Considerations of Identity, Privacy, and Intellectual Property While Developing
Why and How is the Way It Is

When the World Wide Web was new, there were very few rules regarding what went into the content and design of web sites. Early versions of the technology limited page layout and what kinds of content could be included. Most content was text-based with only a few pictures or diagrams. As the technology matured, web page designers were given more and more freedom to express their ideas with different forms of content. Still, the ideas themselves were the important aspect of web pages. Web pages with interesting or useful content were visited more frequently than pages with little or not content.

From the beginning, individuals created web pages to satisfy some need. Many created personal web pages to express themselves in a cheap medium that could be distributed to a wide audience. They had stories to tell, opinions to express, or art to share. It is for these reasons that I plan to create and publish a personal website of my own.

While creating my web site, I should consider how the web site represents my identity online. I must consider what information I am sharing with the online public and how that information could be used by others. Also, I should take care with intellectual property issues such as using copyrighted or trademarked items within my site. Also, the protections I have or should seek with regards to my own intellectual property posted on my site should be analysed.


My website will be a representation of my identity. I could create any identity with it I can dream up or simply represent any side of my real identity. As described by Sherry Turkle in her book "Life on the Screen", the use of bricolage, or collecting and relating separate parts to create a new whole, will help create the image I wish to portray online. I can choose what information to give and what to hold back, as well as how to organize and present that information. It is important that I consider this while adding content.

For example, I currently work as an information security engineer for Cornell University. This position demands a high level of maturity and professionalism. In a field where trust is of utmost importance, I must constantly work to gain and hold the trust of those whom I serve, such as Cornell system administrators, and those with whom I must interact, such as law enforcement officials. Any one of these people could do a web search for my name. If they come across my website, what information could they gather about me?

If I were to design my website to accomodate this possibility, I would need to be very careful about the content. I would have to ensure my personal views were kept to a minimum. The subjects I discuss on the site should probably not be too far off from the mainstream to avoid offending someone. Also, I would have to be careful not to include content that would tarnish my credibility. For example, as an information security professional, it would be unwise to keep hacker tools or illegal copies of software, music, or movies on my website. This content could be considered illegal or, at least, unprofessional for an infomation security professional. Therefore, my website would reflect poorly on who I am professionally.

I could go in the opposite direction. I could build the site to include content that supports information security initiatives. I could include links to known and trusted information security websites. My resume could be listed, which would help establish my credentials. I could also provide original content that addressed information security issues, such as hardening systems or designing corporate security policy. Hopefully, this would show me as an experienced and thoughtful professional and lead others to trust my opinions.

I have little desire to create such a site, though. Instead, I plan to create a site that is more dangerous to my professionalism. Though I will not include content that is overtly illegal, such as the afformentioned hacker tools or illegal copies of software, music, or movies, I will create content that comes from my personal life, not my professional life. The side of my identity I wish to show on my web site involves the culture and literature I enjoy. It is a gamble that this content will not adversely affect my professional life. My desire to express that identity is more important to me than my desire to have a perfect professional career.


In addition to my web site affecting my professional life, I must consider how the content could be used to affect my personal life. Many people include a great deal of personal information on their web site. The reasons for doing this are varied, from a desire to give a complete picture of who they are to a lack of appreciation of the importance of such information.

There are certain bits of information that I will never put on a web site. For example, I would not include: my social security number, my credit card numbers, my home address and phone number, my mother's maiden name, my drivers license number, information on my financial condition, or information about friends that those friends would not want known publicly. (One could argue that much of this information is already easily available to those who seek that information, therefore attempting to hide this information is fruitless. I disagree, considering the reduction of opportunities to find this information enough of a deterrant to more casual researchers. This doesn't solve the problem, but it does reduce its scale.)

Someone could use any of this information for a number of questionable acts. Identity theft is a concern. According to the United States Federal Government's Identity Theft web site , identity thieves use this information to access other people's credit cards, open cellular phone accounts, open bank accounts and writes checks in other people's names, or reroute billing addresses to cover up illegal activity. It can be a difficult and complicated task to clear one's name after their identity was stolen. Victims must report the incident to credit agencies, local Departments of Motor Vehicles, banks, postal inspectors, and law enforcement officials. The longer the thief opporates, the more they can use a person's good name for criminal activities. Minimizing the exposure of sensitive personal information is important to avoid these serious inconveniences.

Social engineering is another concern. Based on private information obtained through public resources, a person can attempt to defraud another. In the hacker world, social engineering is often used to convince people that the hacker is someone else who has clearance to restricted information. For example, a hacker might call a secretary claiming to be someone of authority, use personal information that that authority figure would know, and attempt to convince the secretary to divulge an important password, organizational information, or an architectural detail. The hacker would then use this information to attack the organization. Beyond hackers, con-artists often use social engineering to gain the trust of unsuspecting victims in order to steal from them.

As with identity theft, minimizing the personal information made available in public forums is an important step in helping defend oneself against attack. The harder a criminal has to work to get this information, the less likely it is that they will succeed in obtaining it.

