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ongoing web column   by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

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Big boys, the cunning of copyright and the looming of the syndication right

How to make people managing their intellectual property and claim their money

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2015). Big boys, the cunning of copyright and the looming of the syndication right. How to make people managing their intellectual property and claim their money. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 4.9 (September).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2015). Big boys, the cunning of copyright and the looming of the syndication right. How to make people managing their intellectual property and claim their money. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 4.9 (September).

Love your enemy: it will ruin his reputation
Desmond Tutu

London, 9 November 2015 - In this article I explain why I believe time has come to introduce in the copyright law - and implement in the practice of collecting and distributing royalties thanks to data mining and other big data technologies - a syndication right as an universal way to realise in the digital market space long established principles of attribution and reproduction.

In fact, sort of “second hand” markets for copyrighted works do exist in the digital world: they are in the cashing, tagging, mirroring, and other clever ways to store, link, redistribute, transform, adapt and perform contents most of the times without asking authors any permission. Such practices exist in the context of digital supply chains that feed the advertising industry as well as the piracy and counterfeit markets.

Turning the copyright law upside down

All the contents we create using electronic records and we publish and share online in a multiplicity of digital formats, from plain email messages to Youtube videos, are exposed to surveillance, interception, advertising and data mining technologies. These have rarely been designed embedding copyright principles and licensing mechanisms even when they have enough security and administrative metadata or accounting features to actually record, trace and audit both authorship of and access to digital contents. And even without applying sophisticated digital signatures, encryption technologies or special watermarking protection.

In spite of all the efforts made for the last twenty years to make them more viable and acceptable in a number of markets, records management and metadata principles and standards (and possibly the same is for search and analytics software and good database design practices) have not been very popular among authors and the experts that represent them in a number of economic, legal and commercial organisations.

In other terms, as authors of contents published and shared in digital and printed formats we do have an universally recognised attribution and integrity right established by the Universal Berne Copyright Convention. But the steam of internet contagion and group thinking has not allowed yet to realise that sort of authorship "Bitcoin" - an interoperable and reliable universal mechanism to exchange royalties on the commercial exploitations of digital contents - that would prevent piracy and at the same time assure economic returns to legitimate authors and intermediaries.

On the contrary, astute lobbyists and jurists have managed for the last fifteen or twenty years to pompously exploit the fair use doctrine and the user rights to have “exceptions” to copyright laws for personal or educational uses that simply do not make sense if there is any reuse and redistribution.

As an independent scholar, author and user of professional literature I make copies of digital papers and articles that I download from legitimate electronic databases and websites. There is little doubt that such materials are copied for personal use and continuous professional development. I also take screenshots of articles in the printed version of newspapers as well as pages of books I haven’t had the time to read before the library closure time - and I think I made the case for British Library to accept that such behaviour is not necessarily evidence of a criminal conduct. But I tend to destroy such materials after a while or keep it only for my reference.

Sometimes I ask myself why I have taken copy of very insignificant articles - that is another interesting poke for reflections about the way we use technologies of information and communication. I do not reuse such contents nor I upload them or redistribute them and I rarely contravene to this safe personal policy (in the last three years I recall I sent copy of an article downloaded from "Harvard Business Review" - about the Innovators DNA - to a couple of stubborn project managers, see You said that!, "icm2re", 2014, n. 6).

If any of these copies of copyright materials made for personal use was found in a repository in the cloud, let’s say in another Country, and reused for advertising or parody purposes, or sold as a cheap, pirated copy I would like the people responsible for such redistribution to be charged. The legitimate authors, publishers and distributors should be compensated for any illegal usage found.

This is the way in which things should be managed if we only put the moral right of authors first. That is not an impossible dream from a technical point of view.

The syndication right is not science fiction

Talking about standards, identifiers and ways to manage the technicalities of the Copyright Digital Exchange and the Copyright Hub implementation I have recently noticed that even the Copyright Hub Operating Policies forget to explicitly mention the entity "creator" or "author” within their own documentation. That is a shame.

We can spend hours, months, years talking about identifiers, shared identifiers, creations, rights and assignment of such rights and never come to the attribution stage!

