Does Intellectual Property Law Apply to the Internet?
June 28, 2013
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The Internet has permanently changed society.
With the constant evolution of technology, the Web has made information constantly accessible. However, this information comes from specific sources and creators. As a Web Design and Development student, you must know what rights these creators have.
Especially in regard to creative property, you must be conscious of what you produce on the Internet – and what you take from it.
Creative property includes writing, music, drawings, paintings, photography and film. Traditionally, it was easy to protect this work. Copying was exhaustive and stealing was difficult. Even if someone successfully duplicated a painting or copied a book, it was not for profit – and it was typically an isolated event.
Today – thanks to the Internet – stealing is much more mainstream. Interparty argues that “users of the Internet have been conditioned to believe that everything is free.” Creative property is openly available to users. Content can be viewed, copied, shared or downloaded. Yet, some of this copying is illegal. Whether or not users are conscious of the Intellectual Property Laws, they are committing a crime when they copy protected material. The illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted materials has, to date, had a hugely disruptive effect on a range of copyrighted industries, including music, film, television, publishing, games and software, according to the International Telecommunication Union.
Intellectual Property Law does apply to materials produced on the Internet. First, you must understand the laws:
Intellectual Property Laws include copyright, trademark and patent laws. Each category has its own set of rules. However, when you are asking to use creative works, you are typically dealing with copyright law. This depends on the type of work you are asking to use – and, what state you live in (as some states have stricter Intellectual Property Laws than others).
Below are all of the Intellectual Property Laws that, depending on the context, may be applicable to digital media. Use the short overviews to familiarize yourself with the laws and your rights:
- Copyright: Pertains to original creative work, including paintings, writings, architecture, movies, software, photography, dance and music. The creative work must meet certain minimum requirements to qualify for federal copyright protection. Federal law determines how long the creative work is protected by copyright – based on when the work was first created or published.
- Trademark: Pertains to brand names, logos, slogans and any device that identifies or distinguishes a product or service. Trademarks receive different degrees of protection from the federal and state level depending on numerous variables, including consumer awareness, type of service, product identity and geographic area.
- Right of Publicity: Pertains to the image and name of an individual. Protected by a patchwork of state laws, the right to publicity ensures that a person’s name or photograph cannot be used for commercial purposes without their awareness and authorization. The level of protection varies from state to state.
- Trade Secrets: Pertains to sensitive business information, especially in regards to how this information may give a business an unfair advantage over competitors.
- Right of Privacy: Pertains to the individual right of all citizens to be left alone. Although it is not technically an Intellectual Property Law, the Right of Privacy may loosely apply to blogs – especially in regards to public figures. Unless given permission, do not publish or re-publish online content that intrudes on another, exposes private facts about another or falsely accuses another.
Now that you understand what types of work fall under which permission laws, it is important for you to understand how you can design websites that abide by and advocate for these laws. Review Interplay’s tips for constructing websites:
9 Ways to Establish Your Rights Online
1. Trademark and patent everything you can, as permitted by law. If you are borrowing materials from another source – even if it is an online source – check for copyright information. Cite accordingly.
2. Look for ways to protect your property on an international scale, not just local or federal.
3. Research and understand all the rights and obligations that pertain to your intellectual property.
4. Familiarize yourself with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Internet treaties.
5. As a Website designer or developer, make sure to use all available insignia to mark your content as copyrighted, trademarked or registered.
6. Clearly label your site. State that all property is protected and any use of the content, without appropriate permission, can lead to prosecution. Also label each page of your website at the bottom, using the word “Copyright” and including the appropriate dates.
7. If someone infringes on your rights, proactively pursue offenders.
8. When constructing the website, use digital intellectual property programs that allow you to encode copyright markers – such as watermarks.
9. File a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), if necessary. This policy may stop others from using a similar domain name – which could violate or infringe upon your trademark. It could also cause confusion regarding your brand and other products.
If Intellectual Property Laws continue to be disrespected, it is possible that creative industries may suffer irreversible damage. As a student, you can learn how to legally share creative property. Make it a habit today – and you will not have to worry about engaging in illegal Internet activity (either consciously or unconsciously) as a professional.