Westchester attorney offers small business tips to avoid copyright lawsuits when creating a website

Intellectual property is just like any other property.  It belongs to someone.  Now, plain and simple, you don’t want someone coming along and stealing your “stuff,” right?  So, do unto others and all that.

OK, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Did I really need her to tell me that?”  The answer is a resounding YES.  For some reason, people in cyberspace seem to think that just because it’s out there in the ethers that it’s okay to “borrow” for want of a better term.  However, without a license from the copyright owner, you may be stepping on someone’s legal toes and could find yourself at the wrong end of a lawsuit.  Therefore, Lady Litigator here is offering some constructive tips for those of you setting up your website for the first time with the hopes of attracting clients and not adversaries.

1.  Copyright Notice – You should know that it is not necessary to display a copyright notice on  an artwork, article, photo, etc. for it to be protected.  If there is a graphic or photo or bit of editorial copy that you would like to add to your website, you need to find out who owns the rights; you cannot simply use it because you found it under a Google search of images.  There are certain “royalty free” websites which allow you to use photos and graphics owned by others with proper attribution.  Wikipedia and FreeDigitalPhotos.Net are two such sites.  Generally it requires nothing more than a site registration by you and/or listing the creator wherever you use the image.

2.  Trademark Infringement – This is similar to using someone else’s copyrighted work.  You cannot use another’s trademark without getting their permission and you cannot create artwork that will confuse the consumer into thinking they are really getting someone else’s brand.  For example, if you create a new cola soda that just happens to have packaging that is similar to Coca-Cola you will likely face rapid action from that company for infringement.  So beware of your brand design when creating your website.

3.  Questionable artwork – the US Supreme Court has left it to each community to establish its own moral compass regarding indecency and what plays well in New York may not do well in the midwest.  Therefore, censor your art if it may be considered obscene or indecent and use caution.  If you are advertising a company, service or product that falls under the “adult entertainment” category then make certain you have disclaimers and some site protections built in so that minors may not access the material.  That is not to say that disclaimers and password protected entry will shield you from litigation but indicates a good faith effort on your part in a court of law.

4.  Client lists and testimonials – If you are a service-oriented company and would like to add a list of clients or testimonials to your website, get permission from your clients.  Mr. Smith may not be happy to see his name on your site if you are an investigations firm and his wife doesn’t know he has hired you.  Use a common sense approach.

5.  Website Design– If you use the services of a design company or just the geeky kid next door to design your website, make sure you have them sign a so-called “work for hire” agreement.  This clearly states that you paid them to design the site while you retain the copyright for the website design and not the person/entity who created it for you.

Good luck and if you refer to this site as useful, don’t forget to link back……..afterall, I own the rights and I know how to use them!