So, the key question is how to make people willing to be paid for their creative work and how to empower them and make them responsible and in control of the agreements, processes and mechanisms that allow access and reuse of those contents if there is no legal binding instrument to protect such universal rights across various jurisdictions.

In Britain there is a fertile and dynamic effort not only on defending principles, practices, interests and administration of copyrighted contents but also on expanding the practical opportunities and possibilities of micro-payments of royalties on virtually any type of work that gets distributed through various channels and media interconnected and accessible via the internet. But this attitude is not shared equally in all the segments of the population nor in other parts of the old continent nor - to the best of my knowledge - internationally. And this is the first point of concern if we want to have a really "universally recognised attribution right" with all the practical consequences that this means.

A syndication right recognised to everybody who creates contents for the internet will surely prompt education experts, academics and teachers and artists to ask themselves why in so many even very recent textbooks, talks and events about computing, internet, media studies and digital developments there is no mention of words such as authorship, authors, creators, copyright, royalties.

Pressure has mounted to scrap "old fashioned" copyright laws in Europe. Both China and the USA do not have a strong tradition and respect for the moral rights of authors.

Open data fundamentalists in the academic world have been brainwashing - often with the alliance of big media and financial moguls that have their own interests in pursuing such strategy - thousands of researchers and above all millions of graduates "knowledge workers" in all industries, spreading the phantasy of medieval creative workshops in which authors are employed by organisations that retain all the rights to use, reuse and distribute their authorial contributions in exchange for salaries and / or other consistent and persistent benefits. That is obviously very untrue and misleading as I have argued in another icm2re article on this subject (Lessons learned from the defeat of Google Authorship and catalogues' contests, icm2re 3.12, December 2014).

The evidence is that the digital world has expanded in an opposite direction, commoditising large parts of the production and distribution of knowledge instead of realising a “knowledge economy”. There is no remaining field of human research and development activity, not even in the richest corporate labs or in the most theoretical academic centres, that can be considered exempt from a constant need to manage commercial activities and engage with fundraisers and philanthropists, entrepreneurs and all sorts of empowered, networked organisational structures, in order to carry on research and development activities.

In sum, the true policy question has become how to make people willing to change attitude towards the remuneration of copyrighted contents that are created, distributed or re-used within digital environments: from neutral or adversarial to interested, supportive and investigative. There is a vision, and some encouraging evidence, that organising the collection and distribution of royalties on intellectual property assets does not harm anybody, it is technically possible and morally overdue.

The idea of what I propose to call here a "syndication right" aims at giving back to authors who contribute to create value in the digital economy in any form and through any medium, the right to control and to receive royalties for the commercial exploitations of their works.

So, why shouldn't the public opinion and the political establishments support such right? Where does the friction to change, if any, come from? What is wrong with the idea that authors must be paid for their work and therefore digital copyright must be recognised anytime anywhere?

What we all can do in this respect is perhaps a simple exercise in restructuring the problem, from a very abstract and grand issue to a set of simpler, manageable, operational and appreciative questions.

Who are the authors and their stakeholders interested in the syndication right

The first basic question consists in identifying who are the authors and their stakeholders. Who should care of their own intellectual property assets and related commercial value? Next, wearing their shoes, we should try to see what "value for money" copyright means for each of them and who is acting against common interests (including, possibly, their own!) not claiming or not recognising copyright remuneration. What strategy or business model they have in place for a long term, sustainable business exploitation of their own creations within the digital economy?

First of all, let's have a look at the people who spend a considerable amount of time and energy to think something and to give a form to such thoughts either in a natural language (writing or recording words) or using maths and other formal languages (such as software) and creative and artistic forms of expression (like sculpture). These people, including myself, are not professional writers or journalists: from the meticulous engineer that documents all his work to the most eclectic comedian who writes his own scripts, we are the thousands of "other" professionals to whom writing represents an increasing critical success factor or qualifier of other skills more than a career per se - I shared this thought on Twitter last 5th June 2015 (https://twitter.com/Brunella_Longo/status/606792639355191296 not available anymore).

