Copyright on the Network

Group members:
  1. Alan Byrne
  2. Luke Conroy
  3. Sarah Howlett
  4. Mabel Wong


           The issue we are dealing with is Copyright - Is this relevant in a networked society. We will take you through the legal history of copyright, how it developed, why it developed, and who it was developed for. We Will take you through various case studies in copyright dealing with films, MP3's, eBooks, and online 'universities', showing who broke copyright, how they did it, and why it is a problem now, and may be even a greater one in the future as our society becomes more dependant on computers and the Internet. We hope by the end of this, you will have made up your own mind that copyright is an issue that is more than relevant in our current networked society.

History of Copyright

           Although the issue of copyright with regard to the Internet is a fairly new phenomenon, the issue of copyright with regard to other medium has dated back as far as ancient Greek and Roman times. Just like musicians and artists today, the writers of this time where concerned about being recognised as authors of their works. The Statute of Anne was the first copyright act to deal with the issue, basically stating that an author is the owner of copyright and also the principle of a fixed term of protection for published works. A copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license his work. More recent acts have built upon this, improving and strengthening it with bilateral agreements between Britain and America. Further amendments included the introduction of an extension to the term copyright protection, as well as the protection of more mediums. The Copyright Act now reaches architectural design, software, the graphic arts, motion pictures and sound recordings. Basically under law copyright material sent over the Internet or stored on web servers is protected in the same way as material in other media. Anyone wishing to put copyright material on the Internet or distribute or downloaded material, should ensure that they have the permission of the owners. There are some basic limits to copyright; although email messages and web pages may enjoy copyright protection, rights are subject to several fundamental limits. For example, only expression is protected, not facts or ideas. Also, later works that merely happen to be very similar (or even identical) to earlier works do not infringe if they were, in fact, independently created.

Copyright Acts

Timeline: The Digital Millenium Copyright Act

Copyright on the Internet - What does it really mean?

           Most countries comply with the regulations set up by the Berne Copyright Convention. One of the biggest mistakes made is that if the copyright trademark is absent then the work is not copyrighted. In fact the opposite is true: the owner copyrights everything, whether or not it is marketed. So work cannot be taken unless it specifically says so. Often without being properly informed users go beyond the copyright laws when seeking information and entertainment. Many people believe that the Internet is a free for all, and everything is there for the taking, but this not true unless it is specifically granted to the public domain. Requesting the owners' permission easily gets copyrighted material. Internet users can't scan material from periodicals and post them or transfer graphics without being granted permission. No one can post-electronic mail, but can refer to a statement in an e-mail. Copyright law is a civil law and can lead to prosecution and hence suing for damages. These laws sound strict but mostly nothing can be done because they happen so much. This is an area where laws are under continuous review.

Legal Developments in copyrighting protection - Ireland as an example

           The fight against copyright infringement through digital media is intensifying daily. While being hampered by red tape, the inability of legislation to keep pace with the development of technology has been apparent. Large strides have been made very recently though, to consolidate the legal position on all aspects of the problem. Now the emerging challenge is not whether the legal framework is in place, but whether it can be enforced. The situation of Ireland is typical of most developed nations with regard to this issue. There have been many interesting developments, of which some of the most important are:

Copyright and Related rights Bill, 1999 [Seanad]

           This bill was sponsored in the Seanad on behalf of the Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in 1999 and came into effect on November 1st 2000. It was a wide reaching piece of legislation, which attempted to encompass all the pressing issues in digital copyrighting at the time. These included:

Piracy Bounty Hunting

           In October 2000 Irish software distributors increased the "bounty" on offer for information about piracy from IEP2,500 to IEP5,000. At the time In Ireland, more than one in two business software packages were in use illegally. The Business Software Alliance (BSA) said its decision to double the reward on offer reflected the seriousness with which the industry takes the issue and the fact that piracy in Irish business was running at 51 percent(compared with Western Europe's figure of 34 percent). In another initiative meanwhile, a BSA mail drop to more than 11,000 small to medium-sized firms throughout Ireland over the past 16 months was "extremely successful", it said. Almost 32 percent of those contacted responded. Sixteen percent declared they were legal and received a certificate of recognition from the BSA. For the six percent who were unsure, the BSA offered help and guidance through its confidential help line and through issuing the "Guide to Software Management."

