Protecting Web-Based Intellectual Content

Protecting Web-Based Intellectual Content

Most Web-based content falls under copyright law protection. Copyrights protect authors, artists, and creators from having their work used or reproduced without their permission.

Content Protection

In general, copyrights protect text, photographs, images, music, and artwork. (Trademarks protect names, slogans, and logos.) For all online content aside from computer programs and databases, registration applies solely to the copyrightable content of the work as received in the Copyright Office and identified as the subject of the copyright claim.

The application for online copyright should exclude any material previously published, registered or in the public domain. For published works, the registration should be restricted to content affirmed to be published on the date given on the application.

Unlike a trademark, a copyright is granted the moment you create something. If you write an article and place it on your website, in the U.S. a copyright is immediately granted to you, since you created that article. You are not required to use the copyright symbol (©) or register your article with the U.S. Copyright Office in order for the article to be protected. But registering can help if you are forced to take another party to court to enforce your copyright. That's why most websites place a line of text like the following at the bottom of all pages:

"The contents of this site are Copyright © 2011, ACME Content, Inc. All Rights Reserved."

In the U.S. and European Union, the copyright notice is not required; in other countries, your work is not considered to be copyrighted unless you include the line above. In some cases, the phrase "All Rights Reserved" is also required in order for your work to gain some amount of legal protection. (Most countries comply with international copyright treaties, although a few do not.)

You can take the copyright process further if you like. Copyright law protects your work "in part or in whole," so if you choose to you can register your whole site and all images as a single work with the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov . Filing electronically costs $35.

Keep in mind that your work can still be reproduced in a limited way. The legal practice of "fair use" allows someone to reproduce a small portion of your work. The key is your work must be attributed; the person using a few sentences from your article, for example, must attribute to you as the author. In most cases, "fair use" is designed to allow other parties to quote from your work for the purposes of scholarship or review; they should not use your work for commercial purposes, like in an advertisement.

Domain Name Protection

Trademarks can protect domain names; to do so, you register the domain name with the Patent and Trademark Office. In order to be suitable for registration, the domain name must function as a distinct identification of the source of products or services offered. For example, attempting to register shoes.com is unlikely to be successful. On the other hand, amazon.com is a suitable domain name for registration since it uniquely identifies Amazon and its services. Think of it this way: If people identify your company by your domain name, that domain could qualify for trademark registration. If your domain name is somewhat generic or could be considered to represent a number of different products or companies (like shoes.com), then your registration attempt is likely to fail.

If you cannot register your domain name, there are still steps you can take to protect it. First, make sure you renew your domain name registration in a timely manner. Then, consider purchasing domain names that are similar to your primary name; that way you reserve those alternatives for your own use even if you don't actually choose to use them.

If Your Intellectual Property is Stolen

If another website uses your text, images, photos, etc without your permission, the burden of enforcing your copyright falls on you - no third-party enforcement agency monitors and polices unauthorized use. To implement your rights, take the following steps:

  • Contact the site owner and ask that your content be removed. If no contact information is available, search for the domain using your content, and use the information provided to determine the administrative contact for that site.
  • If the content has not been removed within several days, take the next step and contact the company that hosts the offending website. You can determine who hosts the site by searching www.whois.net . Email or call the technical contact for the hosting company and let them know one of their customers has infringed upon your copyright.
  • If the site host does not take action, talk to a lawyer experienced with Web-based intellectual property. His or her first step is typically to send a letter asking that the content be removed; in most cases a mildly-threatening letter is sufficient.
  • If not, you'll be forced to sue the owner of the offending site and possibly the company hosting that site if you wish for them to discontinue using your content.
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