Many unintended and occasional authors are aware of their rights: I am talking about illustrators, musicians, writers, photographers, designers, software programmers and inventors who have consciously registered and / or documented their works and experiences, often investing all their time, energy, savings and passions to get their words and creations enjoyed and respected in secondary markets (by means of licensing agreements for patents and trademarks, or publishing of books and articles in journals or magazines). This is why we have joined societies and collective bodies or associations and consortia that represent our copyright interests. And yet, we have seen how blunt has been the protection against the backdrop of what I call the cunning of copyright in the digital world - more about this in the next section of this article.

But let's not forget that there are masses of others that simply ignore they have such possibility, since their first aim online is not to be acclaimed as professional writers or to get popularity through other forms of expression, but to find customers, partners or employers for their inventions, products, software or services: writing blog posts and sharing contents with contacts on LinkedIn or Facebook is undoubtedly a mean of expression but also a low cost advertising tool for other intellectual professions or services and promotional channel available to everybody (unfortunately the same is true for tactics used for unfair competition such as smear and trolls campaigns).

Authorial efforts in the digital world always leave traces within email messages and web pages cached, crawled, indexed and mirrored across several servers and software procedures and in this way they become available for further research, advertising and commercial re-use. In my opinion, everything that is reused for any purpose that is not purely digital preservation should be compensated in a proportionate way - see the relevance in this respect of the idea of using the royalties mechanism I wrote last month (Innovation in recruitment: talking royalties instead of wages).

To this extent, the syndication right would function as a catalyst mechanism. Authors' interests would match interests of third parties, triggering the design and implementation of new intermediaries services and collection agreements. In fact, the syndication right should cover what the new articles of association of the ACLS define as "caching, hosting or storing the work in electronic form in support" of other, more traditional, rights (like the right to broadcast, copy, perform or rent a work in electronic format).

Not only that. I believe that the syndication right should even be extended to forms of intellectual property and personal data that really define people interests, identity and personality within digital environments sometimes in very fragmented ways (like Twitter or other instant messaging systems) and so it should include any further copy of our contents made available and shared to promote products and services, to funnel traffic, via hyper-textual links and authenticated procedures, towards specific platforms and services supported by advertising and sales revenues (like recruitment portals, in which CVs are shared as they were billboards, or Facebook pages in which you share your photos theoretically with your nearest and dearest).

All in all, it seems to me that the idea of a syndication right translate in practice within the digital environment the principle of attribution of the Universal Copyright Convention. It should not have any opposer at all, right?

Wrong. If I look back to my now twenty years of engagement with internet and digital communities, technologies and markets, I see that the main problem of whatever digital business concept is not - as I have thought for many years on the grounds of my own business experience - the fact that every 18 months things change (I couldn't have imagined 10 years ago - I wrote in 2001 in a self promotional article (1) meant to reach out the international community of library and information specialists - that my abilities and skills would become like Lego bricks to be built and rebuilt continuously in new combinations, on the basis of my work hypotheses and my users' requests. Every 12 to 18 months or so, these combinations have repercussions on the very nature of my business and require us to fine-tune the organization of its activities.). Indeed, Internet turned out to be that Panta Rei business I envisioned in the early 1990s: everything flows and keeping up with the substantial changes and fashionable trends is very important. The fast pace of technological advances and their clever marketing propositions (think of your own experiences with mobile computing operating systems and applications) play an absolutely relevant role.

But companies burst and go out of business at an unsustainable pace, and people go out of the labour market even faster. There is an immense human waste, forgive the atrocity of this expression, in that delaying the age of the first remunerated job and in the choice of putting small firms, sole proprietors, freelance workers out of business and even out of the labour market. The exploitation without remuneration of the intellectual work of million of people by an increasingly smaller number of global conglomerates of media and financial interests is unacceptable in a knowledge economy.

So, who are the big boys that directly or indirectly, oppose the syndication right and profit from the cunning of copyright?

I use the expression "big boys" to refer to an attitude: in the context of the digital economy, also communities of nurses or teachers, for instance, as well as networks of small businesses can organise their behaviours and communications acting as arrogantly and above the law as old fashioned bossy directors. I have considered my own disgraceful and painful experiences as a victim of copyright abuses and trademarks infringements and came to these four categories: copyright cuckoos, brand thieves, words pickpockets and IP serial killers.