2000 Truce for software pirates

           The Business Software Alliance (BSA) held a 30-day truce for Irish businesses using illegal software which means that they will took no legal actions from 1 to 30 November. To mark the truce, BSA offered companies the free use of its GASP auditing tool to enable them carry out a self-audit. This tool was mailed to over 5,000 companies and is also available on-line at or by phoning a confidential hotline. Companies could benefit from the truce period by starting the processes of getting legal without fear of BSA litigation.

           Irish law provides for penalties, which can result in up to five years in prison, fines of up to IEP100,000, or both "Companies which don't have enough user licences or which make illegal copies of software run an ever-increasing risk of prosecution," said Siobhan Carroll, BSA Northern Regional Manager. "The cost of the company's reputation is potentially even greater when the case becomes public knowledge. BSA strongly encourages companies to take action during the truce period before future campaigns are launched."

           Recently the BSA awarded the Irish Government the "Cyber Champion" award, in acknowledgement of the "sustained efforts made by the Taoiseach and the Irish Government to protect software in Europe."

International Piracy Survey

           Although software counterfeiting has reduced by 10 percent over the past year, it is still an IEP77 million problem for the Irish software industry. Worldwide - according to a survey by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) - software piracy costs the industry USD11.7 billion annually. The report claims that everybody, from the home user to the largest corporate client, can be guilty of using pirated software, sometimes not even knowing it is illegal.

           In 1999, Ireland had one of the highest piracy rates in Europe at 51 percent but this dropped over the course of a year to 41 percent. This is still very high compared to European neighbours with only Greece (66 percent), Italy (46 percent), Spain (51 percent) and Portugal (42 percent) coming out worse. The piracy rate in the UK is only 26 percent.

BSA Expectations re. Ireland

           The BSA carried out a software audit in March 2001 which targeted 15,000 companies and received a response rate of 42 percent, which the alliance claims is very high. The March audit resulted in legal proceedings in July 2001 against seven Irish companies, including Unison and Usit, for alleged illegal use of BSA member software. While those proceedings are currently ongoing before the Circuit Court, and the BSA is therefore unable to make any comment about them, it said that the success of the March audit stimulated the organisation to perform a second evaluation.

           The new audit began in September 2001 and targeted an additional 5,000 Irish companies. The companies involved in the audit were be given a software audit return form to register their software legally. Companies that can demonstrate good licensing practice were issued with a 2001 Certificate of Recognition.

           The BSA has also been encouraged by the response to its "Make a Report" program, which offers a reward to companies confidentially reporting instances of software piracy. The "Make a Report" program offers participants a reward of 10 percent of any recovery value up to IEP5,000, paid for information, which leads to a successful judgement or settlement.

           (The BSA is the voice of the world's leading software developers and worldwide members include Adobe, Apple Computer, Autodesk, Bentley Systems, Corel Corporation, Macromedia, Microsoft, Network Associates and Symantec. Members participating in Ireland are: Adobe, Apple Computer, Autodesk, Corel, Microsoft, Priority Data Group and Symantec.)

Case Study: Napster

           Napster has provoked perhaps more discussion over the issue of copyright on the Internet than any other item discussed on this site.

           In order to properly discuss Napster, some foreknowledge of MP3's is required. MP3 stands for MPEG 1 (Motion Picture Experts Group) Layer 3. It's a digital audio compression format, which compresses sound files approximately ten to fifteen times smaller than the original format. Although MP3 is a compressed version of the music file, it still retains most of the perceived audio quality by cutting out the overlapping waveforms, which the human ears do not process. Surely, MP3 format is a great idea for some people, but for others, it raises legal, practical, and ethical issues.

