Anyone can become a webmaster because the internet allows almost anything to be placed on the web with a little money and a little creativity. Webmasters must be careful, though, because a huge number of internet laws have cropped up in recent year limiting what can be put on the web. Websites are common targets for copyright infringement suits and trademark infringement suits.
- How Should I Handle Things I See on the Web that I Want to Use on My Site?
- Will I Still Be Liable for Infringement if I Make an Attribution to the Real Author?
- What If I Am Unsure about the Status of Protection for a Particular Electronic Item?
- What about the Use of Logos and Symbols on My Site?
- Should I Be Careful when Linking, Mirroring or Inlining?
- I’ve Heard of the Doctrine or Fair Use, Will it Protect Me Online?
- What If Third Parties Placed Copyright Material On My Website?
- Should I Contact a Lawyer?
Assume anything you see on the web is already protected. The less you take, the less likely you are to get in trouble for copyright misappropriation or infringement. You will be even more vulnerable to lawsuits if you make money off of what you take or use what you take to direct traffic to your cite.
Before using any graphic, text, or program acquired on the net, read all licenses associated with an electronic item (typically click wrap license) carefully. Oftentimes electronic files in particular have documents associated with them regarding use and distribution of the file.
Attribution (indicating in some form who the real owner is) is also not sufficient to save you from liability as the IP owner has exclusive rights to control use of his property.
When in doubt, you should always do your homework regarding ownership of a particular item. You should keep written documentation of your investigation of ownership of an item. Better to be safe and diligent up front, rather than risk suffering the consequences later. Get permission from the owner if your item is owned by someone else. An oral consent is valid, although some sort of written consent is preferred because it will be easier to prove if a dispute arises.
Permission is usually needed to reproduce a trademark, including any word, symbol or device that identifies and distinguishes a product or service (e.g. the Coke mark). If your use of a mark is likely to confuse customers, then it is likely to be infringement. Owners of famous marks often guard their trademarks aggressively, so it is best to avoid any mark that has any possibility of confusion with a famous mark.
Linking, mirroring, and inlining are all good ways of connecting information, but these technological advances are riddled with problems as follows:
- Deep links: A deep link to another site bypasses its homepage and takes the user directly to an internal page. Some people have argued this is illegal use of their site.
- Framing: Framing is the process of dividing a web page into separate framed regions often time displaying the contents of another cite while staying on your cite. Some have argued this is use without permission or this creates confusion as to ownership.
- Inlining or mirroring: Similar to framing except that generally graphics from one site are incorporated into another. Although not completely illegal, this practice is discouraged at it is generally confusing to consumer.
The fair use doctrine is based on the idea that the public should be able to use portions of copyrighted material to engage in constitutionally protected commentary about that material. Outside of parody or satire though, fair use is that it is extremely unclear what fair use encompasses.
Although the webmasters may not be in charge of all content on their website, especially if the website uses forums or other types of outsider comment system, webmasters can still be held liable, regardless of who uploaded the content. The good news is that the webmaster should be given prior notice detailing exactly what the copyright holder objects to, allowing the webmaster to pull the disputed material without further incident.
Whether you are starting out on your web project, or you have just been approached regarding a infringement issue, it is a good idea to have a business lawyer review your site, and your plans for your site. Having a good internet lawyer can help you avoid many of the pitfalls of the internet.