Safe as house – a meeting with the Myows founders
Published on 11.15.09
As they sip cups of fresh, strong coffee in their small Cape Town office, Max Guedy and Chris Human chat animatedly about how their business plan took shape. Like many a good idea, myows.com (MYOWS as in: MY Original Works) – which provides members with hard evidence of their copyright – was born more out of necessity than from a strategically researched market gap.
In a rakish fedora and with a charming French accent, Max explains that he wanted to display his design and photography portfolio online, but discovered it was all but impossible to do so without making himself vulnerable to copyright infringement.
Chris, who speaks in quick, eloquent sentences and with obvious passion, knows first-hand what can happen when original work is not sufficiently safeguarded against copyright dispute. He lived through a legal battle over the corporate identity of his fledgling brand-building company, Engage Brandcraft. “We had put blood, sweat and tears into our work, but at the end of the day we had no proof that it was ours. Or at least, we had no decent evidence pointing to the fact that we had created our own work, evidence that would stand up in court,” he says.
Copyrights, Max explains, unlike patents or trademarks, are automatic and instantaneous. From the moment you design a logo, write a poem or compose a piece of music, you have copyright over that work. Upholding that copyright is, however, another matter.
Their experiences led the friends to two conclusions. Firstly, they needed to be proactive about protecting their creative work. And secondly, they needed a reliable third party – someone reputable and neutral to – back up their claims. Ultimately, they needed to link themselves, their work and the date on which it was created.
It was on an introductory IP law course they attended together that the challenge became especially apparent. The course lecturer could not provide a satisfactory answer to the question of how to prove exactly when someone was in possession of a particular work – the obvious question when there is an allegation of unlawful copying between two parties. (So-called ‘poor man’s copyright’, or sending a copy of your work to yourself through the post in order to have it marked with a date, does not hold its own in court). “This was our light-bulb moment,” recounts Chris.
And so they embarked on the development of Myows, online technology that would provide creatives with legally viable evidence of their copyright. The core function of Myows service is its date-stamping technology. Each time a member uploads their work to the website, a time-stamped copy is placed on a super-secure server. The precise time is recorded and attached to that document and a certificate is produced against this evidence. The certificate, document, date (and a hash-code for added security) are then recorded together on the server and backed up in a geographically remote location. Neither the date/time stamp nor the file is modifiable and the process is entirely automated.
This way, if you discover you work has been copied, you can take immediate action, hopefully resolving the case without having to resort to tedious traditional legal processes. Myows.com provides step-by-step guidelines (along with templates, advice and other useful resources) for dealing with cases of copyright infringement. But if you can’t settle the dispute through paralegal channels, you still have irrefutable proof from a neutral third party connecting you to work at precise moment in time, which will come in very handy when you’re standing in front of a judge.
“It’s not about playing God,” stresses Chris, who’s quick to point out that creativity is strongly linked to the zeitgeist, “And it’s not always about right and wrong”. Infringement cases are not necessarily as simple as out-and-out theft. A design, concept or style may gain currency, increasing the likelihood of similar work being produced in the same period by two or more people. With Myows, creators can simply present and compare certificates to resolve conflicts over authorship.
“It’s about providing a service we wish we’d had, with minimum fuss, in the context of a supportive community committed to the values of originality and authenticity,” concludes Chris.
It’s exactly this combination of simplicity and personal experience that defines the Myows system and has provided the two friends and entrepreneurs with solid foundation on which to build what could soon become an indispensible global service.