Protecting your IP online
When you trade on the internet you effectively have a global business, because anyone anywhere can access your website. The internet provides access to almost unlimited information.
Before you begin to offer your product or services online, you should be aware that as your customer reach expands, your intellectual property may become more valuable and your IP can be infringed by users anywhere in the world.
You can protect your IP by taking measures to discourage misuse.
For example, you can include a section on your website that specifically states the terms and conditions for use of your material. This can take the form of a clearly visible notice at the beginning or end of a document, stating that information can only be used if proper acknowledgement is given.
You should also recognise any IP you use but do not own, i.e. copyright permission notices.
Tools are available to protect your content on the internet. For example, you can 'watermark' an image, identifying the copyright owners, its country of origin and the permitted uses of the image.
When your IP rights are infringed over the internet, the extent of infringement by (usually) an individual infringer may not justify the cost of bringing infringement proceedings. Users of the internet are unlikely to be pursued for downloading infringing copies of material.
Trade marks and domain names
In Australia, a registered trade mark can be used on the internet to protect the branding elements on your website. This protection is available under the Trade Marks Act 1995.
A registered trade mark does not entitle you to a domain name of the same name. Domain names are distinctive names chosen to identify internet web pages and email addresses.
Disclaimers and important notices
There are tools that direct people browsing the internet to particular pages of a website. This means that disclaimers and other notices may be circumvented and the revenue and liability of your business may be compromised.
If possible, the disclaimer and other notices should be included at the commencement of each section, or a link to such notices included at the foot of each page.
Be vigilant - check for infringement
When enforcing your IP rights in cyberspace it can be difficult to identify infringers or infringing websites outside Australia. If your website allows you to sell products into overseas markets you need to ensure that your product or trade mark is not infringing any existing IP in those markets.
Failure to undertake this check could result in legal action against you. Different countries also have different legal systems, which further complicates enforcement.
The most useful approach is to visit related websites and be vigilant about the way others use your material.
Keep up to date
The internet is constantly and rapidly changing. It is important to keep informed of developments, particularly technological measures that protect content.
Regular surfing of related sites and remaining vigilant about the uses to which others put your material will help you enforce your rights and fulfil the commercial potential offered by the internet.
Last Updated: 10/1/2013