Big boys that act as copyright cuckoos

The syndication right would have the merit to introduce more order and fairness in the digital supply chain without neither altering the possibilities of success for anybody nor the pace of development, just regulating and mitigating the impact of what I call the copyright cuckoos behaviour (that refers also to cases of trademarks, visual arts, designs and patents).

Copyright cuckoos have always existed in the world of intellectual property. They are the guys who choose quick and dirty tactics to make successful ideas they have found appealing in a niche or small sector more successful in larger or different markets: the same history of copyright and media and publishing law is very intertwined with the history of the cunning of copyright and patents by ingenuous plagiarists and brave publishers, broadcasters and digital entrepreneurs. It all starts monitoring the competitive environment and following the most talented and creative authors and inventors. We cannot blame the creative behaviour per se but for sure its systematic, engineered and commercial developments have nasty consequences for small businesses.

An example of the copyright cuckoo behaviour I have in mind come from the conduct of a professor that for at least five years between 1999 and 2005 invited me, each year at the very last minute, to join a panel of experts to discuss something I had promoted myself as a service of my own business. In a couple of occasions she even put my name on the program of the roundtable she would chair, without my consent (you see many using such sort of binding promotional tactic adding the expression “invited” to your name in order to make it slightly more socially acceptable - it was not the case in this example). It was impossible for me to arrange the journey to attend the event she had organised with such very short notices, besides any other inconvenience, so that every year I was forced to decline the invite. In this way the professor was able to talk to my audience about my concepts, present my own ideas as her own without any further need to credit me and even depict me as somebody who had been socially rude having declined the invitation to join a professional gathering! Such behaviours tend to worsen in the digital environment and through social media using a number of tricks and techniques to impersonate, appropriate, tag, link others’ contents, proof of concepts, references and conversations in surreptitious and engineered ways. Very common is the parochial pretence of being part of the same group or having co-authored and shared the same idea within a certain circle (more about words “pickpocketing" below).

What makes the tactics of the copyright cuckoos very unhealthy in the digital world is the fact that the original and the copy of a work can rarely have the same commercial relevance and opportunities in the unified semantic space of internet media, so that the original creators, authors and inventors, writers or photographers find themselves practically expropriated of their right to reuse their own works.

We have been trying to create "namespaces" in all possible ways to mitigate semantic confusion in the world wide web and we will continue to work on interoperability, metadata and linked data standards in this respect. But there is only one digital world we do have to share and the general power of generalist search engines and aggregation services are here to stay. We do therefore have to face the reality of the unintended consequences of a digital economy without borders and without perfect policies and mechanisms to assure semantic precision and avoid ambiguities.

We need to recognise that bigger players copying and reframing successful business proposition authored by smaller competitors for the sake of a bigger audience, or to the advantage of a more profitable market segment, instantly disrupt, divert or destroy niche markets - and in the media sector this is also a way to exercise political influence and censorship. These practices have nothing to do with an open society. They instead improperly and abusively use binding communications and massive acceleration of commoditisation or dilapidation patterns no venture capitalist would actually easily accept or justify.

I have seen some of my best branded services, feasibility studies and research concepts stolen by copyright cuckoos by either my own clients or other third parties and competitors over the years, both in Italy and in the UK: for instance, in the 1990s, a big market research institute I had partnered with to provide a new periodical desk research service found more convenient to register a trademark for my work and for what should have been a co-published newsletter as it was their own intellectual property, without my consent. Then they employed other suppliers for the production of the serial publication I had designed and produced for six months. I had assumed we had enter a long term alliance or joint-venture in which they put the money, I put the work. They had provided the legal terms of reference. There was no intention to compromise on their unilateral decision to pull out. It emerged during the dispute that followed that they had planned to disengage themselves from the risk of building a more lasting and win-win relationship with myself after the design, prototype and launch of the new publication. After all, I was a small, aggressive and unpredictable competitor and there was no better way for them to damage my relationships with my own clients and my cash-flow than pretending to have made a joint-venture.

