Legal Website Considerations for Exporters

By Jess Collen,New York DEC Member
Collen IP Law

Companies take great pride in their brands and their outward public appearance, and often think about protecting the assets they have on paper – brochures, advertisements, press kits, etc. However, copyrighting the company website is often overlooked, but should not be. Companies which export goods and services are well aware that their image, once placed online, defines them not just in one market but in every market.

Cloning services or software for cloning websites are easily found on the Internet. In fact, there have been instances of copyright infringement lawsuits relating to the copying and re-posting of websites at other locations. How and when does this happen? Well, there have been cases where defendants used over 900 copyrighted images from a Plaintiff’s website, and others where defendants used not only copyrighted photos but also product descriptions from plaintiff’s online members-only catalog.

The rise of website cloning – the act of duplicating a website and directing the copy to display at a separate Internet domain name – and the ease with which such cloning can occur, serves a reminder that websites may and should be copyrighted. A copyright registration is helpful in policing one’s website and is necessary in order for U.S.-based authors to sue possible infringers.

The good news is that most other countries do not require registration in their nations as a prerequisite to taking legal action. This is in sharp contrast to other laws, such as trademark law, where registration is NOT mandatory to challenge an infringer in the USA, but NO LEGAL ACTION can be taken against an infringement of your trademark in most countries unless you have previously obtained a registration IN THAT COUNTRY to protect your name or trademark.

A website’s text and pictures may be copyrighted as well as the compilation and/or arrangement. Video and/or sound recordings (such as background music), should also be copyrighted separately since they could be easily lifted individually and often have their own independent worth. An applicant should also be aware that if a deposit for registration for a copyright includes “screen shots” of the website, but does not include the contents of the videos or the background music, then the videos or the background music aren’t part of the website registration.

For those who hire designers to create their websites, make sure that there are proper contracts in place to ensure that you will own the copyright and that the resulting website is not infringing on anyone else’s work.