           As most people know, there are a huge amount of MP3 music files being distributed on the Internet, which means music can be downloaded with relative ease. However, do people know that they are breaking copyright laws by distributing music that they do not own? In fact, it is a civil offense; it can be punished by fines. It is a criminal offense to copy music illegally and then distribute it for financial purposes, although there is a large amount of uncertainty regarding how copyright laws should work in the digital world. However, the actual laws themselves are clearly stated. Obviously, a lot of websites are breaking copyright laws and many of them actually do not realise that they are even doing it (While I'm sure many others are well aware). MP3 certainly is a nightmare for the recording industry. Since people can easily download music off the Internet. No one will bother spending money on something, which they can get for free. Some companies have already taken legal actions against a few of the websites.

           So, what is legal? As most of the MP3 files are illegal. The exceptions are recorded works to which you personally own copyrights and recorded works in the public domain. It is legal to download MP3s to personal hard drives and keep them for 24 hours as evaluation purpose, but they should be removed after that.

           For those few who don't know, Napster was founded in May 1999. It was a service designed by Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker and Jordan Ritter, to allow users to share MP3 files online, using free software that was available on the Napster site. The Napster service allowed users to search the hard drives of other users for files they wished to download. Napster let users access MP3 songs for free and store downloaded files on their computer for playback as they wished. It also contained a chat room where artists shared information about their music. Napster works by transmitting a request for a file, which is searched for, to the Napster server where it is compared to other MP3 files, listed in the server's search list. The search is based upon file name. When a user tries to download a file, the software obtains the IP addresses of both the host and the user, and then the Napster server establishes a link between the two computers. Then the user's computer downloads a copy of the file's contents to its hard drive. The user, using any MP3 player software or by digitally transferring to a CD or other medium can then play this music file.

           Napster shot to one of the top 50 most-visited web sites by August 2000, however it did not take long for the recording industry to notice this. They saw this as an illegal use of their material and piracy, which had a potential to destroy their livelihood. By 2000, The Recording Industry Association of America had sued Napster for copyright infringement. In April of that year Heavy Metal band Metallica brought a suit against Napster for copyright infringement and Rapper Dr. Dre also sued them for copyright infringement. Eventually, this culminated in the shutdown of the service.

The Brief Timeline of Napster

           What many people may wonder is how did Napster manage to survive for even the small amount of time it did, given that it was blatantly allowing people access to copyrighted material. The not-so-simple answer is that Napster bases its legal argument upon section 1008 of the home recording acts. It claims that under this its users are immune from liability for copyright infringement and at the same time relieves Napster itself from being liable for contributing to infringement.

           However, the district court did not agree with this argument, stating that the Napster interpretation was not consistent with the terms and legislative policies that under lying the AHRA. Therefore, if Napster was liable under the copyright laws, Section 1008 does not protect Napster.

           Section 1008 can't be used in Napster's defence because the activities of Napster's users don't realistically come within its terms. The language of this Section crushes Napster's argument in four different ways:

  1. Because its users are not using any of the "Devices" or "Media" covered under the section. They exchange music by using PC's to locate and transfer files from one computer hard disk to another. Neither PCs or hard disks are "digital audio recording devices, a digital audio recording medium, an analog recording device, or an analog recording medium" as in the Section.
  2. Napster's Users Are Not Making "Digital Musical Recordings" Or "Analogue Musical Recordings". There is protection for the user (non-profit making) of digital and analogue recording devices and media for making musical recordings.
  3. Immunity is provided only for non-commercial Copying, Not for Public Distribution. They infringe on the rights (the ones granted to them under The Copy Act) of the copyright owner.
  4. It Does Not Transform Infringing Consumer Uses Into non-infringing Ones. Even if Section 1008 did apply to users, Napster itself would not be defended against liability for contributing to infringement. In Section 1008 only whether consumers can be sued for infringement is addressed, and nothing to do with being engaged in infringement.
  5. With Napster's argument crushed there was no defence left to stop them being shut down, much to the disappointment of its hundreds of thousands of users worldwide, and to a general sigh of release from the music industry.

