I find it surprising that most Webmasters only consult with an attorney after they have run afoul of the law, or had their rights somehow infringed upon. When Webmasters are asked about whether or not they have retained counsel, the most frequent response I hear is “A Lawyer? I can’t afford one!” - If this sounds like a response that you would give, then here’s an article that might help…
Internext is known for the quality and importance of its legal seminars, where some of the brightest minds and most talented attorneys in the industry endeavor to keep Webmasters within the shifting and often ill-defined boundaries of the law.
Given the global reach of our Websites (and hence the endless number of jurisdictions they are available in), and the infinite variety of rules, regulations, and technical uncertainties facing anyone attempting to fully understand the legislative vagaries involved in “playing it safe” it’s no wonder that obtaining competent representation - especially in the courtroom - can be a prohibitively expensive proposition. A proposition that often leads overly frugal and under-capitalized Webmasters alike to turn to rather dubiously ‘informed’ opinions on industry message boards and Internet searches returning often questionable information.
One of the greatest areas of popular misconception revolves around copyright law - something that affects every Webmaster to one degree or another. Yet basic copyright law and the practical “how to” aspects of implementing it on your behalf is a subject that can be understood by anyone looking for a simple “better than nothing” approach to protecting their original content and intellectual property. For those seeking copyright protection within the US, the government copyright office makes it easy; visit www.copyright.gov and you’re on your way to THE source of authoritative information.
Even with this wealth of information, your individual needs may vary, and might also be beyond the borders of the United States. In these cases, having expert advice tailored to your own peculiar set of circumstances is invaluable - and a service which is provided by members of “Shark Tank” - whose Website defines the group as “an affiliation of attorneys across the United States and Canada who represent producers and independent marketers of Adult Entertainment on the Internet and in traditional markets.”
Several of these Shark Tank affiliated attorneys including Robert Apgood, Eric Bernstein, David J. James, Jr., and Paul Kent-Snowsell were on hand at Internext to hold a seminar entitled “Do It Yourself Copyright Law” which was billed as “…a special session designed to provide attending adult online professionals with the knowledge they need to copyright their own online content without having to spend the time and money necessary to hire an attorney to do what they can do for themselves.”
This seminar discussed the basics of what can and cannot be copyrighted, as well as outlined the basic procedures and requirements involved for registering a copyright, with a focus on US and Canadian laws.
While in most cases copyright is automatically conferred to the creator of a work at the time of its creation, there are several benefits of formally registering your copyright which were discussed.
Registering your copyrights provides for benefits such as increased damage awards and the recovery of attorney’s fees - which is something that shouldn’t be underestimated; since the cost of pursuing an infringing party can run $25,000, which is well beyond the amount of damages you might be entitled to for violations on unregistered copyrights.
The panel’s consensus was that at the time of creation, an original work should be visibly imprinted with the copyright “circle c” symbol, and the word “copyright” along with the year of first publication, and the name of the copyright holder, whenever possible. While no longer legally required, the use of the © symbol shows the general public that the work is copyrighted, and may head off cases of infringement.
Formally registering your copyright with the copyright office within 3 months of the work’s creation will provide statutory protection back to the date of the work’s creation, even if an infringement has already occurred, protecting those who’s content is stolen the day it’s published, even if office backlog delays the formal recognition of your copyright - and is the route that the panel recommended.
All in all, this was one of the most “useful” seminars I have seen presented at Internext, providing real benefits to the attendees, and direction for further study. If you have the opportunity to attend a similar panel in the future, I recommend you take it. Stay protected! ~ Stephen