Of course, these can be read as errors in managing contractual agreements but when this type of cuckoos behaviour become endemic there is no much more left to learn. I have considered five cases of big customers I have had in academia, in management consultancies, in media and professional and business services and noticed that in three out of five cases I failed to obtain what it would have been a honest and fair remuneration for the re-use they made of my services and works simply because nobody thought it was convenient or appropriate to negotiate that at the beginning of our collaboration. On top of that, the fact that I explicitly raised the point and asked to negotiate and make joint ventures for the commercial exploitation of my work after the evidence of a missed attribution determined a negative climate, prejudicial for further positive collaborations. The existence of an implicit syndication right, embedded into the original first contract for services, would have simply prevented that. In fact, in the two cases that were instead successful, I had explicitly mentioned at the beginning of the collaboration and in the formal contractual agreement the possibility of some "extended" use of the original product in forms I would continue to review and adapt.

So, in my view the syndication right would correct the behaviour of competitors that act or pretend to be customers of small businesses or talented individuals as a low cost way to acquire successful concepts, ideas and formulas or business cases without having to invest in more costly research and development services. Implicitly included in any contract and considered as part of healthy relationships within the supply chain, the syndication right would give financial incentives to the more inventive but economically less successful actors to stay in the supply chain and cultivate collaborations in a systematic and remunerated way.

At the same time the big players would be allowed by the syndication right to copy and reuse brilliant ideas acting legitimately, adding or not some value or change some characteristics of the copied products and services for which they would pay back some royalties in any circumstance: they would be, for instance, authorised to use the original idea in order to target a specific audience group or another market through different channels, slightly changing form and appearance of logos and other distinctive brand signs or reusing texts and videos in other contexts but always paying back proportionate royalties to the original creators.

Above all, the syndication right would work as a disincentive for intentional copyright cuckoos. Demotivating unfair competition by means of disarming or blunting copyright cuckoos would also mean a more intelligent use of alternative dispute resolutions and contractual instruments. These would prevent copyright cuckoos directors from further attempts to differentiate their contents and products or services up to the point in which the victims would find practically, socially and legally impossible to sue (unless there are very strong economic motivations and prospect of success for a legal action and very competent lawyers it is in fact very unlikely that small businesses and single authors can afford litigations on matters of attribution).

Big boys that hide behind brand theft and trademarks counterfeits

The syndication right would make intellectual property litigations preventable and would also help mitigate the damages in those cases of passing off in which there is no effective mediation or compensation because of a number of reasons - mainly due to the disproportion of resources available to the parts, the number of jurisdictions involved or the absence of legislation.

The last is the case of exploitations of trademarks, signs, designs and names for keywords advertising. As I explained in other recent articles - see for instance Those Brunellas are Google delusions - metadata and adwords are still a completely unregulated sector in which the syndication right would really open up an entire world of wider, more accountable and fairer trade.

Above all, search engines would have an economic incentive to document the abuse of intellectual property rights and other identity signs within their databases and advertising systems: these cannot be tampered on a global level, and for years, without involving big boys structures, networks and collusive relationships with communities of hackers and cyber criminals.

The decline of my first internet italian business, Panta Rei, I started in 1995 and registered as a trademark and internet domain since 1996, was triggered in 2003 by the IT department of a local authority, the Provincia di Bologna, that tried to register the same name in the same sector for a new service, advertised it through various media and even tried to licence it to third parties pretending they had not been able to make any search on precedents and existing businesses and registered trademarks with the same name. That caused immediate confusion among internet users and disconcert among my existing clients, as everybody thought at first I was involved in a new project with the local authority but it was then clear that was not the case and I had been very much abused instead. This incident triggered also an astonishing chain of negative publicity, with further emulators springing out of the blue. When the Provincia di Bologna withdrew their application to register the trademark and officially changed the name to their project, about fourteen months later, in 2004, the damage was already done. Even the publication in the national press of the news that the Provincia di Bologna had changed the name to their project and withdrawn the registration of the name Panta Rei as their trademark was irrelevant and insufficient to compensate the loss of positive publicity, trust, reputation and revenue. Again, also in this case the existence of an automatic syndication right would have motivated the local authority to prevent or avoid such mistake in the first place. They could have also considered the opportunity of alternative, creative and positive ways to negotiate and manage a faster dispute resolution.

Establishing a digital syndication right in the law seems the best way to blunt the big boys tendency to hit and run brands and trademarks of smaller competitors.

