Protecting your IP online

Trading on the internet gives you access to a global market. However, trading online comes with risks. It means your intellectual property (IP) can potentially be infringed by users anywhere in the world.

You can protect your IP by taking measures to discourage its misuse. For example, you can include a section on your website that states the terms and conditions for use of your material. An example is a notice at the beginning or end of each web page stating that information can only be used if proper acknowledgement is given.

You should also recognise any IP you use but do not own, such as copyright permission notices.

Tools are available to protect your content on the internet. One example is to use a 'watermark' for your images in order to identify the copyright owner, their country of origin and the permitted uses of the images.

When your IP rights are infringed over the internet, the extent of infringement 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

While a registered trade mark can protect the branding elements on your website, it does not entitle you to a domain name. Domain names are distinctive names chosen to identify internet web pages and email addresses.

For more information you can learn about the differences between trade marks, business and domain names.

New generic top-level domains

A generic top-level domain (gTLD) is an internet domain name extension, such as .com or .net. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is the international body responsible for the coordination of the global Domain Name System.

There are currently 22 gTLDs. However, the list is set to expand to hundreds including many brands and business names. A list of the gTLD strings that have been applied for is available.

If you think someone has applied for a gTLD that represents your brand or trade mark, you can file an objection.

Disclaimers and important notices

Web users may visit particular pages on your website directly. This can happen as a result of a web search or favourite pages. If disclaimers and other notices only appear on the homepage, they may be circumvented.

If possible, you should include disclaimers and other notices at the commencement of each section or link to such notices from the footer of each page.

Be vigilant

When enforcing your IP rights online, 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 on 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

As the internet changes rapidly, it is important to keep informed about measures that protect content.

Regularly checking 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: 
4 March 2016