There are many aspects or contents of a site you can own. You can claim ownership of just about any content in your website (that is, if you created it). These contents can be subject of what we call intellectual property. Yes we heard the term several times on printed materials such as books and journals BUT intellectual property (IP) can also be created in a website.

What is Intellectual Property Right?

Intellectual property is an asset, a creation of one’s mind. Intellectual property right protects the owner of the particular property from infringement. It prohibits any third party (in our case, users and website guests) from re-using and misusing the content without prior permission. This is often seen when a user reproduces your content in his website and passing it off as his own. In the legal realm, we call IP right as a negative right, because it gives the owner of the property the right to disallow others from using HIS OR HER information or content without permission.

Which on your website can you own?

Almost every aspect of a website can be claimed as intellectual property. Website design. Screen displays, webpages and graphical user interface (GUI) can be protected as industrial designs. Databases and database systems can be patented. Business names, trade names, logos and symbols can be subject of trademark laws. One can also claim ownership over the website content. Any written material, photograph, graphics, music and video (if you created them) may be protected by copyright. If you are using databases, programs, flow charts and algorithms (as well as their contents), they can also be protected under intellectual property laws.

SO WHY KNOWING THIS IS IMPORTANT

You see the Web is an unlimited repository of ideas and content. Everyone can access anything. Any uploaded information online can be used, downloaded, recreated, reproduced. If you are doing business online, there are risks that one could copy your content, your design or your ideas. You can also be accused of unauthorized reproduction of someone else’s content. Knowing which you own and which you do not own could save you a lot of trouble (not to mention avoiding possible law suits). Therefore, before launching your own website, be sure you are protected by intellectual property law.

  1. Register your trademarks. If you are using a creative name for your business or your website, have it registered. If you are selling products online, have the brand name registered also. Sometimes, domain names also serve a similar purpose of distinguishing your site from others, thus it is advisable that you maintain a unique domain name and adding a descriptive name that complements the character of your site or business. This way it will prevent others from using the same name which may tend to confuse the buying public. It will also prohibit others from marketing similar products or content with inferior quality. Trademark registration in this case is also the same for offline business.
  2. Let the users know that the content is protected. Intellectual property laws are all about public disclosure. Remind users and guests that certain names and content are owned by you, and that they are prohibited from using the same. Often, website owners put notices of IP protection by affixing the symbols ©, ® or ™ after the protected material, adding the year when it was first used or registered and the name of the website or website owner. You can also use watermarks. This is familiar when it comes to graphics and photographs contained in the site. Alert users that you own them by placing a visual watermark across the photo or along the margins. Others use encryptions in their materials. A decryption key or code is only provided by the website owner to authorized users.
  3. Let the users know how they can use or access your intellectual property. Of course this is the Internet and as a businessman, you need to give users something of use. You need your content to be patronized, read and viewed. Viewers need to know what they need to do to use (or access) your content. Spell your conditions. Tell them that they are allowed to use and create links to your website in their own websites. Other websites allow users to download and use content for personal use only. Some indicate how the user can get clearance from the website owner to use material for specific purposes. All these things can be laid out in a Terms of Use page.

PARTS OF THE WEBSITE YOU DO NOT OWN

Needless to say that there will be no restrictions to put original contents or information which came from your ideas. However, the other part of recognizing one’s intellectual property is acknowledging that some parts of your website are NOT YOURS to claim. If you are to use copyrighted materials or patented software, be sure to acknowledge the source. Or if you obtained permission from the owner or the copyright holder, indicate that you have permission to display or use such information. For downloadable music or photos, usual practice is to get authorization from the person depicted in the photograph, or clearance from the artist. For books and journals, name of the author and publisher must be clearly stated. Remember that these materials are part of their intellectual property. The last thing you need to worry is disbursing cash for some IP infringement law suit.

Establishing dominion over some aspects of your website is an important issue to address if you are thinking of creating a website. Free exchange of information over the Internet has its price. You need to protect your business from unwarranted use of your ideas which might compete with your target users or clients. Expensive law suits come from uninformed use of other’s intellectual property. Before finalizing your website, consult with a trusted Internet lawyer on how you can limit IP infringement liabilities, as well as establishing your IP rights over your creation and content.

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