Perhaps the best evidence I can think of about the hypothesis that economic incentives can foster cooperative approaches in case of breaches of intellectual property rights or trademarks disputes comes from the case of my first branded product copied by competitors in 1995, when I launched the first Italian Observatory of the commercial uses of the internet. After one year I saw how difficult and costly would be reaching a break even point for my subscriptions-based research service. So I tried to sell the design of the database and the data to Nielsen that would have the resources to implement it and to tolerate the operational losses at least for a couple of years. The sale failed, Nielsen tried to copy the formula but they failed too: at the time they barely knew what they were talking about. Conversely, I had no resources to keep the project alive but for a couple of years I raised some money as sponsorships of the project from the national advertising association and from Telecom Italia. We got plenty of further emulators. In less than two years a dozen of competitive products all with the same name ("Osservatorio Internet") where launched by other consultancies and market research companies. Some well connected in the academic world obtained european funding but none of us was really successful nor the project turned out to be commercially viable for anybody. I was the only one who, at least, covered some costs thanks to my sponsors. Above all, none of my competitors was prepared to face the evidence that I had had the first idea, neither so original nor so lucrative after all but undoubtedly very appealing for corporate and academic researchers and advertising professionals. I had also designed a workflow and implemented it with an original database structure. And I would prefer to bury the data in my personal archive (as I did) than to give them away for free.

The existence of the syndication right for my brave pioneering research and consultancy project would have perhaps convinced me that there was actually a space for a cooperative approach and may be even for a franchising alliance.

Twenty years later there are still emulators in Europe and in the UK, mainly from the academic sector, trying to set up and run digital observatories but to the best of my knowledge no commercially viable "Internet Observatory" has ever been successfully established in Europe (compared for instance to similar Pew Research projects in the United States).

Big boys and words pickpocketing

I think I first started instinctively to draw a sort of taxonomy of plagiarists profiles in the 1980s when writing original research about popular XVI Century books and rare futurist papers (early XX Century) and applying pioneering software lexical analysis to their contents - at the time, in my spare time, I was studying history and bibliography while working on projects to bring about organisational and technological changes in public libraries, so that I enjoyed the so called "cross-fertilisation" of the two fields making experiments with words processors on a Commodore computer and then on the first IMB desktop computer.

What I found was that in spite of their absolute diversity such materials showed some recurrent pattern of influence and contagion among authors and publishers that tended to copy each other. To refer to such phenomenon I used the semi-serious category of "borsaiouli-di-parole" that I translate here with "words pickpockets".

Today I find the expression fits the way in which some software algorithms try to match user generated contents via social networks against advertising messages or search queries: stealing words from people discourses and open data to support and speed up all sorts of knowledge demands, from word of mouth (WOM) campaigns to the extraction of intelligence from large unstructured textual databases for policing reasons.

In the 1990s I learned to call the words pickpocketing phenomenon, following american colleagues from the library and information science sector, "citation pearl growing": in fact, the technique of following patterns of semantic contagion and semantic continuity in order to dig out the wanted contents from unstructured full-text databases was very effective (see also Are you really sure you have got two ideas, icm2re 2.4). Citation pearl growing is still an effective and efficient way to use online databases such newspapers archives and search engines and cross-reference factual databases for all sorts of research objectives.

Words pickpocketing happens mostly unintentionally while we talk and write and could not provide, up to a certain point and without other concurrent factors, evidence of copyright infringement but only of influence, particularly within groups that share the same interests and use specialistic languages and jargons. As the viral diffusion of online memes shows, words pickpocketing is a natural way to refer to matters of opinions and interpretations and share contents and ideas within families and communities of interests. But that does not mean there is not an economic exploitation of such natural tendency, as the case of Facebook really demonstrates. With the diffusion of lexical analysis and analytics technologies and the simple evidence of the business models used by the platforms that host, store, process and links or reuse our contents we now have powerful tools to draw a line between the everyday stupid interactions without impact and what becomes instead vehicle for advertising and public relations as well as e-commerce campaigns. Content analysis through semantic search and big data analytics has become a starting point for many forensic investigations, complementing more structural and visually impressive but often quite insignificant network analysis, and also a public relation tool, increasingly exploited for campaigns via social media and targeted advertising: a programmatic media buying and digital media production all rely on some levels of recognition of similarities and semantic continuity within the same group of people.

