This is a subject that doesn’t occur to most website owners. Not until they’ve unwittingly done something to attract the attention of a person with a lawyer. Or maybe even after their host has shut their site down.
A fair number of website owners even think they understand the legalities of owning a website. And again are surprised when a sticky situation appears.
You don’t have to go through that headache. So let’s arm you with some information about your website.
This is a subject a lot of people think they know well. But surprisingly, they still find themselves in trouble. There are a lot of myths and misinformation out there.
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, any web host that receives a notice of copyright infringement must take down your site. Then it is up to you to spend the time contesting that, or if you are at fault, making corrections and hoping your host will re-instate you.
Most people understand that anything they create, they can use on their site. But what about images found on other websites? This is where people think they are fine, but get caught.
Are Those Free Images You Found Really Free?
Just because its on the web doesn’t mean its free. Just because a website is offering lots of free graphics also doesn’t mean those are free either. Where did they get those graphics? Were they given written permission to distribute them? Does it say on the website how they acquired the images and what the license for use is? These are the kinds of things to look for to determine if you should use an image or not.
Surprise for the Retail Businesses
Are you a retail business who works with various manufacturers and vendors? Don’t assume you can use their logo or images from their brochures. I’ve run into this situation many times: someone hires me to make a site, then sends me pamphlets with images to use, then I ask them if they have permission to use them, and they respond “I don’t see why not, its free advertising for XYZ Manufacturer.” At that point, I or my client contacts the manufacturer. Much to my client’s surprise, the manufacturer does not, in fact, see use of their logo and product images as “free advertising”. Those businesses often have strict guidelines as to when and how their images can be used. Those businesses have spent large sums of money polishing their image: they don’t want you damaging it by working inconsistently with their branding and marketing efforts. Some of the manufacturers and vendors you work with will have special packages of images you can use on your site. So contact them first before using their logos and other imagery. This principle applies to any organization you work with, including professional organizations. Although you have a business relationship, there is NO implied consent to use another organization’s logos or other content, whether it is written text, imagery, audio, or video.
Stock Photography: Just Because You Bought It Doesn’t Mean “Do Anything You Want With It”
Buying images through a stock photography site? Read the license carefully before downloading the image. Some sites will restrict image size on a website, and use of images such as not allowing the image to be used as a logo. Any time you want to use anything on your site that you did not create or hire someone to make for your site, you must ensure you have a clear right to use that image.
Audio: Just Like Stock Photography
Want audio on your site? That’s copywritten too. And just because you bought it yourself doesn’t mean you can use it. Is it licensed to be use in the manner you are using it?
I have gotten unsolicited email from businesses claiming they are compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act and are therefore not sending me spam. Looking at the email, yes, it met those requirements. However. I never once signed up for that email, nor had I heard of that business before. Therefore, the email is spam. Although by law they are allowed to send the email, this still goes against the policies of ISPs and web hosts around the world. I report those spammers to those hosts, who in turn notify them to cease or be shut down. This is why buying mailing lists is a terrible idea: those people have never heard of you and never gave you explicit permission to contact them, regardless of the fine print in the Terms of Service on whatever website they signed up with. You risk getting your site shut down and losing money when you buy email lists.
What is accessibility in web design? It means having a website accessible to all visitors, regardless of disability.
In 2006, The National Federation for the Blind took Target, Inc. to court for not taking basic steps to ensure their site was accessible to blind visitors. Eventually, Target agreed to a $6 million dollar settlement and to make the requested changes to their site by February 2009.
This is a good reason to hire a professional designer, or learn about accessibility in web design if you want to do it yourself. Additionally, many of the sitebuilders out there do not create accessible web pages.
Are you looking into working for the federal government? If you expect to be involved in working on an agency website, there will be another list of requirements for you. You’ll want to learn about accessibility and Section 508.
Be informed on these subjects. Check out the Federal Trade Commission’s website that discusses these subjects and more.
WebsiteTips.com provides a long list of resources regarding legalities and website ownership
Check out these common myths about copyright