Thursday, 30 May 2013

Stolen Web Content And The Law

Online copyright law is a complicated matter, the details of which are often unknown, misunderstood or misinterpreted. It is therefore not uncommon for internet users to break internet copyright laws unintentionally which can be frustrating for the owner of the original content and can give the perpetrator a nasty surprise when they are threatened with the removal of their site.

Online Copyright

The creator of an original work is granted exclusive rights to it under copyright law. This means that no one else can print, publish, perform or reproduce the material in any way without permission. There are many misconceptions regarding what is and isn’t copyrighted online so it’s important to make sure you know exactly whether or not something is protected. Firstly, any original content written for the web is copyrighted as soon as it is created; the originator does not have to apply for copyright, they are automatically protected. Secondly, an author does not have to label their work with a copyright notice for it to be copyrighted. Therefore, to be as safe as possible, it is best to assume that any content or pictures you find are copyrighted and may not be copied without permission.  

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The DMCA was created in 1998 and was designed to extend the reach of copyright thereby ensuring that online material is protected. Critically, it provides an agreed format for what constitutes a takedown notice which obviates the need to employ lawyers or often dubious companies offering take down services.While developed to clamp down on internet users who have illegally copied work, it does however limit the liability of providers of online services in cases where their users are guilty of copyright infringement. This Safe Harbour provision protects third parties including hosting companies, domain registrars and internet service providers from legal redress provided that they comply with take down notices within a reasonable length of time.  

Copyleft and Creative Licensing – When copy is available to copy

Copyleft refers to work that has been copyrighted by the author but which includes a license stating that other people do have the right to use, modify, publish and share the work. However, the modified versions must be bound under the same license so that anyone else who receives a copy of the work, modified or original, will also have the same rights. It is therefore still possible that someone could infringe the copyright by not adhering to the terms as presented by the copyright holder.  

A Creative Commons License is used by authors who want to allow other people the right to share, use or modify a work they have created. The appeal of using such a license is that the author can choose exactly who it refers to, for example an author might only allow the use of their work in non-commercial instances. As with copyleft, those who use the material must abide by the specified conditions.  

Exemptions – When you can copy copyrighted work

There are some very specific situations in which copyrighted work can be used outside of the DMCA provisions or rather, where ‘fair use’ applies. In America, there is a much more relaxed approach to the use of copyrighted work for specific purposes such as for educational use for example. In the UK, the exemptions are rather more limited and are restricted to use of a work for criticism, review, parody or quotation in a limited form. However, even if you think you are excluded from liability because the way in which you intend to use the work is considered an exemption, it is always worth referring to the act directly to make sure.   

Lastly, it is also important to know that copyright in the UK lasts for 70 years after the author’s death; so even if it seems like old material and you think you are safe – always check!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Why Your Website Content Needs To Be Explicit!

Search engines constantly have to change their ranking algorithms to ensure that they get the best possible matches for the searched term. Previously, there was a lot more emphasis on looking for the presence and frequency of specific words or phrases but this approach had some significant failings. Firstly, searching for keywords alone does not account for synonyms so the search could fail to identify other terms which referred to the same thing. Secondly, when only taking note of a keyphrase, it is easy to run into difficulties if a keyword has multiple meanings; merely identifying a word such as ‘apple’ does not help the search engine determine whether it refers to the brand or the fruit making it difficult to match with an appropriate search. Because this method can end in poor results, search engines have now given more weight to Latent Semantic Indexing.

What is Latent Semantic Indexing?

Latent Semantic Indexing refers to the way in which search engines determine the context of a website’s content in order to successfully match it to a user’s search. For example, a website could use the word 'java' but this has multiple and very different meanings. Therefore, to ensure that the word is not matched to an unrelated search, a search engine would use latent semantic indexing to evaluate the rest of the content. For example, a search engine would have to decide whether the word  'java'  referred to coffee, a country or the computer programming language. This is achieved by looking at the co-occurrence of signal words in the document or document set. So, using the term 'java' with other references to beverages would sway the search engine towards coffee being the correct meaning within its context. Using this technique to rank websites means that search engines are giving more weight to the central themes or intent of websites as opposed to the density of specific keywords. It is therefore crucial that website owners stick to Google's recommendations and make their content as explicit as possible while backing up their keyphrases with related terms. 