Case Study: Films

           A film is an immense collaboration of a director, producers, cinematographers, actors, writers, cameramen, and countless others. With post-production, pre-production and actual shooting, they are years in the making. Hundreds of millions are spent yearly on the summer blockbusters, and even more is recouped at the box-offices. Is it not fair, then to assume that these films deserve protection for their scripts, contents, and actual footage, to keep them off the Internet and out of people's hands until after their opening night?

           One example of how this has failed, would be when, recently, several storyboard drawings of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, were found circulating freely on the Internet. Not long after the storyboard drawing have been put up, Lucasfilm (George Lucas's company - the man behind Star Wars) started distributing letters to a few website operators demanding them to take the storyboards off the websites. Lucasfilm even attempted to shut down two of the sites permanently, NaboOnline and However, neither website was permanently terminated.

           Although these two websites have not shut down, this example did raise a number of issues regarding authorship, ownership, copyright and the freedom of the Internet. The Star Wars fans generally split into two sides, they either think that Lucasfilm has the right and obligation to protect the company's property or they think that information is free and Lucasfilm was excessively harsh. This also leads to another growing debate over copyright infringement versus freedom of information distribution. We have seen what has happened when music can be downloaded freely from the Internet. Does this mean that general entertainment is going to come next? So, is information obtained regarding an upcoming film project or images related to franchises the property of whoever has them, or do the authors maintain the ownership of them until they are released to the public?

           However, the main issue here is that those storyboards were removed from Lucasfilm offices without Lucasfilm's permission. This is larceny and is illegal. And because those storyboards were stolen from Lucasfilm, the company would not like them to be distributed for the public to see a year and a half before the actual movie comes out. Considering Lucas's security measures in the past, anyone with clearance to posses these materials are under obligation not to distribute them. Therefore, it is plain that they should not be put on the Internet, which also means that Lucasfilm has the right to try to shut down the websites.

           Another example (still regarding Star Wars) would be the re-edited version of George Lucas "Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace." This has been called "The Phantom Edit". The film is a shorter version of the original one (approximately twenty minutes shorter), and was created by an anonymous fan called "the Phantom Editor". The re-edited version removes a few scenes and lines of dialogue, which some fans objected when the original version came out in May 1999. And since the existence of the re-edited version was made widely available to the public, Star Wars fans from all around the globe have been requesting to get a copy. These versions were soon posted up on the Internet for download, while sending copies to other fans around the world to distribute. Lucasfilm spokesperson, Jeanne Cole, said, "If fans did not stop making copies, the company's solicitors would be getting involved".

           The re-edited version of the film replaces the original introduction scrolling text, along with removing some of the more tedious scenes. The person responsible is saying that he had "re-edited a standard VHS version of 'The Phantom Menace' into what I believe is a much stronger film", and it ends with an apology to the director, George Lucas, and the editors Hotmail e-mail address.

           The Phantom Editor was contacted with the e-mail address given in the re-edited version and he has agreed to come forward and identified himself as Mike J. Nichols, a freelance film editor in Santa Clarita, Calif. He has never worked for Lucasfilm and he edited his work on a 400MHz Power Macintosh G4 using Apple's Final Cut Pro video-editing software. He claims in the e-mail that the reason he re-edited "The Phantom Menace" is because of his love for "Star Wars".

           If it wasn't for the Internet, it is unlikely that this 'Phantom edit' would have gotten much further than a few of Nichols' closest friends. However, the power of the Internet as a medium of distribution cannot be denied, and in this day and age, increasing protection is going to have to be put in place to protect an individual's intellectual property.

           The images for this part of the site were taken from a trailer for Star Wars Episode II that is available free for download from I wonder would Lucasfilm have a problem with them appearing here, isolated from their original context? Sometimes it is hard to know what you have the right to do, and what you don't. After all, it's so easy to copy and paste...

Case Study: eBooks

           Almost nowhere more so than eBooks, is it as obvious why copyright is relevant in a networked society. Even if you manage to retrieve a film, its script, or storyboards off the Internet, you are still likely to go see it in the cinema for the full cinematic experience. If you were a big enough fan to go to the effort of finding it on the Internet in the first place, you are probably going to go out and buy it on video or DVD anyway. With MP3's it is a different story. While some people will go out and buy a CD to support a particular group, even when they have their illegal MP3's, most will not. With the quality of speakers on PC's improving, and with the existence of portable MP3 players, once the music is already in your possession, it is difficult to convince yourself to pay up to twenty pounds for the CD. However, with eBooks the situation is even worse again. A book is merely a collection of words on a page, usually written by just one person, and distributed by their publishers, who often get the lion's share of the profits. If you have the words, why pay for the paper? If you know someone who has downloaded the book, why pay for it yourself when they can copy it for you. Why pay anything at all?

           As eBooks are not (yet) as well-known or as widespread as, say, MP3's, there follows, for the uninitiated, a small piece of background information on the short history of eBooks, before the issues arising out of their existence are delved into.

History of eBooks

           The following are facts about living in the modern world:

           Is it surprising, given these facts, that eBooks have emerged?

           There was an initial foray into the electronic Book market as far back as 1994, in Japan, with the Data Discman and the Bookman. The books were, at the time, referred to as EB's, and were available to buy on disks that were inserted into the display device. These Gameboy-like devices weren't as successful as was hoped, mainly due to the poor quality of the monochrome displays and the fact that books were available on disks to be used on single function devices.

           The answer to these problems was software, and devices that could provide more than just a reading experience. After a few teething problems around 1998 with devices that never became truly popular but which began to combine organisers, readers, and music players into one device (e.g. the Franklin eBookMan) the arrival of PDA's onto the market signalled a new beginning for the electronic format.

The Franklin eBookMan - A primitive Pocket PC

           The logical next step was eBooks. They have low production costs (meaning either cheaper books or more profits for the distributor - unsurprisingly the latter seems to be more prevalent), they are never out of print, they are available for download at any time, from anywhere over the Internet. Inevitably, they were introduced in 1999. Initially there were only two dominant products, the Rocket eBook and the Softbook. Gemstar has since amalgamated these, and new formats have come onto the market, the most successful being (as you would expect) Microsoft Reader and Adobe eBook Reader.

           Microsoft's and Adobe's products can be used to read material on desktop PC's and portable devices. It is this flexibility that had probably led to their popularity in the new age of eBooks. The invention of Microsoft's ClearType also went to alleviate fears that it would be difficult to read the text on a screen. ClearType formats text in a font that is pleasing to the eye and similar in quality to the printed word.

The Compaq iPAQ - Currently the most popular of the current generation of Pocket PC's. It comes with Microsoft Reader installed.

           In the future, devices are going to come along that will make it even more user friendly to read in the electronic form. Silicon Paper is already in development. These are pieces of electronic paper made up of thousands of 'printable transistors' that can be turned on or off to display information on the page, giving a reading experience almost identical to reading off paper. Other devices that may gain popularity are the Tablet PC's. These are thin A4 size devices comprised almost totally of screen space, that are perfect for reading information off as well as making notes on. These may become the A4 pad of the future. They may sink into oblivion. Either way eBooks are going to be around for some time no matter what device is used to display them.

The Microsoft Tablet PC - The future?

           Now that eBooks, their history, and the details on how they are viewed have been described, the issue of copyright has to be discussed in detail. If eBooks are the future of the written word, don't precautions have to be taken to protect those words? Who's taking the precautions? Will these stunt the popularity of eBooks, or will they continue to gain popularity as the technology improves?

           Dealing with the present, some of these questions are easier to answer than others. Obviously precautions need to be taken to protect the author's words. Books take months, sometimes years, to write, and authors deserve to be paid for their time and intellectual property. But how do you prevent books that exist only as files from being distributed at will after one person has bought and downloaded them? There are different ways that this has been approached. To download Microsoft Reader you are required to register with Microsoft creating a Microsoft Passport and then activate your copy of the reader. In this way, they keep track of everyone with a reader. But what of the .lit files, the books, themselves? Microsoft has created the Digital Asset Server (DAS), which is a highly scalable integrated set of server technologies and components for securing and distributing eBooks to consumers. There are three incremental levels of security available.

  1. Sealed eBooks are encrypted during the conversion to the .lit file. This ensures the authenticity of content, meaning that the text and other content cannot be modified. A Sealed eBook can be read with any copy of Microsoft Reader. This is the basic level of security given to each .lit file.
  2. Inscribed eBooks are Sealed and then further encrypted by DAS. An Inscribed eBook can be read with any copy of Microsoft Reader and always displays information from the purchaser (for example, the name of the purchaser) on the cover page. This reinforces honest usage by consumers.
  3. Owner Exclusive eBooks are Inscribed and then an encrypted license is added by DAS to allow only the legitimate purchaser to read it. This security level requires that the consumer's copy of Microsoft Reader be "activated" to purchase and read Owner Exclusive eBooks. Owner Exclusive eBooks can be read on all computers or devices activated by the purchaser.

           In this way, classic books that are out of copyright can be distributed freely, without difficulty and be read on any copy of MS Reader, while the latest bestseller can be downloaded and read by a customer on either their desktop or portable device as long as it is activated by their unique passport ID. It is a flexible system that protects the authors, while still being practical. It is still possible to break copyright, by sending the file to someone along with your ID, but I'm sure Microsoft will notice if twenty or thirty readers are being activated using the same ID for the same book. Given that Microsoft have often established (or at least refined) standards in the past, it is likely to assume that DAS and its successors will be distribution method of choice in the future.

           Adobe, however, have been having some problems recently. Their security is much tighter and with many of their eBooks you can't copy and paste from them, print them, or read them on anything other than the PC you downloaded them to. However their method isn't foolproof. Earlier this year a Russian software company Elcomsoft, began selling software designed to break the security placed on many PDF based books. Adobe System's Group Product Manager, eBooks. Kevin Nathanson, came out and said that:

           "In our opinion, this is not an issue of 'Adobe vs. Elcomsoft', but an issue of copyright protection. With our recent actions, Adobe is simply protecting our copyright interests and those of our customers under the U.S. law. As you know, piracy and software hacking is not a new issue for the industry. Adobe utilizes sophisticated industry standard levels of software encryption however, no software on the market is 100% secure from determined hackers."

           Naturally this sparked debate on the web about adobe eBooks being insecure, and heated up the debate about security issues related to eBooks. The problem is that in Russia, it's illegal to sell software without the ability to make at least one backup copy of the data it works with. So why should Russian law be a problem to Adobe? Well, the Web is worldwide, of course, and individual countries have laws that don't apply to residents of other countries. Russia's laws don't apply outside Russia. Should our laws apply there? It's a thorny issue, and one that is an increasing problem in relation to the security of eBooks.

           In July, this year, Adobe fought back. A week after Elcomsoft released AEBPR (the product in question), Adobe wrote to the company distributing it in the U.S. and firmly pointed out they would sue them if they didn't stop, because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act doesn't allow U.S. residents to even possess software with AEBPR's capabilities, and certainly doesn't allow "trafficking" in such wares. They also contacted Verio, the webhost that supplied services to Elcomsofts webhost, asking them to pull the plug on Elcomsoft. They did. Elcomsoft got a new host. The same thing happened. They've been through at least four different hosts and there are still issues to be resolved between the companies.

           The most important point to arise out of this fiasco is that Adobe's eBooks, even though they were given very stringent copyright protection, were found to be insecure. Maybe the same will happen to Microsoft. There's bound to be someone out there trying to crack it. It could be only a matter of time.

           So, where does this leave us? It looks as though eBooks are here to stay. It looks as though their security, content and delivery methods will be constantly evolving. It looks as though there will be issues that constantly have to be ironed out. What we cannot deny is that in this networked society, copyright and eBooks are always going to be relevant thought-provoking issues.

Copyrighting issues beyond the digital domain

What is the issue being discussed?
           Most of the discussion on Internet copyrighting, focuses naturally on materials, which can be digitally copied and reproduced. These include software, literature, audio and visual materials. The sheer ease with which these kind of products can be duplicated, combined with the zero degradation present as copies of copies are made, has made the authors of these products the prime targets for copyright infringement via the Internet. However, are other individuals and institutions at risk also? Are people and institutions, which do not produce digitally reproducible goods, immune from the risk of copyright infringement and indeed misrepresentation on the Internet? They are at risk from a much more circuitous form of attack, which is potentially damaging for those being falsely represented and also those who are being misinformed and defrauded.

How has this become an issue?
           In recent years more and more businesses, institutions and people have developed a web-based presence for themselves. This is done for many reasons. Most importantly it provides a potentially rich source of information on the institution, which is freely available twenty-four hours a day. It also displays an acknowledgement on the institutions' part, of the increasing importance of Information Technology today. Recently however, it's all too often the case that the web-based presence of an institution is the only source of information that people rely on as the sole representative and spokesman for that body. This is not a rigorously confirmed source, and this therefore leaves the use of web-presences open to abuse in many ways.

In what ways are people and institutions at risk?
           There are two main ways in which advantage has been taken of these opportunities. The most obvious is blatant false representation of others. A well-known and crude example was the scandal. In essence, an unknown party has registered this domain name and was hosting pornographic material. While it was extremely unlikely that anyone ever seriously considered that the site represented the office of the Taoiseach; it nonetheless demonstrates how stunningly easy, it potentially is to misrepresent absolutely anyone over the Internet. This is the simplest way of violating a person/institution's rights to their name. Here the aim usually is to misinform and potentially disrupt the operations of the target while damaging their reputation.

           A far more insidious infringement of copyright law on names exists. This is where a web-based presence attempts to impersonate a legitimate institution, with an aim to be interacted with, via the web, for all intents and purposes as that institution! An excellent example of this is the proliferation of fake online universities. These 'universities' regularly offer 'degrees' and 'doctorates' in a huge assortment of subjects for a fee. These degrees are academically useless, but a large market exists for them as people attempt to gain employment in positions, which require a university qualification. In this way, both the reputations of the universities being impersonated and the potential employers themselves are under attack. Just a few of the many examples of fake universities include:

...and to prove that Ireland is to the forefront in fake education - some Irish based fake universities:            Some of above 'universities' directly steal the names of genuine universities. Some are more subtle and use names, which are so similar to real universities that they are acknowledged as those real universities. It is extremely important to note that it is illegal and an infringement of copyright to use a name similar enough to another name, so that you are mistaken for the other institution/brand. The issue is not whether the name is the same, but whether the interpretation by the average person/consumer is the same.

What problems is this causing?
           This naturally causes headaches for employers, and requires they allocate more resources to confirming applicant's qualifications for this new problem. If HR departments had the resources and time, it would be easy to find whether applicants have the degrees they claim from real universities. It is more difficult to root out those with real degrees from fake universities and diploma mills, many with names that are hard to distinguish from authentic foundations - names such as Columbia State University, Columbia Pacific University and Trinity College and University.

           In the meantime, untruthful applicants will continue to deprive employers of the skills they seek and deprive honest applicants of a fair chance to compete at interviews. The International Chamber of Commerce compiled a report warning that: "Failing to check that the academic claims of an applicant are genuine may ultimately leave a company or organisation open to allegations of negligence, and potentially to lawsuits."

           It's proving difficult to fight these fake universities, mainly due to jurisdictional conflicts. Early last year, CPU was ordered to close permanently . But it set itself up soon again, first as Columbia Pacific University Montana and then as Columbia Commonwealth University, claiming accreditation in Malawi.

           It is genuinely surprising how much legitimacy a fraudulent web-presence can lend to an organisation. The same thing is true now for the Internet, as was said when printing was proliferating - "You can't believe everything you read."



Copyright © 2001. This page is maintained by Mabel Wong.