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Creative people are generally not well known for being legally switched on. But the challenges of protecting original work in the digital age means bloggers, freelance writers, photographers and web designers should all be prepared to interact with the law to protect their intellectual efforts — and their businesses.
Luckily, the concept of copyright is pretty straightforward: as soon as a work is created in a tangible form – be it on paper, film, online or in sound – it is eligible for copyright. It is automatic and, unlike patents or trademarks, official registration is not required.
If, however, there is a dispute over a work, one of the best arguments is being able to prove that you created it first so it is important that the date of origin is recorded. And this is where the founders of Myows, an online copyright management and protection service, have seen a gap.
Chris Human says Myows (which stands for “My Original Works”) is the first real attempt at a “single-minded platform to govern ownership, transfer, policing and contracting of intellectual property online”.
The core functionality of Myows is that it allows the user to store creative work and generate “verifiable evidence” of intellectual property rights, thus making it possible to enforce copyright when someone steals your work. Human says it comes down to “simplifying the management of intellectual property”.
“By making it easier to own, sell and control your rights, we hope that Myows will make creative professions and passions more appealing and fairer as well as stimulate creativity in general,” he says.
The company was established almost a year-and-a-half ago and has been in beta testing since. Human says this will end in the next couple of months, once Myows has launched other critical functionality.
Until recently, Myows was self-funded but now Permjot Valia has offered to come on board as both an investor and business coach, as Memeburn recently learnt.
“He’s helping us realise the full potential of the concept and tap into a wealth of expertise, passion and experience both here and abroad,” says Human. He says they are looking for another angel investor to “assist us in growing to the point at which venture capital makes a little more sense”.
Valia joins founders Human and Max Guedy, who were on board as shareholders, as was Dave O’Reilly, who is in charge of development and security. The team is completed by Steve Ferguson, the Mywos resident lawyer and intellectual property expert.
Two other copyright-evidence-creating sites — Numly.Com and safecreative.org — appear as competitors at present. While Human acknowledges that “competing services do exist”, he notes they are generally aimed either at niche-market segments or offer limited functionality. “Myows is different in that it is universal in applicability and comprehensive in scope,” he says, claiming that his company provides “the only true copyright management tool”.
As part of the package, the service incorporates deterrent measures (warnings and graphics), and help in getting unauthorised copies removed (“great template letters” are available).
The company also has a contract generator in development, which will allow users to digitally sign and retain contracts pertaining to their saved works on the system.
Although all the founders are South African, they have opted to move to fellow emerging market, Singapore, due to the “relative ease” of starting a new business.
Given the global online nature of the enterprise, the company firmly holds that location means little. In fact, Human says the company has experienced a “major uptake” overseas, with the vast majority of users based outside of South Africa, across 52 countries.
Making things simpler for the company, the way copyright works across countries is more or less the same, with more than 164 countries being signatories to the Berne Convention.
So where will Myows be five years from now? “I think in five years is a pretty broad horizon in this game,” responds Human, though he believes company “definitely” aims to serve as the global authority on all things copyright amongst the internet generation “and, particularly, among those creative individuals and collectives that enrich the rest of us with their work”.