<%response.buffer=true%> <% yere = year(date()) Response.Expires = 0 %> Intro: Writing For The Web
< Laws As Applied to the Web >

Web Law

" This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice." Oliver Wendell

The Web Makes Things Easy, Perhaps Too Easy: The format of HTML provides quick and easy access to information and images. This also means quick and easy access to copying other people's work!

The Inevitable Disclaimer: Legal information on this website, and perhaps any other, does not constitute sound legal advice. That is what lawyers are for. And that is why people hate them!

Before We Begin, One Simple Rule: The easiest way to stay clear of legal trouble as described is:

  • Only use work that belongs to you

While this may seem restrictive, we will be discussing content generation alternatives below, and later in class.

Reading Your Rights: Intellectual Property refers to the ownership of the expression of ideas or information, not the ideas themselves.

Intellectual Property laws refer to the legal rights regarding people's creations or inventions. These rights include:

Legal Arena Rights Application
Copyright © Exclusive rights to reproduce, publish or re-use an original work Dramatic, literary, musical or artistic works
Trademark ™ A trademark is any word, name or symbol used in commerce to identify the goods of a manufacturer or seller of goods. In short, a trademark is a brand name. Company names, website domains, corporate slogans
Servicemark sm A service mark is any word, name or symbol used in commerce to identify the services of a provider. Company names, website domains, corporate slogans

These laws are designed to balance between rewarding exclusive rights to the creator of a work, and promoting the free flow of ideas, which facilitate further creation.


John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater RevivalThe Right To Copy: As creator of an original work, you possess the sole rights to reproduce, publish and re-use it.

Copyright in North America is automatically conferred upon the creator of an original work. The use of © is not required to assert rights.

The work must exist in material form. The form could be a recording, film, printed text or image of your work.

Once it is in material form, it is best to register your copyright with the Federal Copyright Office, which will help if your copyright is ever contested. Copyright Office

Copyright can be transferred to another party. Notable musicians, including John Fogerty and Prince have run afoul of copyright ownership issues: Fogerty Vs. Fantasy

Facts and ideas are not subject to copyright protection. I can't copyright that Kennedy was the 35th president of the US, nor can I copyright the result when you get peanut butter in my chocolate! 10 Copyright Myths 2nd DaVinci Code Suit

Weird Al Yankovic, King of Parody

Fair Use: Even if a copyright applies to a work, there are cases where parts of the work can be reproduced, under the Fair Use Laws:

  • excerpts in critical review
  • excerpts in a scholarly work
  • use in parody
  • use by teacher or student to illustrate a lesson
  • legislative or judicial proceedings

Plagiarism: When we pass off work, in whole or in part from another without crediting that person, that is called Plagiarism.

In sum, to avoid plagiarism:

  1. Provide a note for any idea borrowed from another.
  2. Place quoted material within quotation marks.
  3. Provide a bibliography entry at the end of the book for every source.

As a rule of thumb, a piece of information that occurs in five or more sources may be considered general knowledge. Proverbs, and sayings of unknown origins, are also considered general knowledge and do not have to be documented. The following are situations where we should credit another source

  • Any idea derived from a known source.
  • Any fact or data borrowed from the work of another.
  • Any especially clever or apt expression, whether or not it says something new, that is taken from the work of another.
  • Any material lifted verbatim from the work of another.
  • Any information that is paraphrased or summarized.

Plaigiarism Vs. Research

Using copyrighted material that does not fall into one of the fair use categories, and without permission of the copyright holder is called Copyright Infringement, which is in violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act

Copyrights & Websites: Copyright law as applied to web sites and web content pose their own particular issues, for example, my website needs to be copyrighted on a fixed media, like a CD, not JUST on a web server: Copyright on the Internet

Copyright Exceptions: Employees and contractors of a company who create works under a 'work-for-hire' clause forfeit their rights and the employer owns the copyright. work-for-hire

Derivative Works: A work that is based on another person's creation is called a derivative work. The derived work could damage the marketability or reputation of the original. Derivative Works

Public Domain: The "Public Domain" refers to created materials which either do not by law get copyright protection or their protection under the law has lapsed. Materials in the public domain do not have copyright protections and thus you do not need permission to It's A Wonderful Lifeuse them.

Copyrights currently last the life of the creator, plus about 70 years. Copyrights can be transferred, licensed or assigned to others. Copyright laws continue to go through changes, however.