The recognition and implementation of the syndication right would make words pickpocketing an interesting field of transparent business development because it would be possible to track back and recognise both original contributors who created contents in the first place and the big boys who organise and manage networks of words pickpockets as a low cost way to deliver public relation and word of mouth campaigns. The syndication right would make easier to obtain accurate data also for a multitude of other purposes including policy making, accounting of royalties or advertising revenues, policing and intelligence in respect of a wide range of issues from money laundering to insider trading.

Above all, the syndication right would motivate within the software community the implementation of authorial controls and copyright checks within big data applications.

In fact, the social media world has exacerbated the negative sides of anonymity and other weaknesses of the TCP/IP protocol the Internet relies upon - that make relatively easy to steal contents over the internet.

Making people and businesses unfindable or affected with fraudulent associations, faked identities and falsehood through search engines or social media is another way to pass off competitors unfairly and to attack their intellectual property rights. Group-thinking and cohesiveness of social networks make online word of mouth very harmful in that respect. In the world of social media, conducts like exclusion, marginalisation, bullying, stalking, trolling and impersonation or censorship have become tactics to alter competitors reputation, relationships and communications: language keeps a trace of all these phenomena. Silence and redundancy as well as all the rhetorical figures and metaphors we use to communicate are fantastic tools that can help with attribution of works, recognition of inspired talks and bold influences in communications.

In sum, the syndication right would help all the communities currently engaged in big data engineering of the words pickpocketing phenomenon: market leaders in advertising, lobbying and public relations as well as developers would ensure that information retrieval and analytics software possibilities are exploited partnering with authors and creators of original contents and not infringing their moral and material rights.

Big boys as IP serial killers

Finally, there is a category of big boys behaviours that oppose the recognition of copyright and intellectual property rights because of a complex mixture of cultural, business and criminal factors. These include genuine ignorance of others' rights and faked ignorance or mistakes, brutal economic interests (think of categories like sport tv rights), unfair competition and ideologic reasons (nothing like the freedom of parody can put a small competitor out of business with his or her own words! Love your enemy: it will ruin his reputation, said Desmond Tutu).

The IP serial killers are themselves instrumental within digital environments in that: they can become part of wider "cybercrime as a service" networks and support all sort of crimes - from theft and sale of personal details motivated by ideologic reasons to advertising frauds and tampering of search engines and social media contents to damage competitors.

Their callous resistance to adopt a more educated and civilised style of conduct is unlikely to be challenged by training nor by good examples because they have a self-reinforcing, very strong and cohesive internal culture that dominates and neutralises any external influence and justify their actions according to irrational beliefs, religious motivations, family or gangs codes and the like. They tend to ignore, reject as inapplicable, diminish or ridicule intellectual property laws. They also tend to embrace and support open data movements showing off a commitment that is often just the facade of more complex (and complicated) conflictual interests and morally despicable conducts.

What to do in these cases? Sometimes good management is enough to dismantle the climate of silence and collusive behaviours of the IP serial killers, particularly in public and academic environments that remain to some extent accountable by law, more than private organisations where one has to be very creative to contrast their conduct. I once managed to startup a "profit centre" within a corporate affairs function that was supporting the board of directors with information and documentation services. There were actually no profits at all but the corporate culture made everybody happy to say they were working and using a profit centre and not a centre of costs! So everybody was instantly happy to see we would efficiently trace profits and expenses and attribute them to specific services, enquiries, functions and directors’ offices: in this way it became possible to record all the photocopies of research reports, books and journals of particular works and share the information with other company departments. Suddenly, the number of requests to make photocopies of copyrighted works free of charge to make favours to friends of friends collapsed.

I think the syndication right can create positive externalities and peer-pressure that would implicitly reduce the allure of non-accountability for the IP serial killers.

Experiences and witnesses of people who have perpetrated barbaric IP crimes could also be useful within educational programmes: I have in mind the young advertising practitioners who in 1994 copied - upon orders of the "well connected" offender who was in charge of that operation - the logo of the Allied Irish Bank. They just wanted to arrange a promotional campaign for Video On Line, first italian consumer internet service provider that actually never existed as a registered company, being pretty much a fraudulent operation. Were they aware of what they were doing? Did they know there were potential reasons of "revenge" and financial criminal intentions?

