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 August 1, 1999

Copyright law keeps competitors at bay

You’ve just paid a Web designer thousands of dollars to design a killer Web site for your company, with graphics so fabulous that Internet surfers will want to visit again and again.

But how do you keep your competitor from copying your graphics and other proprietary material?

The answer is copyright law.

Copyrighting, which traditionally applies to printed materials, can be used on the Internet as well. Scott Allison, an attorney with Boulder law firm Chrisman Bynum & Johnson, says a Web site’s content, including words, images and graphics, is all protected under copyright law.

Even the code used to generate the site can be protected, because it contributes to the look and feel of the site.

American copyrights are administered through the U.S. Copyright Office. You don’t have to register your material to get copyright protection, but it’s required if you want to sue for copyright infringement.

Allison says although it’s pretty easy to register a copyright — you fill out a two-page form and pay about $20 — the process can take three to nine months.

This is a problem in the fast-changing Internet world. It means every time you change your Web site, you have to register a new copyright.

The other problem is that because of the wide span of the Internet, it’s difficult to police copyright violations.

“The digital age makes everything easy to reproduce and distribute,” Allison points out.

For instance, you may never find that someone’s lifted your copyrighted material for his or her own Web site if the site doesn’t show up on a search engine. Also, if the site originates in a foreign country, particularly in Asia or Latin America, local laws may not protect a U.S. copyright.

The bottom line, Allison says, “is there anything so valuable on your site that you want to go after someone?”

There are, however, some ways to protect yourself without actually having to sue someone.

Celia Rankin, an attorney with the Boulder office of Davis Graham & Stubbs, says the first thing to do is to post on your Web site that the material is copyrighted. Then, use technological techniques to help prevent downloading of graphics, words or code.

Post your terms and conditions “in an up-front and conspicuous place,” Rankin says. Terms can include restrictions such as that graphics can’t be downloaded to another Web site without permission. This is also the place to list your criteria as to who can and can’t link to your site.

“Print the terms of the agreement and set it up so that the person has to click on it to agree,” Rankin says. “That makes it legally enforceable.”

You’ve just paid a Web designer thousands of dollars to design a killer Web site for your company, with graphics so fabulous that Internet surfers will want to visit again and again.

But how do you keep your competitor from copying your graphics and other proprietary material?

The answer is copyright law.

Copyrighting, which traditionally applies to printed materials, can be used on the Internet as well. Scott Allison, an attorney with Boulder law firm Chrisman Bynum & Johnson, says a Web site’s content, including words, images and…

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