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What Material Can I Legally Use on My Website?

When creating a website, accidentally infringing upon copyright and trademark laws should be of utmost concern. Being worried about infringements is understandable, as they can incur hefty legal penalties. But copyright and trademark laws cover so much these days, it can be difficult to know what you can legally include on your website without finding yourself in hot water.

How To Prevent Copyright Infringement

Copyright is a category of intellectual property that protects the rights of creators who claim work as their own. For intellectual property to be covered by copyright law, it must be in tangible form. Essentially, as soon as a piece of work can be seen, read, or heard, it’s covered by copyright law. This means that you cannot:

  • Distribute or perform the work of others

  • Reproduce copyrighted work

  • Display copyrighted work

  • Closely derive other works from copyrighted work

The spectrum for copyright is broad, and any use of copyrighted work without permission from the creator or owner is considered an infringement. Furthermore, all too often, the copyright lines can be blurry, particularly when it comes to what constitutes a derivative of copyrighted materials. Such issues regularly lead website owners to have cause for concern when it comes to what they can put on their website. There is no sure-fire way to ensure a website owner won’t accidentally infringe on copyright, but there are some steps you can follow to avoid doing so.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, don’t use work that you didn’t create or that isn’t absolutely, to the extent of your knowledge, original. If you do use material created by someone else, you need to expressly obtain permission. Bear in mind, it doesn’t matter if there is or is not a copyrighted symbol, simply do not use work you didn’t create yourself. Remember, anything you find online will most likely be protected by copyright if anyone other than you created it.

Additionally, as a website owner, you should have a good understanding of copyright law in general. Namely, copyright law should not be confused with laws that protect other mediums of intellectual property, such as trademarks or patents. Unfortunately, copyright is much easier to violate than other mediums.

How to Prevent Trademark Infringement

Trademarks are also a form of intellectual property, but they’re a little bit more difficult to obtain than copyrights are, as you do have to legally register for a trademark. Trademarks are usually associated with logos or business names, but they also cover slogans, website domains, or even colors associated with a particular business. Once again, due to the somewhat blurry lines of Trademark law, infringements can be accidental. Unfortunately, unlike under the protection of the DMCA , trademark infringements cannot be claimed to be a mistake.

Under trademark law, your business can’t replicate or closely resemble another business’s trademarked logo, colors, domain name, or slogan. The basis of this law is to prevent consumers from becoming confused or wrongfully associating one business with another.

The easiest way to avoid infringing on a trademark is to thoroughly research the competition before you finalize any sort of logo, slogan, or other branding materials. Your best bet is to check whether or not your business name or logo is already trademarked with the United States Patent and Trademarks Office.

Of course, if you don’t find anything that gives you cause for concern, your next step should be to trademark your own business name, logo, or slogan. If a dispute were to arise in the future and you can provide a trademark date that preceded the date of the competitive company’s trademark, you’re likely to win the dispute. Make sure to keep records of all trademarking documentation. This can help not only if a new company sues you, but also if you end up having to sue another company for infringing upon your trademark rights.

Knowing what you can safely and legally include as content on your own website can be confusing. It’s all too common to accidentally infringe upon the rights of others, and although accidents happen, it’s always a good idea to avoid legal trouble. The best way to protect yourself from copyright and trademark disputes is to seek legal counsel. At Emerald Law, we have extensive experience counseling website and business owners as to their rights and can help you take necessary action to protect yourself and your company.


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