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The online tussle surrounding The Copyright Registry a few weeks ago grew out of a bit of hyperbole on both sides: C-Registry overused “orphan works” to stress the advantage of their service, and the blogosphere overreacted — as it sometimes does — by jumping to some unfair conclusions. The blogs that misconstrued the facts are as responsible as the company that proffered the facts. Most disappointing in this chaos was the email alert sent out by the APA. The fact that the ASMP endorsed C-Registry should have been a signal to the APA that they needed to do some additional fact checking before sending out their alert. This would have gone a long way to preventing the blog mob that rose to crucify C-Registry.
The orphan works bill that sits in Congress like an unstable nuclear device has the potential to radically shift the way photographers will have to manage their work that exists online. Understandably, the photo industry is jumpy about anyone or anything that mentions it, which has resulted in an overly suspicious atmosphere. When companies like C-Registry come along with an entrepreneurial solution to offer photographers a method of registering images, they need to be aware of this volatile atmosphere and word their references to orphan works carefully.
There were three other details that also served as flashpoints in this debate, and which deserve some clarification:
EULA (end user license agreement): C-Registry had an EULA that asked subscribers to their service to grant some of the rights of the work to C-Registry. This is very similar to the facebook fiasco that I wrote about a few months ago. Simply put, to display your work online, web services need your permission.
DOT US: Any American website that utilizes a domain suffix other than “.com,” “.net” or “.org” immediately falls under scrutiny because many nefarious internet companies have adopted these obscure suffixes for their endeavors. C-Registry was accused of trying to look like the government — “.gov” — by utilizing a “.us” domain suffix. My gut reaction was they were going to distinguish their services by country. It turns out I was correct.
Seeding a stock agency: Probably the most inflammatory detail that surfaced against C-Registry was the fact that the people who started C-Registry also own a stock photo service called StockPhotoFinder. Because of the first point above, assumptions were made that C-Registry was going to be a content supply service for StockPhotoFinder. That’s a broad and bold accusation, especially without verifiable evidence. C-registry would have been wise to anticipate that assumption and to indicate to the contrary on their website. But then again, obvious notions like that are often lost in the avalanche of details an entrepreneur has to contend with in getting a business started.
If you’d like a blow-by-blow point and counterpoint of this situation, you can read the blog posts and the emails from the APA and ASMP (PDN has a comprehensive and pretty fair rundown of the situation here). From my estimation, both sides had very valid arguments — as usual, it just depends on your perspective. If you’re a suspicious photographer, you could easily spin the rhetoric on the C-Registry site in a negative way. If you are not, then C-Registry could seem like an intriguing idea. I asked for an opinion from an independent individual who is a heavyweight in the business of online rights management and very close to the orphan works issue. His response? Many people assumed C-Registry was a scam when, in fact, it looked pretty legit from the outside. He did see some room for improvements, but he felt that the idea was sound.
So what’s the larger lesson here? The climate in our industry is tense at this point in our history. As such, we tend to assume the worst before collecting all the facts. Photographers are wise to keep a weather eye on the horizon. But let us not forget who we are. All of us know that due diligence and fact checking are cornerstones of our industry. If we as photographers weren’t under such a barrage of assaults from different fronts, the C-Registry issue probably wouldn’t have exploded as it did. Let’s give C-Registry the fair shake that any new business deserves before we start lighting the torches.