Intellectual Property On The Internet

Top Ten Things to Remember

1: Copyright protection applies to the Internet and extends to different mediums.

Protection can extend to written text, images, sound, and computer software on the Internet.  A copyright automatically attaches to a work when it's created.  Although copyright law applies to the Internet, how it applies in various specific situations is still evolving.  Courts still haven't drawn the legal line on numerous important issues. So, it's important that you consult your company's law department if you encounter any issues relating to copyright protection on the Internet.

2: When an employee creates a work as part of his job responsibilities, the work's copyright generally belongs to his employer.

This arrangement can be altered if the employer agrees in a signed, written document that the employee retains his copyright in these works.  If an independent contractor creates a work for a client, the independent contractor, not the client, owns the copyright unless the issue is previously addressed in an agreement.  In the Internet context, only the copyright owner of original website material can make a claim of copyright infringement.

3: Though "fair use" can excuse unauthorized use of copyrighted works in some circumstances, the legal scope of this doctrine relating to the Internet still isn't defined.

An example of "fair use" is quoting passages from literature in articles.  "Fair use" isn't clearly defined yet in the Internet context.  Since most information placed on the Internet is formatted and intended for use by a website user in some manner, one view is that copyright holders should know that temporary storage of information on a computer occurs when someone reads website content.  Such typical use, including downloading, is fair use.  However, it's unclear whether copyright holders must also expect copyrighted information from the Internet to be saved permanently on a disk or printed.

4: At present, hyperlinking doesn't appear to constitute copyright infringement though it may raise trademark concerns.

The law is unsettled, but currently it seams that hyperlinking isn't copyright infringement, mostly because linking websites doesn't appear to infringe a copyright owner's exclusive rights.  But hyperlinking can create potential trademark problems, because the hyperlinks frequently contain the names of Web pages that include company trademarks.  A trademark owner could object to a deep link to its website if the link bypasses the site's front-page advertising. Such links could drastically reduce the owner's ad revenues.  Also, the owner could object if the link places his company in a negative light.

5: It's unclear whether framing constitutes copyright infringement.

Framing allows Internet users to see one website through another without disconnecting from the website that established the link.  Through framing, website material can be modified in look, perhaps making it difficult or impossible to view the second site's ads.  Denying the viewing of ads at the second site could also deny website owners of potential revenue.  Modifying the second site's information or appearance without permission could result in a copyright claim because the user is violating an exclusive right to create derivative works.  The law is unsettled on how to deal with these issues.

6: Trademarks are commonly misused on the Internet.

Trademarks play a large role in e-commerce.  Consumers often use them as a guide in making purchasing decisions since the Internet lacks the full sensory backdrop of traditional commerce.  People illegally use trademarks on the Internet to try to convince consumers that they are the legitimate trademark owners and to electronically purchase products from them instead of the companies that actually own the trademarks.  Companies using the Internet, therefore, should know how to protect their trademarks and reduce the risk of being accused of illegally using the trademarks of others.

7: Courts are starting to view the misuse of metatags as trademark infringement.

Metatags are data field codes in the computer, and are normally hidden to Internet users.  Search engines use them to prioritize sites for user searches. Because a company's e-commerce success often depends on visitor hits generated through Web searches, websites often attach metatags to their site to attract more visitors.  Some companies embed another company's name in their metatags so that Internet users searching for that company will find them.  Users assume that these websites offer the products they're searching for.  Courts are starting to view this use of metatags as trademark infringement.

8: Beware of cybersquatters.

The typical cybersquatter attempts to extract a fee from a trademark owner in exchange for the rights to a domain name the cybersquatter has registered.  Other cybersquatters attempt to use domain names similar to a trademark-protected name to benefit from confusion between the two and hopefully redirect consumers to their own websites.  This unauthorized registration of marks as domain names has harmed numerous well-known trademark owners who have filed lawsuits to recover their Internet domain names.

9: Business models are subject to patent protection.

New e-commerce business model development has sparked a change in the patent law.  An e-commerce business model is a new approach to a particular business, generally made possible with the aid of sophisticated computer software and access to the Internet.  Previously, such methods weren't seen as patentable.  However, pressure to improve online commercial services and dynamic changes in technology have encouraged reconsideration.  In 1998, a federal court ruled that just like other processes and methods of invention, innovative methods for doing business can be patented.

10: Patent law applies to Internet-related inventions.

Patent law protects inventions, processes, and ornamental designs.  Patents also protect a wide variety of inventions and processes including those of an electrical, mechanical, chemical, or business nature.  Internet-related works protectable by patents include such things as encryption techniques, online payment systems, retrieval technologies, and business processes, among many others.  Patents are not granted for laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas.