One of the first things on the agenda for an entrepreneur or new small business owner is to setup a website and to market it online. It can be exciting as the business owner begins to consider various images, logos, text, content music, streaming videos, and blogs to brand the business. You may find an image to use as your background for your site or a have a favorite song play as the page loads. As you learn more about web marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you’ll understand the importance of creating content for your website. However, it is important that as a business owner (and owner of the website) you proceed cautiously to avoid copyright infringement–whether you are producing the content or have a web designer producing the content. With the advent of the internet and rise of content sharing through blogs, social media and websites, small businesses (knowingly or not) are exposing themselves to liability for copyright infringement.
US Copyright Law protects authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual property. Some common examples of intellectual property that are protected by the copyright law include pictures, photographs, logos, content, articles, etc. Importantly Copyright law also protects unpublished work and unregistered works. Copyright law gives the author the exclusive right to distribute, perform, display, reproduce, or prepare derivative works based upon the work. Therefore, when managing your business website you are prohibited from using any content, text, images, or articles you may come across on the internet or elsewhere unless you have the owner of the content’s permission.
Copyright issues are especially important with the internet, because of the ease of content sharing through websites, blogs, and social media.
Some recommendations to avoid copyright infringement for your business website:
1. Do not reproduce images, photographs, or content on your site that you do not own or have created
Your business website should only contain content and images that you or your web designer created or licensed. Reproducing content you found online may expose you to copyright infringement.
2. Get Permission to Use Copyrighted Materials
If you do seek to use copyrighted material, obtain permission from the author or obtain a license.
3. Use proper citations and links when quoting an article or content
4. Remove Unauthorized Material
If someone claims you have violated his or her copyright, remove the material. Even if you believe your use of the material is proper and lawful, it is best to remove the material while you investigate and then speak with a lawyer.
5. Monitor Your Employees
Monitor the content your employees are sharing through the business website and social media site. A business owner may be vicariously liable for their employees’ copyright infringement.
6. Have a Written Contract with Your Web Designer or Web Developer
In your contract with your web designer, it is necessary to have a clause that the web designer warrants that they own or have a license for all the material they place on your website. It is also necessary to have an indemnification clause in the situation where the web designer or web developer does use copyrighted material, thus making the business owner liable.
7. Protect Your Own Intellectual Property and Copyrights
Have contracts with your web designer and graphic designer that ensure you own the copyrights of the content they create for you. Further, register copyrights and trademarks where necessary.
8. Moderate and Monitor Comments on you Blog
If you have a blog, moderate the comments to ensure there is no copyrighted material posted. Copyright infringement is a strict liability tort; therefore, the website owner can be liable for blogger posts on the owner’s site.
If you have web users posting content or comments to your site, register with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in order to benefit from some of the safe harbor provisions for copyright infringement.
For assistance in drafting or reviewing a web design agreement, please contact the business lawyers at Basyuk & Klaproth. Please contact our DC law office for any copyright or trademark questions you have about your prospective or existing business website.