Internet Law 101, Part 2

Continuing our exploration of the latest in Internet law basics, let’s explore more legal areas you should keep up to date with. We’ll look at copyrighting your Web site content, Web agreements, privacy policy issues, and domain issues including cybersquatting.

Copyright Your Content

So you spent how much time and money working on your Web site and generating quality content? Why not protect your investment with content that is now copyrightable?

Does it make sense to register a copyright? If your content is unique to you and your business, or is a source of your competitive advantage, then you should consider it.

True, you technically have an existing copyright from the moment you create your work and publish it. But did you know that you can’t bring a lawsuit to enforce that copyright without first registering it?

You can’t take advantage of powerful remedies against infringers if you hesitate too long. This includes an award of your attorney’s fees and up to $150,000 in statutory damages for every instance of willful infringement, regardless if you can prove any monetary damages.

We all know how easy it is to swipe content, or sometimes software code, from a Web site. As soon as you publish your Web site or blog, it’s available for others to grab.

The sooner you register a copyright, the better. And even if you don’t register the copyright, you should at least provide notice of your ownership of the copyright in the footer of your Web site (for example, “Copyright © 2009 Your Company, Inc.”). Providing this notice removes a potential “innocent infringer” defense that an infringer may try to use in the future.

The process to apply for a copyright registration isn’t as costly or time consuming as you might think. However, depending on your line of business or industry, some registrations might take longer than others.

You can file your copyright online and get a reduced filing fee with the federal government. Start by visiting the Copyright Office’s Web site for details. If you have a large site, a database-driven Web site, or other complicated media (like an online game), you may want assistance from a law firm that specializes in Internet law.

Web Agreements and Terms of Use

Once people visit your Web site or blog, you establish a relationship with them, even if they don’t purchase or download anything. It’s a good policy to set the right expectations up front. Always be clear with your visitors about any terms or end-user terms and conditions agreements. Make sure this information is clearly accessible.

Terms and conditions agreements are especially important to Internet and wireless companies that sell products or distribute content. Firms regularly waste thousands of dollars by forgoing terms and conditions agreements or generating poorly drafted agreements.

If you sell products on your Web site, you’re required to post terms under California law. Also, when you visit a Web site that has terms and conditions, the terms form a binding agreement between the Web site and the customer. So, it’s important that you draft your Web site agreements carefully, and get the assistance of Internet law counsel if you have a high traffic Web site with significant revenues.

Privacy Policies

If your site collects information about its visitors, you absolutely need a privacy policy. Regulations governing consumer privacy issues increase every year. The longer you procrastinate on establishing a privacy policy, the more risk you take upon yourself.

A good privacy policy covers more than just an explanation of information a business collects. It also covers what it does with that information. Increasingly, visitors expect to see a privacy policy on your Web site to help define how information is gathered, when and with whom it is shared, and how customers interact with it.

How to protect that information is a critical factor. If your Web site is in the business of health care, financial or child-oriented companies, or has business with oversea customers, then there is more regulation to govern the proper use of online information.

Domain Issues

Where were you during the early “gold rush” days of the Internet? Were you registering all kinds of domain names for future use?

Well, today there are several types of domain name disputes. These include cybersquatting, typosquatting, domain name theft (i.e., domain hijacking), and domain transfer fraud.

If you’re a victim of one of these, you have two options for filing complaints if someone has infringed on your trademark, business name, or personal name (if your personal name constitutes a trademark):

  • ICANN’s Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP): This is done under its arbitration procedures with the end result having the domain transferred to you. When you register a domain, the individual or business who registers the domain submits to a mandatory arbitration if a dispute ever arises. This option is substantially cheaper than federal litigation. Also ICANN arbitration is usually quicker, even within 60 days.
  • Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA): In addition to transfer of disputed domains, trademark owners can also go after monetary damages. You may want to pursue this course if you’ve suffered a substantial financial loss as a result of domain cybersquatting. Also, a plaintiff can obtain statutory damages between $1,000 and $100,000 for each violation of this statute. You don’t need a registered trademark to file an arbitration complaint or a complaint under the ACPA. You can proceed simply with a common law trademark, which you obtain by using your unique business name or product name in commerce exclusively.

These are just the basics of Internet law — just enough for you to understand what’s out there and how you should protect yourself. You can do things on your own, but it’s always good to find an attorney who specializes in Internet law. It’s worth it in the long run.

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