In today's business climate, marketing consists of more than radio and television advertising. Having a presence online is one of the best ways to drum up new business and get the word out about products and services. To capitalize on this opportunity, entrepreneurs are making use of websites, blogs and social media platforms.
All of these efforts are a great way to attract new customers and deepen connections with existing ones. The trouble is that putting all of that content "out there" can put intellectual property at risk. It's only too easy for competitors to misuse content that is protected by copyright or trademark. Accordingly, it's important to take steps to protect intellectual property online.
Getting government-backed protection is one of the best ways to do this. For online content, this typically means seeking registration of copyrights and trademarks. In the case of copyrights this is a relatively easy process. U.S. law states that anything that is put down in tangible form is automatically copyrighted. Thus, any blog post or website content is automatically protected. This grants the owner the right to ask others not to use copyrighted content. However, the copyright owner can also register content with the U.S. Copyright Office. A simple online form is all that is required to begin. Once content is registered, the owner has additional protection. This includes the ability to sue for damages if another party misuses their content.
Gaining Trademark Protection
Gaining trademark protection requires more effort, but it's important for companies to register their various trademarks. This may include the company's name, logo and the names of products. Trademark registration grants the owner rights for the use of the mark for specific goods and services. Accordingly, they can object to or prevent others from using the same mark for similar goods and services. This may include litigation for trademark infringement.
All content that is protected by copyright or trademark should be marked as such when it is used online. For instance, the bottom of each page on a company's website should include the © logo with the name of the owner and the date of creation. Similarly, any time that a registered trademark appears on a website, in a blog post or in social media it should be accompanied with the ® if it is registered or a TM if it is not. Consistent marking of protected content puts others on notice of the owner's rights, suggesting that the content cannot be reused by others without express permission.
It's advisable for companies to devote a page of their website to a permissions policy. This policy explicitly outlines what others are allowed to do with content on the website and what they are prohibited from doing. Moreover, it's possible to craft a policy that allows others to use content for certain purposes as long as they ask the owner's permission before doing so. It's helpful if the permissions policy page includes instructions for how to request permission to use content. With the instructions clearly spelled out there's really no excuse for not asking the owner to use content.
Because it's impossible for entrepreneurs to be everywhere at once and to be aware of every time they are mentioned online, it's a good idea to set up a tool like Google Alerts that informs the owner whenever a mention is made online of certain key terms. These terms can include trademarks and brand names so that it is possible to monitor their online use. After reviewing the use, the owner can determine whether or not the use may be an infringement on their rights.
Best to Tread Lightly
If an owner believes that their rights are being infringed, it's almost always best to tread lightly. A polite but firm email or letter informing the unauthorized user that they are infringing on protected rights usually gets the job done. Most people aren't aware that such rights exist or that they are infringing when they grab a blog post or a photo to post on their own website. Usually, a written notification is all that's required to fix the situation.
If the infringing user doesn't respond and doesn't remove the offending content, then it may be worthwhile to notify the hosting service for the website. Most hosting services have strict guidelines and work to enforce copyright and trademark rights. They can take down a website if all else fails.
Lawsuits are a Last Resort
Lawsuits are a last resort when it comes to protecting intellectual property online. In most cases, obtaining the proper protection and putting others on notice is sufficient to avoid issues. Since most infringing use is unintentional, a word to the right person is usually enough to correct the situation. Fear of infringement is no reason to avoid an online presence. Instead, it is an opportunity for the company to gain control of their online reputation.
By Andre Bradley