Often called the new frontier, the World Wide Web conforms to few rules, including copyright and trademark regulations. These laws, which protect the unauthorized use, transmission and sale of materials registered to a company or individual in the real world, have struggled to keep up in the virtual world. As the federal government takes the slow road to Internet regulation, cyber-opportunists are making a profit by illegally using protected material on their Web sites. However, Cyveillance, an Internet surveillance company, is protecting businesses from infringement when the government can’t–or won’t.
“We haven’t come across many Fortune 1000 companies for which we can’t find hundreds of violations of their copyrighted or trademarked material,” says Brandy Thomas, chairman and CEO of the Alexandria, Virginia-based company. “Over 90% of U.S.-based entertainment companies and more than 80% of Fortune 1000 companies are victims of copyright and trademark abuses on the Internet.”
Infractions run the gamut from the illegal and unauthorized use, sale and distribution of licensed information and material to the immoral use of trademarked characters and logos. “We found over 800 sites distributing Titanic before the Academy Awards–nearly six months before its official video release,” says 30-year-old Thomas, who’s able to get copies of most movies on the Net before they’ve even been released to theaters.
The proliferation of pirated movies on the Net prompted Cyveillance’s first client, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), to enlist the company’s services in August 1997. “We started with a focus on the entertainment industry, but we found that almost every company has a need for our product,” explains company president and COO Christopher Young. Cyveillance has a three-pronged strategy for servicing its clients: help them generate additional streams of revenue through licensing; limit liability exposure due to unauthorized use of company property; and prevent lost revenue from unauthorized sales. Other companies that have benefited from Cyveillance’s services include the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the National Basketball Association, the Recording Industry Association of America, Software Publishers Association and Time Inc.New Media.
“We’re really the only shop out there that can give them quantitative and qualitative information about what’s happening on the Net,” states Thomas. Cyveillance uses WebSentry, a patent-pending technology program developed by Thomas’ brother Jason, the company’s senior vice president of technology. The program allows them to search the Internet to identify, monitor and prioritize information in four areas: electronic commerce, copyright and trademark, pornography and perception.
It builds a comprehensive list from Web pages and Usenet groups, then filters and prioritizes that information. Once WebSentry refines and synthesizes what it has found into easy-to-read reports, clients then use the information to ask offending sites to cease and desist, pay a copyright or licensing fee or face prosecution–or the client may take no action at all.
ASCAP, the world’s largest performing rights organization, enlisted Cyveillance to create EZ-Seeker, a custom program that deals specifically with Web sites that play unlicensed music. “The Web is an exciting new venue for performances of music, but finding those unlicensed