Ever wonder why 'It's A Wonderful Life' is seen so many times at Christmas? It's copyright was accidentally allowed to lapse in 1974. There are many 'gems' available for use in the public domain, but there are pitfalls for the unwary: Scouring The Public Domain

Creative Commons: Many artists and creators of copyright protected work find that all out copyright hinders them from gaining exposure and widespread distribution.

The Creative Commons is a non-profit website allowing artists to convey copy, distribution and performance rights to others. These rights are subject to specific restrictions, but allow much greater distribution to copyright holders. We can use the Creative Commons both in widening our audience, and in procuring content. Creative Commons

Jabberwocky, a good pic for a kid!An Image Worth A Thousand Words: Having compelling images on a website is vital. Remember when you were a kid? What did you think of the books that had no good pictures?

Royalty-free Images: For people who need images at low cost, the stock photo industry offers images that are sold repeatedly, and no one can purchase exclusive rights to them. A great place to get royalty-free images is IStockPhoto

Rights-managed Images: are governed by contracts that define how an image may be used.

Designers who want to make sure a particular image won't be used by a competitor, for example, will want to invest in a rights-managed image. These images are often more expensive and contain more complex agreements.


Identifying Yourself: When you work with the public, you need to identify yourself. If you decide to start a business, you may need to find a suitable company name. How do I know if I can use a particular name?

Company Name: To start a business, you contact the Secretary Of State for the particular state in which you live. You can select a business name, and do a state wide search to determine if the name of the company is available.

This will not protect you, if you intend to do business out of state! To help protect yourself, you will likely want to consider registering a Servicemark, and also get a domain name that helps establish your company name in a worldwide market.

You would think that if you thought of the name first, it would be rightfully yours! Alas, this is not the case! Most of these cases are settled out of court by the company that has the most to lose!

Almost Heaven, Shenandoah: Having the same company name in a local area is one thing, but it can become a big Shenandoah River, not the band!issue, once you hit the 'big time'.

One example was a country band named Diamond Rio. Opon signing with Columbia records, they changed their name to Shenandoah, and upon release of their record, found out there were other bands with that name.

Once the out of court settlements were arranged, the band was half a million in the hole, but they had their name!

Afterward, another band became famous using their old moniker, Diamond Rio, to which they still held the rights.

What did they do? They let the other band use the name, free!

Trademark or Servicemark?: Trademark pertains to goods, and Servicemark pertains to services. Normally, a mark for goods appears on the product or on its packaging, while a service mark appears in advertising for the services.

In both cases, one of the applicable concerns is customer confusion. The idea is that 2 companies can't use the same identifier, since a customer may not be able to determine which company with which they are working.

The Not-So-Big AppleHowever, if the 2 companies do not work in the same field of endeavor, the concern about customer confusion lessens. Many companies carry elements of the same company name, but either work in entirely different industries, or parts of the country.

Sometimes even big companies run afoul of these laws, as recent legal activity can attest: Sour Apples

Registration: Since the web allows companies to 'reach' customers in much further areas, it may make sense to register your Trademark or Servicemark. You can register your company's name, etc. with the US government, who will search to be certain your company can claim rights to the name, nationwide. Once this is done, you can change your or sm to ®, but NOT before! Trademark FAQ

Domain Name: Having a unique domain name does not guarantee you will be able to use your company name, but it certainly doesn't hurt!

Example: Suppose you thought of a great company name: Joe's Great Candies.

You do a company search in your State to see if the name is available. It is!

You go to a Domain Name Registar, such as Dotster, to determine if anyone is using variations of your company name as domain names. They aren't!!

Since no one is using variations of your proposed company name, you decide to register the following URLs:

  • joesgreatcandies.com
  • joesgreatcandies.org
  • joesgreatcandies.biz

Next, you incorporate a business with the Secretary Of State.

Last, you file the paperwork to register your company name with the Federal Government. You begin selling candy, using Joe's Great Candies , until the registration is complete.

Cybersquatting: Let's think of the obverse. Imagine you have had a company for years, and you find out your competition has registered all the domain names for your company name?

Squatters referred to people who lived on a piece of land in the old west until the land was legally theirs. Cybersquatting is registering domain names to profit from, or defame others.

Thanks to Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999 (Yes, you heard right) and the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, it is no longer legal to register a domain name 'in bad faith', meaning to blackmail or extort another.

Additional Web Law Advice: While nothing beats a lawyer (except perhaps another, higher priced one) Here are a few resources to get you started:


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