Ryan Boudreaux interviews a legal expert about some of the legal issues facing web masters and developers. This segment covers cyber squatting and copyright infringement laws.
Several weeks ago I wrote on the subject of legalities in web design, highlighting four legal matters that web designers should address, some with the aid of a legal advisor. Several days after the post, I received an email from David Weslow, who is a partner with Wiley Rein LLP. David's email referenced several topics related to domain names and copyright issues pertaining to web design and the Internet. After several emails, David agreed to a phone interview where we could delve deeper into several specific legal issues that concern websites including intellectual property, copyright, and domain name registration. This is part one of a two part interview, part two will be posted later this week.
When individuals or organizations register domain names that correspond to other company or brand names for the purpose of capitalizing on the association between the domain name and the brand/company name, they could be subject to a federal lawsuit for cyber squatting. Ownership of generic words as domain names is typically permitted under trademark laws when the domain names are used to display content related to the generic meaning of the term. For this reason, you will often encounter generic or "category" terms in popular top-level domains such as ".com" that are being used to display ads or other types of revenue-generating content.Ryan: I know several folks who blog and take their content seriously, especially when they see images or even entire articles stripped and posted on other sites without permission. I have been a victim myself and with some very popular well know media sites taking images from several blog posts. How does the average blogger or small business owner handle copyright and property rights issues when their content is stolen? Do you have any tips for victims of copyright infringement and content theft? David: This continues to be a perception in some corners of the Internet that all content is free; right-click and it is yours, but this is not the case. Your creative content is entitled to copyright protection, and taking content without authorization can be copyright infringement.
There are technical ways to prevent copyright infringement include disabling right-click, putting text and content in flash rather than in HTML text, and other techniques. These can slow down the casual Internet users, and I recommend that clients chat with their web developers to ensure there are systems in place to limit content copying.
If a copyright has been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office before the unauthorized copying, or within 90 days of publication, the copyright owner may be entitled to "statutory damages" for copyright infringement, which can be up to $150,000 plus attorney fees per work. You can see how unauthorized copying can be a very serious issue.
One interesting issue that has been in the news recently is with a group out of Nevada called Righthaven, LLC, which has a relationship with several newspaper companies. Righthaven will acquire rights related to newspaper content from its partner companies, and after determining that the content has been copied to other online sites without permission, then they will sue the offending online sources for reposting the content. When someone copies or reposts the newspaper content, then Righthaven will sue for copyright infringement. The business model is set up just to sue people. This business has had some setbacks in legal rulings recently with several going against them based on whether or not it really has the necessary rights to file the copyright lawsuits. However, the Righthaven setbacks are a special situation and will not limit other people's ability to pursue copyright infringement claims under similar circumstances.
The second segment of this two-part interview will be posted later this week.
Note: In this interview, David provided general information about legal aspects of web design. His comments were not legal advice or legal opinions. You should consult an attorney for any specific legal questions.