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Publishers of newspapers, magazines and other written media all face a common dilemma: how can they distribute-and profit from-copyrighted material online without opening their content to piracy? A new system from an old player in the copyright management arena, Danvers, MA-based Copyright Clearance Center, might offer an answer.

The Copyright Clearance Center manages conventional copyrights for thousands of publishers (including Technology Review). Its new online system uses a plug-in-software that works in concert with a Web browser-to let users view, copy, save and print specific content, or to prevent any of those actions, based on fees paid online or over the phone. Without such software, most publishers have had few options: granting readers free, unlimited online access to their content; granting access based on a subscription system where users pay whether or not they use materials; or charging one-time fees for archived articles. But unlike the Copyright Clearance Center’s technology, none of these schemes can prevent a user from illegally copying or distributing the content once he or she has paid any relevant fees.

Other companies, like Renton, WA’s iCopyright.com, are also introducing technological cures for online publishing woes. But decades of experience in the paper world could give the Copyright Clearance Center a leg up.

Still, while the company’s system is an important first step, says Bill Rosenblatt, president of New York-based management consultancy GiantSteps/Media Technology Strategies, it might already be behind the curve. That’s because the sort of documents the software manages, such as newspaper and magazine articles, are already moving from laptops and desktops to mobile devices such as handheld computers and cell phones, and these devices are currently beyond the reach of the Copyright Clearance Center’s software. All of which could spell new trouble for beleaguered publishers.

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