Copyright Infringement

Copyright InfringementIf you’re starting a new business, chances are that you are also starting a website for that business.  While many new business owners may not realize it, there are a number of important copyright issues and pitfalls to avoid when designing a new site.  This post will address some of these issues, including copyright infringing content and web development agreements.  Being aware of these issues up front can help you avoid a cease and desist letter and claims of copyright infringement.

Copyright Infringement by Copy/Paste

When designing a website, the two most dangerous words may just be “copy” and “paste.”  You want to fill up your site with gorgeous images, to draw and keep the visitor’s attention.  But you must resist the temptation to use Google Images as your personal photo library.  The images you find on the web are not yours.  And, more to the point, the copyright owner of any image you copy and paste onto your site may come after you for copyright infringement.  Of course, the same applies to video or other media you post to your site.  However, the use of images or photos is probably the most common.

There are some sites out there that offer free images and stock photos to use with your site.  You’ll want to review their license agreement before using these photos.  These agreements can restrict how you are allowed to use their images.  The license agreements should be easily accessible on the site.  Remember: if you copy and paste an image on your site, it’s out there in the open for everyone to see.  That includes the owner of the copyright, as well.

Contracting for Web Design/Development

In addition to the images used on the web, websites themselves are protected under copyright law.  If you design your site yourself, then you are the author and copyright owner.  However, many people hire a web designer and/or developer to create their site for them.  There are a few issues that should be addressed in any such agreement to avoid copyright problems down the road.

First, you want to make sure that you are protected if your web developer is sued for copyright infringement.  If they develop your site for you, you want to make sure you are not liable if they commit copyright infringement.  For this, you will want a development agreement with an indemnification clause.  This clause should protect you from copyright infringement claims that result from the developer’s work.  The developer should also be properly insured in the case of a copyright infringement claim.

Another key issue is ownership of the website.  The Copyright Act states that an author is the owner of a work.  One exception to this rule is in the case of works made for hire.  This means that when an employee creates something in the course of their employment, the employer owns the copyright.  However, for web design/development, this work is typically done by an independent contractor.  They are not an employee of the person that hired them.  Therefore, when the person does the work as a contractor, they own the rights to the work.  Of course, if you are hiring someone to design/develop your site, you want to be the one that owns the copyright to the site.  For that reason, the development agreement should contain an assignment of rights to the site.  This just states that once completed, ownership of the copyright to the website transfers to you.

Have You Received a Cease and Desist Letter Related to Copyright Infringement?

If you have received such a letter, or need assistance with your copyright infringement matters, please feel free to call me at (314) 479-3668, email me at kevin@yourtrademarkattorney.com, or complete the contact form found on this page to schedule your free initial consultation today.  I look forward to speaking with you.