Helping authors publish

Tag: piracy

Proving copyright ownership with WIPO Proof

Most authors know that they own the copyright in their work as soon as they write it. There’s no need to register, but it can be useful to have proof. One option is to register the copyright with the US Copyright Office – this is an option even for non-US authors.

Earlier this year, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), an agency of the United Nations (UN), created WIPO Proof as a way to register ownership of a digital file such as an ebook file or PDF.

A WIPO Proof token costs less than registering with the US Copyright Office. A WIPO Proof token currently costs twenty Swiss Francs (about $22), whereas registering with the US Copyright Office costs $45 or $65.

What a WIPO Proof token is and is not

A WIPO Proof token provides proof that you had a digital file when you created the token. It does not prove that you created the file or own the copyright. You could think of it as being akin to the old idea of posting a copy of the manuscript to yourself, but with the added legitimacy of being issued by a UN agency. In practical terms, if you need to provide evidence of ownership, being able to prove that you had a copy of the disputed file at some previous date is useful.

Indie authors are most likely to need something like this to prove their copyright to a vendor or distributor such as Amazon or Draft2Digital. I emailed the following companies to ask if they would accept a WIPO Proof token as evidence in a copyright dispute.

Barnes & Noble didn’t respond to my question.

Apple, Google, and KDP said that they couldn’t answer the question. They all said that their legal team would decide on a case by case basis.

Draft2Digital said that their vendors generally require authors to communicate directly with the person claiming copyright infringement, so they wouldn’t get involved.

Ingram Spark, Kobo, OneBookShelf/DriveThruFiction, PublishDrive, StreetLib, and BundleRabbit said that they would take a WIPO Proof token into consideration as evidence, if not outright proof of copyright.

Smashwords were the only company that definitively said that they would not take a WIPO Proof token into consideration.

Generating a WIPO Proof token

To generate a WIPO Proof token, you will need a WIPO account. Go to https://ipportal.wipo.int/ and click “Create WIPO Account”. They will send you an email with a link to confirm your account.

Log in to your WIPO account at https://wipoproof.wipo.int/wdts/. Click Get started.

Screenshot: Selecting a file to create a WIPO Proof token

Select your file and the ownership option that applies. That will probably be “Yes, I am the natural person who owns the file.”

Select the category. For books, use “Creative work (audio, visual, or literary work).”

The next screen shows a summary and the fee. I paid in British pounds rather than Swiss Francs to avoid currency conversion fees.

Once the payment is confirmed, you will go to a “Payment Details” screen showing the payment status as “Paid”. Click Continue.

Screenshot: WIPO Proof token created

It will then take you to a congratulations screen. Clicking the download button will download a zip file containing a PDF receipt and a token file. You can also download the token from your WIPO Proof dashboard.

I strongly suggest keeping the contents of this zip file, along with the file you uploaded, in a separate folder on your computer. If you ever need to verify your proof token, you will need the file you uploaded and the token file.

Final notes

WIPO Proof tokens are tied to specific files because of the way they work. So if you get a token for the PDF print interior, it won’t be valid for the ePub. If you change the file, even slightly, the WIPO Proof token will no longer be valid. Therefore, keep the token and the uploaded file together in a separate folder on your computer.

I suggest using a PDF to generate the token, as they are still more widely supported than ePubs. Any claim will most likely revolve around the content of the book, rather than the specific formatting. The companies that said they would take a WIPO Proof token into consideration all said that they would accept a token generated for a PDF, even if an ePub had been uploaded to their systems.

Disclaimer: None of this is legal advice. I am not a lawyer.

Blockchain: Questions and Concerns

Note: a version of this post was first published on the Alliance of Independent AuthorsSelf-Publishing Advice Centre. Their watchdog, John Doppler, added answers and commentary.

It is said that blockchain technologies will revolutionize publishing. The Alliance of Independent Authors has published a white paper about blockchain. The white paper’s authors seem hopeful that blockchain will help authors to reduce their dependency on large vendors. Blockchain may indeed be a wonderful development, but the more I read, the more I find that I have questions and concerns.

Piracy

One of blockchain’s promises is that it will eliminate piracy. No-one has been able to explain to me just how blockchain prevents piracy, however. We all know that current DRM schemes can be cracked, but it should be noted that this isn’t done by breaking the encryption.

To read the book, the end user has to have a copy of the key. The cracking software finds the key and uses that to create an unencrypted copy of the book. Even with blockchain, the user will need a copy of the key, so what is there to stop software finding that key and using it?

Copyright

Another promise is that blockchain will allow authors to register their copyright and store that registration on the blockchain, where anyone can access it.

These look a lot like a technical version of the old practice of an author posting a copy of the manuscript to themselves. The US copyright office specifically says that the practice is not a substitute for registering the copyright, so it seems unlikely that a blockchain-based version would have any legal weight.

There is certainly a benefit in open access to the register, but that could be done with a standard database and website. It’s unclear what advantage is gained by using blockchain.

Ebook Ownership

One of the more intriguing promises of blockchain is the idea that a buyer can own their copy of an ebook, in much the same way as they own a paper book. Part of this is the ability to sell it second-hand. The change of ownership would be registered on the blockchain, and the original owner would lose access to the book.

The blockchain book sellers that I’ve been able to investigate in sufficient detail don’t store the actual book files on the blockchain. All that is stored on the blockchain is a token indicating who has access to the book. The book file itself has to be downloaded from a server. This leaves open the possibility of the server being taken offline, and no-one being able to access the book, just as happened in 2019 when the Microsoft ebook store went offline.

Ownership of an ebook implies that it can be read on whatever device the user prefers. Indeed, in the ALLi white paper, the Publica CEO says that “books can be discovered by readers without having to sign in, sign up, or subscribe to any walled garden, or pay anyone except the author.” But a book bought from Publica can only be read on the Publica app.

Bookchain is another company that sells books on the blockchain. In their case, users read the book in a web browser. That is more open than Publica, but it also implies that users will lose access to the book if Bookchain’s web server is taken offline.

Conclusion

I’m not fundamentally opposed to blockchain. It may become as integral to our everyday lives as the web is now. But most articles that discuss blockchain’s potential in the publishing sphere offer lots of promises with little to no detail about how these promises will be delivered, and that makes me wary. I’d love to get answers to the questions I’ve outlined, so if you have answers, please leave them in the comments.

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