Of course, this use of information is not limited to criminals. For example, an ex-employer of mine regularly searching Cornell directory information and online references and work of mine to track where I am and what I am doing. Personally, I find it annoying that this individual is still attempting to exert some form of control over me even though I am no longer his employee. Though morally and psychologically questionable, this behavior is not criminal, however much it bothers me. To reduce this annoyance, I try to be careful what information is available though online resources.

Market and Copyright

Though I have no intention of using my website to perform commerce, I should consider the market and how my website could be marketed. Since I plan to develop original content, the ideas and expressions of those ideas will be my own. Under current United States copyright law, I will be entitled to certain protections in regards to my content. If I were to write a story and publish it on the web, I am entitled to copyright protections. No one could legally take my story, strip off my name, and publish it as their own work. If I were to create a song, other musicians would be limited as to how much of the song they could use in their own work before needing to get my permission for their use.

According to, copyrighting a web site is a non-trivial task. According to this site:

The information that has been put out by the Copyright Office suggests that it is permissible to file a single registration covering the text, graphics, video, sounds and other material that comprise a web site. However, where music is on the web site which is not integrated with a series of images or a video clip, the musical aspects of the site will need to be separately registered to assure protection. Additionally, the Copyright Office has stated that computer programs, databases and works that are fixed on a CD ROM, must be separately registered as well.

Formal, legal copyrighting of my website would be time-consuming and bureaucratically complex. Additionally, copyrighting the content of my web site could be potentially expensive. According to the United States Copyright Office, copyrighting a single literary work costs $30. For online works, using a website expands on the demands for registration:

Many works transmitted online are revised or updated frequently. For individual works, however, there is no blanket registration available to cover revisions published on multiple dates. A revised version for each daily revision may be registered separately, provided the revisions constitute copyrightable authorship. A separate application filing fee would be required for each separately published update.

Therefore, if I chose to publish a daily journal of my poetry, for example, I would need to register each poem as I posted it. I could, of course, get around this by compiling the poetry and copyrighting it as a whole. Regardless, formal copyright for an individual who is just publishing for the fun of it does have difficulties.

Of course, I do not need to formally copyright my work. Again, according to the United States Copyright Office web site, my work "is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form so that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device." Even so, the Copyright Office offers the following reasons why formal copyright is important:

Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.

In all probability, I will not formally copyright my entire web site. As I develop content for the site, I may consider formally copyrighting any work that I feel is important enough to me that it warrents the time, energy, and money to register the work. Also, I would register my content if I felt there was a market for that work. If I started developing content, such as movies or music, that others may want to use, even if I did not feel strongly about the content, I would copyright it to ensure that I could sell that content without fear of theft of the work diluting my market.


In all probability, my website will not be comprised of totally original content. I will use images and quotes from other sources. Many of these sources will be copyrighted works. For example, I play a line of games sold and distributed by Games Workshop, Inc. Most of these games use minature models which require assembling and painting. The rules of the game can be complex and subject to debate. The gameplay itself can be amusing or informative, so writing about the games can be useful to others. Therefore, I plan to devote a number of web pages to this hobby.

Games Workshop has copyrighted the rules, terms, and backplot of the game. American copyright law allows me to discuss these without fear of copyright infringement under fair use. According to the U.S. Copyright Office website, title 17, section 107 of the United States Code "contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered "fair," such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research." My discussion of the game and its details fall under "criticism" and "comment", and are, therefore, protected.

My legal standing could become less straightforward if I were to expand on that work in certain ways. It is common in gaming circles to create fan fiction based on the fictional universe of the games. Such fiction often uses ideas from that universe, as well as trademarked names or copyrighted sections from the official game fiction, descriptions, or rules. If I were to write such fiction, section 107 "sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

Typically, Games Workshop will allow such fiction to be written. Most authors do not do so for profit and are increasing interest in the company's games (without expense to the company). If an author were to attempt to profit off of their work, if the work was severely plagerized from original Games Workshop content, or if the work somehow cheapened the value of the games, the company would probably attempt to enforce their copyright. I will be careful that whatever content I develop falls well within the fair use code for any content that is based on other's copyrighted work.

Using trademarks on my web site brings a different set of guidelines. For example, if I wished to use an Apple Computer logo on my web site (since I enjoy using and discussing their products), I would need to follow the guidelines listed at . These guidelines are numerous and difficult to read. As a layperson, what I get out of these guidelines is that I may use Apple trademarks if a) I am not attempting to use the images to sell a product, b) my use does not reflect poorly on Apple's image, c) I do not claim endorsement by Apple, or d) I do not take credit for Apple's trademarks. A page or a reference about Apple products on my site would have to fall under these guidelines. Based on other web sites I have checked, each company has different rules for use of their trademarks. Therefore, I will have to check with each trademark owner for any trademarked images I use on my web site.


Personal web site design and publishing can raise complex questions. How the web site represents individuals, affects their privacy, and follows intellectual property regulations must be considered by individuals who plan to develop personal web sites. The Internet is a complicated place, and the laws and norms of the Internet and real world should not be taken for granted when carving out one's own little chunk of cyberspace.

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All contents Copyright 2004, Daniel Adinolfi.