital objects: an identifier/resolution system, a repository system, and a registry system. The identifier/resolution system creates unique identifiers for digital objects and resolves unique identifiers to locate the digital objects they are associated with. The repository system is where digital objects are stored and allows invoking operations on those digital objects.

The registry stores metadata concerning the digital objects rather than the digital objects themselves. For further details refer to an excellent recent review written by Patrice A. Lyon and Robert E. Kahn.20

A Content Management System (CMS) is a software application facilitating the creation, modification, publication, presentation, and management of website digital content. According to a survey conducted by W3 Techs, nearly forty percent of the world websites are powered by just three CMS platforms: WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla.21 All three of these platforms are open source and highly customizable.

Interfacing a CMS with a DOA-based registry can provide a vastly simplified, cost-effective, and extensible framework for a content registry. Registration of meta- and rights data can be automated and performed contemporaneously with the publication or licensing of the content. Licenses could be customized, electronically executed and delivered with the content directly to the licensee’s CMS. Peer-to-peer transactions could be enabled and facilitated. This framework of pairing a CMS to a DOA-based registry could be a market enabler where the use of existing registration and rights management methods are not viable today for various reasons. The framework could also open new opportunities for businesses using legacy systems. A non-CMS legacy system, for example, could interface with the registry using an application programming interface. Once the requisite information is in the registry, the market exposure is no longer confined to the limitations of the legacy system including its limited user base.  The business expands its market exposure to include the world of integrated CMS-registry users.

The interoperability of exchanges and related registries is essential for facilitating competitive markets. Several international groups have been formed to facilitate interpretability and standardization. One such group is EDItEUR22 which represents entities involved in book trades, rights management, national and international standards, and technical services. Another group, DDEX (Digital Data Exchange, LLC),23 is a consortium of media companies, music licensing organizations, rights owners, digital service providers and technical intermediaries focusing on the creation of digital music value chain standards. Perhaps the most global consortium of standards bodies and registries is the Linked Content Coalition (LCC).24 Its framework and data model extend beyond content and embraces a comprehensive Rights Reference Model. The LCC Entity Model (LEM) has been validated over a wide range of registries such as DOI, DDEX, and EIDR. LEM is a natural choice for a registry aiming to achieve broad interoperability across various media.

The CLink platform might be the first integrated solution for registering content and rights, processing licenses, disseminating content and handling attributions.  DOA, CMS, and LEM are key components of the platform.  

Conclusion

A global registry for the blogosphere will benefit creators, rightsholders, prospective licensees/users, and the public in general.

CLink Media proposes an interoperable platform integrating a content and rights registry with a licensing system. Through the use of a CMS interface the logistical and financial barriers for registration and content licensing are significantly reduced or eliminated. The CLink platform is free for personal, non-commercial use.

To see a live demonstration using this article visit what.clink.is. Your comments, feedback, and criticism are solicited and sincerely appreciated.


1 Wikipedia on Blogosphere
2 International ISBN (International Standard Book Number) Agency home page
3 International ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) Center home page
4 ISMN (International Standard Music Number) Agency home page
5 ISNI (International Standard Name Identifier) Agency home page
6 DOI® System home page
7 Handle.net Registry home page
8 European Commission’s press release on fining Google for abusive and illegal practices (with internal references)
9 UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, 217 (III) A, 1948, Paris
10 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works
11 ‘With Untired Spirits and Formal Constancy’: Berne-Compatibility of Formal Declaratory Measures to Enhance Title-Searching by Jane C. Ginsberg
12 International Federation of Reproduction Right Organization (IFRRO) home page
13 The United States Copyright Office Annual Report for Fiscal 2018
14 Copyright Clearing Center proprietary database volume
15 WordPress.com live activity
16 Constitution of the United States
17 The Copyright Principles Project: Directions for Reform by Pamela Samuelson
18 Entertainment Industry Identifier Registry home page
19 European Identifier Consortium (ePIC) home page
20Blocks as digital entities: A standards perspective | Review of the Digital Object Architecture by Patrice Lyon and Robert Kahn
21 W3Techs – World Wide Web Technology Survey | perma.cc archive with link to live view
22 EDItEUR home page
23 Digital Data Exchange, LLC home page
24 Linked Content Coalition home page

We would like to thank William Davis, Giridhar Manepalli, Jason Miller, and Godfrey Rust for reviewing the draft of this post and for their invaluable feedback.

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