John D Radcliff, Specializing in Interactive Technology & Education!

How do we protect digital or mechanical reproduced products from theft?

        The quote "The traces of the first can be revealed only by chemical or physical analyses which it is impossible to perform on a reproduction; changes of ownership are subject to a tradition which must be traced from the situtation of the original. (p. 220, Benjamin, Walter, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction)", shows how contemporary art had a way of making sure it was the original piece of art.  So how can someone insure that a digital piece of work (video or photography) has something in place to protect it from being randomly reproduced or stolen?  Also, how do we know which digital or mechanical reproduced product is truly the original?  According to Benjamin Walter "That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art (p. 221)."  Benjamin thinks that there is an essence to an original piece of artwork like a painting and he sees reproduction as "jeopardizing the authority of the object". 

        It is hard to determine what is the original and how to keep the authority of the object intact.  If you give credit to the original producer of a digital product then the authority or originality of the work remains intact.  A painting would be harder to duplicate since certain characteristics (like look, feel and an author's signature) exist on the painting to make it an original.  You can easily duplicate a digital picture or film and distribute it to the masses.  This is easily done by uploading a video or photograph to an online site, which opens up opportunities for people to watch, download or manipulate the digital product.  Most movies have credits or logos on the film to let people know who produced the movie.  It is hard to determine to whether or not a digital movie or picture is an original unless it can be time stamped or marked.  The main problem with reproducing things, especially digital media is the problem with people violating copyright infringment laws.

Digital camera

        There are many laws and techniques for protecting digital art.  Copyright laws are designed to prevent people from doing anything that will allow them to profit from a film that is not in the public domain.  Once the rights have expired or are forfeited, then the digital work is open free for use by the public.  The Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, championed by the late Sonny Bono, extended the length of time the copyright remains in force before it enters the public domain.  According to Bill Nichols "The Software Act began the erosion of a basic distinction between copyright and patent by suggesting that useful objects were eligible for copyright." 

        The Diamond v. Diehr case of 1981, had the court hold 'when a claim containing a mathematical formula implements or applies that formula in a structure or process which when considered as a whole, is performing a function which the patent laws were designed to protect.'  So if something is useful, then the digital work can be protected from infringement.  Also, it is interesting how a copyright is granted when a photo is taken, whether or not the photographer registers the photo with the Copyright Office.  The only catch is that a person cannot collect money for copyright infringement if the photograph is not registered.

        There are several ways in which digital media can be protected along with filing for a copyright or patent.  Watermarking, is where you place an overlay directly on the image. This usually impacts the quality of the image such that potential thieves don't want to steal it. This is a very effective way to protect your online images if you don't mind the text across the top of them.  Shrink Wrapping an image is a JavaScript technique where you display your image with another, transparent image overlaid on top. Then when the thief tries to download the image, they get something else instead – usually a blank image.  Another technique is enabling a "no right click script" which will disable the no right click options so someone cannot just right click on the image and download from a site.  Even with all of these techniques and laws there are still ways that people can still steal digital copyrighted or patented works.

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