The New York Times article, “A Code of Conduct for Content Aggregators” by David Carr, culture reporter and business columnist, suggests that the inherent lack of rules imposed on content aggregators on the Web may actually be the curse of the medium itself. In my humble opinion (IMHO), the custody battle of digital content, as mentioned in Carr’s article, and its illicit re-use will occur as source requirements diminish among  individuals or entities.

The following key points may provide some recommendations and new resources to help clean up the Web, including machines, standards to come, and of course, legal measures.

Man Versus Machine

For most individual publishers, the professional approach to acknowledge sources is still a manual method. Trusty style manuals are pulled off shelves, in print or digital form, and surely we will continue this practice to credit proper sources. Professionals are responsible, not accounting for lax performance or deadline-driven excuses, to reference recognized authorities if any question arises in source citations.

Now, machines may be partly to blame since content aggregation has become automated, sometimes without concern for origin or citation. Reputable publishers will continue to fight legal battles to protect such intellectual properties. Software is available, though not part of this discussion, that can ferret out stolen properties. Newer publishing standards, as noted below, will hopefully make such entities without credibility stand out and easier to track down in the future.

Let’s consider these authorities in electronic publishing standards to see what may be missing or not in our current millennium. You may be surprised to learn about new standards to come.

Publishing Standards – Latest Editions

Chicago Manual of Style

The quintessential guide for publishers and editors, the Chicago Manual of Style can be  thought of as the bible for how-to source published works. Chicago recommends using standard practices of in-text references and reference lists, footnotes, endnotes and bibliographies, as well as electronic resource identifiers as the last resort, commonly known as Universal Resource Identifiers (URLs) or Digital Object Identifier (DOI) described next.

Digital Object Identifier System

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is embarking on a new standard–the Digital Object Identifier (DOI). Just released (ISO, May 2012), the new International Standard of the Digital Object Identifier System states the following:

Digital object identifier system is an efficient means of identifying an entity over the Internet and used primarily for sharing with an interested user community or managing as intellectual property.

The DOI system has been initiated by the International DOI Foundation (IDF) and has resulted in the standard, ISO 26324. Implementation of the DOI System is handled through the foundation, and at first glance, it’s main purpose is to preserve the integrity of data through identification, thus the DOI!  Most likely data citation practices will continue to evolve, since this standard with respect to ISO is in its infancy.

Legal Rights to Published Works or Not

Our own ethical behavior may be the judge whether to use materials freely available on the Web. Granted, most professionals will continue to abide by the publishing rules. Partnerships for sharing content are done through proper source citations that each party finds acceptable. Other legal protections may pertain to:

Public Domain

Public Domain materials refer to expired property rights. Conversely, press releases may be considered in the public domain as deemed publicly available. However, citing sources and reusing content, in any shape or form, will always require publishers’ permissions, typically cited through Terms of Use.

Copyrighted Material

Copyright laws protect everyone from misuse of published works. Your intellectual property, whether copyrighted or not, requires protection. If your business depends on it, look into patents, trademarks, and copyrights. If in doubt, consult an attorney.

Creative Commons

Many individuals and organizations are choosing to utilize Creative Commons, a non-profit organization that designates “common use” rights of your published work in conjunction with your copyright. Creative Commons is appropriate for bloggers, photographers, and business entities that wish to enlarge their intellectual or creative distribution. Several large organizations have recently adopted the Creative Commons Attribution License for some website materials, including Wikipedia, flickr, and Google, to name a few.

Image copyright Porcorex/iStockphoto 2012.