The Beginner's Guide to Protecting Your Digital Property

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So you consider yourself something of a prodigy. Using nothing but raw talent and hard work, you have created something wonderful in the world of information technology, something no one else has done before. Perhaps you invented a new form of artificial intelligence? Perhaps you developed a revolutionary framework that makes video game designing a breeze? Perhaps you created your very own virtual assistant, leaps and bounds ahead of Siri and Cortana. You spent year after year sweating yourself to death in order to create something massive, you lost your full-time job, your wife, even your 50% of your weight. But the day of harvest has finally arrived, time to milk your intellectual property for all it's worth! But wait. Now that you've gone ahead and created something no one has before, how do you safeguard your work from the hordes of ravenous plagiarizers headed your way? How do you make sure that your digital property remains safe and is protected from copyright infringement and reverse engineering? This article tells it all.

To start with, let us define what constitutes digital property. From a broader perspective, digital property constitutes of any and all data, be it files or information, that are available for use in the digital format. This includes software, video games, eBooks, private data, social media accounts, online presence and so forth. Since it is practically impossible to address all of that in a single article, this piece will focus primarily on the software wing of digital property, and what you can do to safeguard your own.

The most common threat to your digital property comes in the form of cracks and keygens, tools created by hackers to outright penetrate your software's registration system and enable unauthorized users to freely access your software without actually paying for it. The gaming industry is one of the largest victims of this form of piracy, with cracked versions of virtually every single game available in some format on a torrent website. A single search on any popular torrent search engine will reveal cracked versions of any and every popular software or video game you may come across, and even the biggest giants in the genre, such as EA or Bethesda, are not safe from this threat. If your software uses some form of technology that requires it to download regular updates from a secure database, as antiviruses tend to do, you are in luck. Otherwise, it can be really painstaking to fend off this kind of attack. The only protection measure that has so far been successful in fending off attackers is the Denuvo Anti-Tamper Solution, which uses a host of advanced technologies to prevent hackers from hacking, reverse-engineering or manipulating your video games. Some of the newest games, including Tom Clancy's The Division, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Hitman 2016 use Denuvo to keep their property safe from attackers. Needless to say, it is expensive. However, crude piracy makes it very difficult for hackers to monetize on their work, so it is unlikely that they will go to great lengths for it if your software is complicated and hard to crack.

The second threat, and the more deadly one by far, is when fellow developers begin  scraping your software's source code to create plagiarized versions of your code and use it to fuel their own software. Simply put, they steal your software's source code and use it to build their own versions of it, then sell it under their own company name. Needless to mention, it's illegal, but that doesn't stop them. The first thing you must do in order to prevent this kind of attack on your digital property is to include a transparent clause in your software's Terms of Service that prohibits the scraping of your software's source code for reuse. That way, you are backed up legally. Next up, you'll want to make sure to hand over your software's raw source code to as few people as possible. Only the most trusted people in your own foundation, your own team of developers, should have access to the source code. Anyone outside the organization, be it licensees, distributors or others, can be a threat to your security. A popular solution in this context is the use of a software escrow, which keeps your software's source code in safe hands to make sure that none of the individual distributors can obtain it without authorization, while simultaneously guaranteeing the distributors that the source code is obtainable in case you decide to end your support of the software. Finally, you must use a Digital Rights Management (DRM) solution to protect your software from being scraped for source codes using decompilers. Technologies like Denuvo offer an additional layer of security besides the DRM solution to prevent your source code from being leaked.

Of course, all technologies can ultimately fail, and if you are popular enough, some hacker or the other will one day come up with an ingenious plan to bypass all your protections and plagiarize your software against your desires. If such is the case, the law is your best protection. Copyright laws exist to protect you from any form of infringement of your digital property online, regardless of how big or small you may be. You don't have to go to great lengths to establish your legal rights over your property too. If you created something by scratch on the internet, the copyright belongs to you. Anyone who is reusing your property without authorization is infringing on your rights, and you can easily ask for a reimbursement in a civil court for the damage rendered. Of course, there are other factors to be taken into consideration, especially the Fair Use Policy that protects people who reuse your work for educational purposes against costly copyright lawsuits. For a detailed overview of copyright laws in the digital age, click here.

Given how fast technology has advanced in the last few decades, the protection of your digital property can be a matter of several million dollars. If you worked hard to create something cool, be it a simple piece of digital art or the future of operating systems, you should take adequate measures to protect what is yours.