The internet is wonderful for promoting your business, but as Ecommerce increases, there’s a risk that others can copy either the features, or content, of your website. Thankfully, the law provides protection for your website and its contents and you can copyright your intellectual property.
What can be protected?
You are able to protect Ecommerce systems, technical internet tools and search engines through patents. Software, such as your text-based HTML code, can be protected through patents or copyright, as can your website design. Additionally, copyright protects your creative content, including photographs, written material, music, graphics and videos.
Protect your database by copyright and your business name, logo, domain name and product name as trademarks. You can use industrial design law to protect screen displays, computer-generated graphics and web pages.
The hidden aspects of a website, including source code, algorithms, technical descriptions, programs, logic flow charts and data base contents, can be protected by trade secret law, as long as they’re not publicly disclosed and reasonable steps have been taken to keep them confidential.
How is the protection implemented?
You must protect your IP rights at an early stage. Failure to do so means you’re in danger of losing your legal rights. You should register your trademark as soon as possible. You should also register your domain name, using one which reflects your business name or trademark.
You should take steps to register your domain name as a trademark as well. In doing this, you will strengthen your power against anyone who attempts to use the domain name to market similar services or products. It also prevents anyone else from registering the same name as their own trademark. In addition, you must register your website and any copyright material at the national copyright office.
Guard your trade secrets
Ensure that anyone who might learn your confidential business information – including staff, contractors, internet providers and website hosts – signs a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement. It’s worth considering taking out an IP insurance policy so that your legal costs would be covered if anyone infringed your copyright.
To deter potential infringements, make it known on your website that you will prosecute anyone who breaches your copyright. Make it clear that all your content is protected. A lot of people simply presume material on websites can be freely used anywhere. Make it plain this isn’t the case.
Make sure your trademark carries a copyright symbol, the copyright owner’s name and the year when it was first published to alert visitors to the site that all the material is copyright-protected. It’s possible to use watermarks to embed copyright details into the digital content. For example, watermark a music file with music samples which encode the ownership details.
It’s not necessary legally to register a trademark to obtain copyright protection. However, doing so may give you a better chance of enforcing your rights.
Digital time stamping
A time stamp is a label which can be attached to digital content. It proves the content’s state at any given time. A digital timestamp will give you legal evidence that the content of your website existed at a certain point in time. It certifies that the content has not changed since that time. The procedure maintains privacy of your actual documents. This provides simple, independent and secure proof of your electronic records.
Control access to your website’s content
It is possible to use technological protection to limit public access to your website’s content. For example, access can be granted only to visitors who accept specified conditions about the use of the content, or who have paid for its use.
Techniques often used include online agreements to grant visitors a limited licence to use your website’s content. In addition, encryption can be used – software products and audiovisual works can include encryption, safeguarding them from unlicensed use. When a content file is downloaded by a customer, the software contacts a clearing-house, which arranges payment. Then, the file is decrypted and is assigned a “key” – which can be a password – which enables the customer to access the content.
Systems such as this can check the user’s identity, the content files’ identities and also the access privileges that the user has for the file, such as reading or altering it. You can make a document viewable only for a limited time, for example. In the case of images, you can post pictures on your website with enough detail to view them, but of insufficient quality to copy or reproduce them elsewhere, to counteract potential misuse.
Who owns your website’s IP rights?
Typically, a website is made up of components owned by different people or companies. For example, the navigation software rights may be owned by one company. Another may own copyright of the photographs, text and graphics. It’s not always necessary for your business to own all the IP rights for every element of your website. However, it’s important that you know what exactly you own and your rights to use the other elements which you don’t necessarily own.
What happens if you pay someone else to develop your website?
If you have paid another person to develop your website, it’s important that you know who owns the copyright. If the website was developed by your employee, who was specifically employed for this purpose, then normally you, as the employer, would own the website’s copyright. This would be the case unless you agreed otherwise with your employee.
However, many small businesses outsource their website’s creation, content and design to outside contractors. Never assume, as a businessperson running an Ecommerce website, that you automatically own the IP rights if this is the case. It may come as a surprise to learn that independent contractors usually own the IP rights of the works they have created. This is the case even if you have paid for the work. The way round this is to have a written contract clarifying who owns the copyright.
Otherwise, you may find that the independent web developer owns the copyright and IP rights. This could include elements such as GIFs, hyperlinks, JPEGs and text coding. You need a written agreement transferring all these rights to you, or you may find you own nothing except a licence to use your own site.
Unless you take the necessary steps to protect your copyright, you could lose your IP rights. It’s better to be well-prepared before you set up your website, to avoid legal issues later down the line. If in doubt, consult a legal expert who specialises in the internet and Ecommerce websites to address your concerns.