With a client (international scientific publisher and provider of services for continuous professional education to GPs and other professionals in medicine, veterinary and pharmacy), I saw a consultancy contract halted when they entered the e-learning market in which they could have risked to pay me royalties for reuse of original editorial products and database structures I had designed and updated for them for a number of years, and always without registering any trademark nor explicitly mentioning my intellectual property contribution in our contractual agreement. In fact, this had started as a simple web design service several years earlier and had been carried forward on the assumption of reciprocal trust without many formalities. They used the rip-off excuse that they wanted to adopt open source technologies instead of carrying on with their existing proprietary systems and out of the blue any payment and any obligation was simply over. The syndication right could have reminded both of us that whenever and however there is a profit from a business that exploits a peculiar visual design or an original database structure it is convenient to recognise that intellectual property rights exist and trademarks and signs can benefit from possible additional revenues if they are registered. It is not, on the contrary, through a “tabula rasa” approach to intellectual property rights that we invent innovative ways to earn a living.

But the most disturbing encounter I had with the IP serial killer mindset came very sadly from academic customers and professional associations to whom I provided consultancy and training services for a number of years. I saw contents of my feasibility studies, courses or handouts shared without my permission, edited and published under other people names, reused to arrange copies of my products and services and to publish articles without me having neither agreed the reuse of such contents as part of my assignment nor be asked any permission to redistribute them. In one case, I was even mocked and thanked in a bibliographic note for having made available my expertise and professionalism to a group of academic librarians while I had never signed a contract to allow them to rephrase, edit and republish

  1. my consultancy notes (object of a private contract for which no reproduction and publication right was negotiated)
  2. copyrighted training materials (object of a private contract for services provided on a confidential basis and using copyrighted materials not available in the public domain) and
  3. known publications quoted as references of my own materials (available in the public domain).

Whenever they had wanted to create and publish their own reflections on the subject in which they developed their professional practices I believe they should have elaborated their own points without using notes and materials from my training courses. Furthermore, from the point of view of my moral rights, they should have quoted me as the published author of many propositions they wanted to further share.

Including the syndication right within any contract for labour and for services provided to big players with an IP killer mindset and capability - these are very frequent in the educational, media and publishing sectors - means that small businesses and freelance authors can see automatically protected their rights in the long term from any form of plagiarism and cannibalism.

An automatic or embedded syndication right would impose on the big boys IP serial killer organisations the scorn of pecuniary fines and negative social exposure, making stronger the case for a review of their governance in respect of the moral rights of authors and copyright matters. Anytime they wanted to intentionally exploit the ambiguities existing in the regulations of employees rights, provision of consultancy and training services by external contractors and other technical small prints for whatever reason - including unfair competition and political prosecution of single individuals in an appalling disproportionate deployment of forces - they should at least declare and make transparent the relationships with the authors they feel the need to congratulate, quote or thank instead of paying them due royalties.


Change is facilitated when we recognise that basic rights and principles can and must be adapted to new economic and technical paradigms, or - simply said - to new ways to do the same thing, like communicate and earn a living.

The syndication right is something very simple and at the same time very powerful that bring into the chaotic and commoditised, free-riders world of the digital markets the possibility of equality, respect for human rights and just distribution of wealth.

The intellectual work, in any form, that sustains all the streams of the digital economy must be traced back, consistently through space and time, to their authors and associated with the final creations, products and services that sell or attract audiences and so advertising incomes.

If we all have the chance, together and with our own individualities, to flourish in the digital economy we can all make the internet infrastructure more robust and resilient against enslavers and traffickers, fraudsters and criminals. Furthermore, the syndication right would give everybody the opportunity to share and control data responsibly and accurately, with a proportionate clear and indisputable economic incentive and with a social purpose that reflects personal talent, common aspirations, business goals and ideas. That is something not so far from the very nature of what copyright is all about: the right to have your own identity in an open society.


(1) Longo, B. How a Librarian Can Live Nine Lives in a Knowledge-Based Economy, in "Computers in Libraries", 21 (2001), n. 10, 40-43.