Avoid Web Site Legal Risks
The Internet thrusts many organizations into the unfamiliar business
cyberpublishing—an area fraught with substantial legal risk. In addition,
there is a lack of legal precedent for many cyberspace issues. This checklist
addresses steps companies can take to protect themselves.
- Immediately register your Web site’s domain name—essentially
your trademark. Alert your legal department or your attorney if any
other organization is using your name. But be aware that the legal
issues regarding trademark or service mark protection for domain
names have not yet been clearly settled by the courts.
- If you use an outside consultant to develop your Web site, prepare
a contract that clearly states who owns it. However, even if one of
your own employees creates the Web site, your lawyer should prepare
a “work-made-for-hire” contract specifying that the physical pages
as well as the intellectual property rights belong to the business.
- If your site uses photos, graphics or multimedia created by
someone outside your organization, obtain agreements for their use
and provide attribution on the site.
- To protect intellectual property on your Web site, inform visitors
of the copyright claim. Although the law no longer requires you to
display the copyright to assert a claim, it puts all site visitors
on notice that permission is required for distribution of the
- If your site publishes copyrighted material from outside your
organization, obtain the appropriate releases.
- To maintain some degree of editorial control over the site, appoint a content specialist or Webmaster.
Source: William N. Bockanic, JD, professor of business law, John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio; Patrick T. Hogan, CPA, PhD, assistant professor of computer and management information systems, University of Houston-Downtown, Houston; and Lawrence P. Kalbers, CPA, PhD, professor of accounting and director of the School of Professional Accountancy, Long Island University-C.W. Post Campus, Brookville, New York.