Optimising your website content

There are various things you can do to make sure that your website content is clear and more easily matched with related searches. You can still use keywords and keyphrases but Google will penalise pages it deems as ‘over-optimised’ so be careful to only use them where they sound natural. It is also important to make sure that you use related words to describe terms that could be misinterpreted. For example, if you have a product listed that is described as ‘tangerine’, make sure you relate the word ‘colour’ to it in the description so as to distance your site from the definition of tangerine as a fruit. It is also a good idea to use keywords and keyphrases in your ALT text for an image which depicts what you are referring to. An explicit reference describing the image will help to make the context and purpose of your site crystal clear.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Should Every Website Have A Mountweazel?

A ‘Mountweazel’ is a fake entry which is deliberately published in a reference work to detect copyright infringement. Ironically, ‘Mountweazel’ which is now associated with this real and used definition was itself originally a fabricated entry!

According to the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopaedia, Lillian Virginia Mountweazel was a fountain designer turned photographer who died in 1942 in an explosion while on assignment for a magazine.  Does that sound farfetched? It ought to, because the entire entry from the name Lillian to the detailed back story is completely fictitious. Editors included Lillian to protect their copyright knowing that if anyone were to include her in any of their work, they would have to have copied from the encyclopaedia. Dictionaries too have made use of this technique.

So, a cunning trick to identify content theft? Certainly, but does it have any use on websites? Unfortunately, online plagiarism is common and with many sites dedicated to similar or the same topics it can be hard to spot who copied who. If you include a Mountweazel on your website however, the culprit will soon be identified and there’ll be no denying it! What’s more, website owners do not even have to make the Mountweazel visible on the site itself, but instead they can hide it in the website code.

KALQ – the keyboard of the future or an unnecessary QWERTY substitute?

In our fast paced society patience is apparently a dying attribute, especially regarding technology. When it comes to loading, connecting, updating and now even typing, the general consensus remains the same: the quicker the better.  

That’s why researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics have designed a new keyboard specifically created to speed up typing on tablets. Currently, the common practice for typing on tablets is to use two thumbs, a technique which is somewhat inefficient on the standard QWERTY keyboard.  

The KALQ keyboard (so called because the bottom four letters to the right read K A L Q) has been designed around the conventional horizontal grip adopted by a user typing on a tablet.  The letters are split into a 4x4 grid on the left and a 4x3 grid on the right which sit in the bottom corners of the screen. The aim is to minimise the moving time of the thumbs and thereby reduce strain. Commonly used letters are clustered together to reduce travel distance and to ensure that both hands work equally. In theory, the KALQ design prevents long sequences from having to be typed with one thumb by placing all the vowels in reach of the right hand and assigning more keys to the left. For left hand users the layout can be reversed. The hope is that eventually, experienced users should become so proficient that they will be able to use their thumbs simultaneously.

While creatively thought out and well engineered, adapting to the KALQ keyboard does require some effort, apparently taking eight hours for QWERTY users to learn. This, coupled with the fact that Bluetooth keyboards are a popular tablet accessory, prompts the question: is a KALQ keyboard necessary? As much as it might improve onscreen typing on tablets, as long as physical keyboards remain popular, it seems the KALQ keyboard may well be the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Furthermore, one must question the practicalities of using the KALQ keyboard for phones, tablets and other such devices and the QWERTY for everything else. There is some doubt about whether all users will be able to switch smoothly between the two. 

We think it is probably better to be proficient at using a universal keyboard rather than having an optimal layout for every single device that makes use of a typing feature. We may not be able to type on a tablet as quickly as at a computer, but at least we won’t be hunting for the letters every time we switch machine.