The Internet and social media have become incredible assets to entrepreneurs; you can reach a broader audience, market your goods and services in new and innovative ways, and this transformative medium has created a market of its own for techies and programmers to design web-based apps, software, widgets, cloud configurations, and a plethora of other online tools. Like a pioneering pharmaceutical, the effects aren’t truly known until it’s been tested for some time. With the introduction of the internet, new laws are being enforced but many guidelines still may seem a little unclear. Like most businesses, it’s important to know what you can and cannot do online to protect your company and to make sure you aren’t infringing on another’s property.

The Internet makes life so much easier when you can right click on your mouse and copy and paste images, logos, and pictures into a document. The problem is that as soon as a sentence is written, the finishing touches are put on a logo, you view a picture in your camera, or establish a new html, vrml, other unique markup language sequence, these items are protected by copyright. Unless otherwise noted as “public domain,” “freeware,” or the copyright has expired (which means the life of the creator + 70 years), play it safe and avoid another’s intellectual property.

Now since most businesses (large and small) have a website, there are some important guidelines to focus on when you construct yours. You may like or want to imitate an existing webpage, but all links, original text, audio, video, graphics, and overall page design are the property of the person or company that owns the original domain. You also can’t site someone else’s e-mail address or list their resources as your own.

However, this can get confusing as a business owner who sells goods. For example, you may sell specific brands of clothing or a certain celebrity may have given a raving review about your product. What then? Play it safe and ask the company or person for permission.

However, there is the Fair Use Act which allows a third party to use another’s work if it falls under the following guidelines: “ 1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; 2) the nature of the copyrighted work; 3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and 4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”  A court judge will determine if the usage falls in these categories since they are obviously subject to opinion.

Copyright laws are complicated and even more so when pertaining to the ever-changing cyber world. Finding the right copyright lawyer who can not only decipher if your online content is within the law but who can also protect your internet property can be invaluable.

About the author

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Christina Morales

Christina helps provide useful business and legal tips on UpCounsel for our customers and visitors. Having over a decade of writing experience in a variety of industries, she has also been very close to the legal space from a young age with family members who continue to practice business and tax law.

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