Website content often leads to copyright infringement lawsuits, because people forget to get permission and fail to follow copyright laws. Protect yourself and your website content by always getting permission from the author or copyright owner of anything you publish that is not your own original material. Follow these guidelines to help you.
Public Domain and Copyright Infringement Issues
A few things to keep in mind. First, whether it is information, software, pictures, art, video, or music, you should always presume that the material is protected, unless you absolutely know that it is not. Items in the public domain have very specific rules you should be familiar with.
Second, copyright laws give the owner of the copyright exclusive rights to the material. Using or reproducing someone's copyrighted content without the copyright owner's permission is called "copyright infringement." If the material is copyrighted, you must still get permission from the copyright owner. Otherwise, you expose yourself to the risk of copyright infringement lawsuits, which can lead to you being ordered to seize using the content and even hefty money damages.
Trademark law prohibits the use of certain words or symbols that distinguish products or services from others. Therefore, you must obtain permission to use these trademarks, just like with copyrighted content. This is typically applicable when you sell products or services on your website. If you fail to obtain permission before using trademarks on your website, you are liable for trademark infringement. Lawsuits are even more likely if your website content is meant to make money or advertise.
Familiarize yourself with Click-Wrap Agreements
Many websites contain clipart, such as animations and pictures, for reuse. These items are often called "royalty-free," "copyright-free," "shareware," or "freeware," but do not let those terms fool you. You are only granted permission to use this clipart according to the terms set out in the click-wrap agreement . This agreement is sometimes labeled "click to accept" or "read these terms." People often just click "accept" without reading the terms of this agreement. However, you should be sure to read the click-wrap agreement in its entirety to ensure that you are not using the clipart in any way that violates the agreement.
Copyright and trademark laws still apply to personal websites or blogs, even if the content is pictures taken by a relative or friend. This is why it is best to get permission, preferably written permission.
Know your Website Stats to Calculate Licensing Fees
Permission to use outside materials when publishing your website content is not free. Licensing fees are required by the copyright owners and can range from $50 to thousands of dollars. These fees are based on a number of things:
You should know your website's statistics before you ask for permission of use, since those numbers will be used to calculate your licensing fees.
Keep your Permission Requests Narrow
Only ask permission for the specific use you are intending and nothing more. For example, if all you need are song lyrics in English, do not ask for worldwide rights in all languages. You should also see if you can obtain more than one of the materials you need from just one source, as this too can save you money. Some copyright owners even offer you a lower fee if you pay upfront rather than waiting one to three months.
Monitor your Linking, Inlining, and Framing
Some common methods used to link to other websites are linking (links to other websites from your website), framing (dividing a webpage into sections that display the contents of someone else's website within the sections on your website), and inlining (posting a graphic file onto your website from someone else's website). These methods carry with them the risk of getting into legal trouble. Take care when using these methods.
Do Not Assume Fair Use
Fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of protected material without permission from the owner. These limited uses include things like commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, or educating. The problem with just relying on the fair use doctrine is that it is very subjective. If you believe that material you have used on your website constitutes fair use, but the owner of that material disagrees, you will likely have to settle the dispute in court. Courts are divided on what definitively constitutes fair use; so, it is best to just avoid winding up in court, by always getting written permission from the material's owner.
Remove Unauthorized Material Immediately
Even if you believe that the content on your website is all legal, if someone complains that you are using material without permission, remove it immediately. Courts will look kindly on your attempt to reduce or "contain" the damage.
Put Disclaimers on your Website
Disclaimers are statements that reject any affiliation with another website, company, association, or retailer. Disclaimers are not a complete protection from infringement, but disclaimers tend to limit damages in court cases. It is wise to include a disclaimer in the content of your website. Your disclaimer does not have to be long or elaborate, but must deny any affiliation with the company or website to which you are referring.
Familiarize yourself with Clearinghouses and Collectives
Clearinghouses and collectives are organizations that license works and grant permission for their members. They are good sources for permission information. It is wise to familiarize yourself with these organizations' websites, so that you can turn to them when obtaining permission to use protected material. Not only are these sources that can grant you permission for use, but you can also find contact information for songwriters, artists, authors, and photographers. Organizations such as National Music Publishers' Association, Corbis, and the Cartoonbank can assist you.
Legal Advice Before you Publish
The Internet is a fast-paced environment. While you may be tempted to publish another's content on your website now and deal with the consequences later, don't. Speak to a skilled business and commercial law attorney before posting questionable materials on your website.