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Who owns the content of your website?

Ideally, a website owner should ensure that the website design and the content of the website are assigned to it or licensed to it for the necessary purposes. Failure to do so could mean that the website owner is infringing copyright, trade marks, design rights or registered designs.

All website owners should be vigilant to ensure that, by featuring photographs, video clips, images, logos, trade marks and text on their website, they are not infringing third party rights. Those websites which allow users to post their own contributions are subject to the greatest risk, since they will be unable to control (at least initially) whether third parties’ copyrighted material or trade marks are actually posted on the site.

In very general terms, copyright in drawings, designs and other images will usually belong to the person who has created them or to his/her employer. Rights in film or video clips can belong to a number of different people (depending upon when and where the video or film is made) including the producer and principal director (or their employers), the author of the sound recording and performers. Trade marks will either belong to the person who has registered them at the relevant trade marks registry or (if they are unregistered marks) by the person who has designed them, or his/her employer or licensee.

It will be important, therefore, when using any material on a website which the website owner knows has not been created by him to establish whether he is entitled to do so. Usually, it will be necessary for the website owner to have a licence from the copyright/trade mark owner for such use or (preferably) an assignment of such rights. For example, a photographer might have allowed a company to reproduce his photograph in a company brochure; such permission will not necessarily extend to use of that photograph on the company’s website.

However, in general terms a website user will not be prohibited from using a third party’s trade mark if that use is to bring its services to the attention of customers, is used in accordance with honest practices, the use does not damage the reputation of the trade mark and the use is not designed to make people believe that the website owner is an authorised dealer in the trade mark owner’s goods or services. However, ideally, advice should be taken before featuring any trade marks on a website.

It is also possible for a website owner to infringe copyright or trade marks by using a third party’s trade marks or logos in the metatags on the website in order to divert traffic to the website. Metatags are hidden key words within the HTML code that generates a webpage.

Links from your website to another website also have the potential for causing problems (although this is something of a grey area). Links should ideally be to the homepage of the other website so that it is clear to users that they are leaving your website and entering another site.

Always read the other site’s terms of use, as some websites specifically prohibit linking. Ideally, you should obtain the consent of the other website to link to it. Featuring extracts of other people’s website could also cause difficulties.

Since a website is accessible worldwide, a website owner should also be aware that copyright and other rights issues may arise in respect of laws outside the UK.

Website owners will also want to be reassured that their website does not have the same “look and feel” as those of its competitors, and that the website owner owns the design of the website. Subcontractors, such as website designers, are not the website owner’s employees.

It will, therefore, be important to ensure that a contract is in place with the website designer which deals with the ownership of the rights in the design and the software.

Website owners need to be vigilant concerning the origin of website content. If the website owner or employees of his whose job it is to design website content have not created all of the content, then it is highly likely that the website owner should have either obtained consents, a licence or an assignment of the rights in the various elements of the website.

For more information on protecting website content, please contact Pina Mazzotti on or call 0116 257 6166.

Harvey Ingram LLP is a leading Midlands law firm, with offices in Leicester, Birmingham and Milton Keynes. Our reputation is reflected by our client base, which includes many leading organisations and individuals in the Midlands, the UK and internationally. We combine a longstanding reputation for quality and integrity with an innovative and practical approach, backed by investment in the latest technology. We have built our reputation by developing long term and mutually beneficial relationships with our clients.

We provide a comprehensive range of services to companies and private individuals alike and we are recommended in the Legal 500 for our expertise in sixteen distinct areas of legal service. Our quality of service is underpinned by our ISO 9001 accreditation.

We offer a partner led service, supported by enthusiastic and specialist teams of lawyers. We recognise that our success, and the contribution we make to our clients success, depends on attracting the best people and nurturing their talent, and we recognise and value diversity. We are proud to have been awarded the Investors in People and Positive about Disabled People accreditations.

One of our core objectives is to contribute positively to the community in which we live and work and we are actively involved in a number of community based projects and initiatives throughout the Midlands. We pledge to work with you to find the solutions to your legal requirements and to provide a service which is competitively priced.

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