It can be absolutely heartbreaking to wake up one morning and find your brand, design, artwork or business idea has been entirely ripped off by someone else, yet this is a problem that happens all the time for creative businesses.
In an age where most of us spend a significant portion of our everyday lives connected to the internet, sometimes we forget that content on the internet is not ‘public domain’ and many works are still protected by various intellectual property rights. Potentially serious consequences exist when it comes to using and appropriating content found online without permission.
So what are the rules when it comes to the internet? When is it ok to copy, what should you do if you suspect you’ve been copied and what can you do to protect your work? Melbourne-based intellectual property lawyer Sharon Givoni has some hard & fast rules when it comes to navigating the grey area of copyright commonly known as ‘The Internet’.
Rule No. 1: Don’t copy!
It is a myth that whatever is on the internet is free for the taking. In reality, designs, images and written works published online are usually protected under copyright law.
The Copyright Act gives copyright owners the exclusive right to post their work online, and to ‘exploit’ that work in any way they wish. The owner has the right to sell or use the design, publish the work on the internet or authorize others to use it. If you use a design without permission, this may constitute infringement of that owner’s rights.
What if you don’t know who owns the copyright?
In Australia, if you cannot identify the copyright owner and can show that you made effort to locate them, this will not safeguard you against a claim of infringement.
How close is too close?
There is no rule that if you alter a work by 10% (or some other arbitrary amount) that you will avoid copyright infringement, rather the courts will look at whether the qualitative part of the work has been taken.
Rule No. 2: Don’t get copied!
If you post your designs online, you are exposing yourself to the risk that anyone around the world may copy and use your work without your knowledge or permission.
If someone overseas has reproduced your designs, it could be very difficult and expensive to get them to stop, especially if their laws surrounding copyright differ from ours in Australia.
What can you do to protect your work?
The best thing to do is to be proactive and practical in protecting your designs. Consider using a copyright notice, as well as inserting watermarks, digital marks, or metadata or uploading low-resolution images to limit the risk of someone using your work for their own purposes.
While social media can be a useful platform for the global distribution and recognition of work, the downside is the potential for the work to be copied, changed and circulated broadly with no attribution back to the owner. Unattributed social media posts could result in lost revenue and a lack of recognition.
Rules no. 3: The internet never forgets!
What you post on social media, your own blog or your website may potentially infringe someone’s copyright, amount to defamation, mislead or deceive people, or be subject to contractual obligations.
Digital content is frequently archived, meaning that computer forensics experts can retrieve content posted online years later – even after it has been ‘deleted’.
While using the internet carries benefits and risks for designers, having an online presence raises a raft of legal considerations in its own right.
As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once said, ‘the riskiest thing is to take no risks’.
Certainly, when it comes to creative businesses and their need to establish an online presence, this statement rings true.
However, a little bit of knowledge about what those risks are can save a lot of heartache in the future.
If you find a design on the internet, and slightly alter it to make it ‘your own’, you could be infringing someone else’s copyright.
Take practical proactive measures to stop others from copying your work.
Uploading your content onto a social media platform will usually give that site a licence to do what they like with it, although most social media platforms have policies in place to help protect the copyright of their users.
Statements made on social media about competitors can be found to be misleading or defamatory. Think before you type.
About Sharon Givoni
Sharon Givoni is a Melbourne-based intellectual property lawyer. Her firm acts for a variety of creative businesses. Her firm also registers designs, whether it be the texture or pattern of a blind or a product that is new and unique in appearance. Sharon can be contacted by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or called on 0410 557 907 or 03 9527 1334.
Her website for “Sharon Givoni Consulting” is located at www.sharongivoni.com.au.