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Protecting your Work, Part 2
By Virtual Mechanics
Last time I talked about attempting to protect your web site design, ideas, graphics and code from people that would want to unscrupulously use them on their own web site. If you did not have a chance to read it, it is posted here.

The fact is that HTML and the World Wide Web are open formats. There are things you can do to help protect your work but there is probably no way you can fully protect it. The first question you should ask is if it is worth protecting? Last week I gave you an example of a cartography company that wants to post their vector-based maps on the Internet using SVG. There is no doubt that the ability for a potential customer to buy and download their maps electronically would provide a significant business advantage for them. These vector-based maps however, are the core of their business. Once posted there would be little to stop someone else from selling the maps themselves. The potential business gain or loss could be significant. Protecting this asset is obviously worth a major effort.

For many of us our web sites are important but they probably do not represent a core asset. But if it does, what you can do to protect it?

Don't Post:
If the work is really that valuable and the potential loss significant then don't post it. This is the safest option but it obviously has some very real limitations. The Internets most valuable asset is the ability for many of us to post examples of our work.  Not posting could simply mean that we are not in the business. In addition, if the work is something that can be easily posted and downloaded like a map, then there would be nothing to stop someone from acquiring it by other means and posting it anyway. Not only will you have lost your work but you will have also lost the business opportunity that the Internet could have provided. Still, the safest way to stop someone from hacking into your computer is not to connect it to the Internet.

Post a Facsimile:
Posting a low-resolution version of your work has the advantage that it could be sufficient to let someone know the value of your product without making the hi-resolution version available to everyone. Once you have verified the legitimacy of the end user you could make the full version available exclusively to them. Maybe this is an option for the Cartographer. They can post a bitmap or low-resolution vector version (missing points and data) of their maps before making the full version available. This would not prevent someone from posting the hi-resolution version after they acquired it but it would give them a greater level of control. But be careful. The music industry initially considered MP3 files to be a low-resolution version of their copyrighted music. MP3 however, improved to the point where it became good enough for the majority of listeners. We all know what happened next.

Use encryption and/or a Secure Server:
Encryption and secure servers are used to protect credit card numbers and sensitive information. They will not work to protect an Image or other asset that will be converted into some human readable format after it has been downloaded. Depending upon the type of work you wish to protect and its value, this could be a good option to use in conjunction with other options such as posting a low-resolution test version.

Password Protection:
This is what we use to distribute software. It can be used with many other assets such as a database or access to a protected area on a web site. It is also not foolproof but it can be effective in many of cases.

Copyright:
If we used Quantum Mechanics as an analogy, this would be considered the "weak force" also known as Gravity. It is weak because it cannot stop anyone from taking your work. In Quantum Mechanics however, gravity is also considered to be the most powerful force in the universe that will always try to pull everything back no matter how far away and long gone. The other protection methods only work to prevent a theft. Once an asset is taken, they are of little value. Although a copyright can often be difficult to use and enforce, it is probably the best protection you have in the long run for your assets. Even though it is expensive to use it is cheap to setup. Simply let everyone know that the work in copyrighted, that you are the owner and that you will enforce it. Although not required, your web pages, artwork and all other valuable posted material should include a copyright notice.
Copyright (c) year Your name or owner. All rights reserved or some other simple to the point message.

Fully protecting your intellectual property can be expensive. The extent to which you are willing to go will depend on how valuable it is or you believe it to be. For most of us most of the time, we cannot afford or justify going to extreme measure to protect all of our work. In the past I have posted several methods that can help minimize the casual visitor from taking your work and ideas. They are definitely not foolproof but you can look at them anyway.

Hidden Code:
I have often been asked how you can hide your HTML. Well here is an example. If you attempt to use the View Source command it will generate an error. http://www.IMSWebTips.com/is1fig1.htm Why don't all web sites use this trick? Because that is what it is, a trick. Try and figure it out. If you cannot, send an email to news@VirtualMechanics.com and I will tell you.

Click Lock your images:
This is a method to stop someone from right clicking on your image to download it. Simply create a transparent gif and place it over the picture you want to protect. Then if someone right clicks to download they will get the transparent gif and not the picture. If you use a small rectangle you can stretch it to fit over the real image without increasing the download significantly. Swap the names so the transparent gif would appear to be the legitimate image and they want know what hit them. Lets hope they don't think to use a screen capture.

Password Protecting a Web Page:
You can use JavaScript to display a text back that needs the correct password before sending a visitor to a protected page. I have discussed this in the past so I will not repeat it now. You can take a look at these articles for more information:
http://www.imswebtips.com/issue69top1.htm
http://www.imswebtips.com/issue45top1.htm

Finally try to remember that unless you are talking about serious money and major assets that cannot be easily reproduced, then try not to be too concerned about protecting your ideas. The Internets value is in its ability to freely exchange knowledge and ideas. You give one you get one. If it did not work that way then its value would be significantly diminished.


Source: "IMS Web Tips" is a weekly news letter for all web site managers regardless of experience who are looking for detailed information on creating, maintaining and promoting their web sites.

To subscribe send an email to join.imswebtips@list.imswebtips.com or visit www.IMSWebTips.com for subscription information and a list of past articles.



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