Your web site has been up for a few months and you are making money hand over foot. While surfing sites one evening, you are shocked to find a competitor using your design. You find out your designer sold them same design. They must be breaking law, right? It all depends on whether you own copyright to your web site design. Many site owners are shocked to find out they do not.
What is Copyright?
Copyright is a method of protection for authors of original works such as literature, computer programs, music, artistic pieces and photographic images. The protection provided by copyright arises under Title 17 of United States Code. A copyright gives owner exclusive right to do or authorize others to: reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, publicly display and generally use material that carries copyright in exchange for something, typically a royalty or fee. The copyright owner often grants this use through a license agreement, but can sell it outright.
Who Can Claim Copyright?
Copyright protection is created IMMEDIATELY upon creation of a fixed form of material in question and granted to person that created material. For instance, I automatically own copyright to this article upon completing it. I am not required to file for an official copyright with US Copyright Office to prove that I am owner of content. However, if I want to sue a person for using my article without permission, I must first register it.
What If I Hire Someone To Create A Web Site For Me?
If you hire a person or company to handle design of your site, complexities of copyright become a major issue for you. Specifically, issue of "work for hire" is critical in determining whether you own design.
"Work for hire" refers to relationship between your business and person creating your web site. If this person is an employee of your business and creates material within their scope of employment, then your business owns copyright. However, what happens when designer is not an employee? In such a situation, following must occur for copyright to automatically transfer to you. The work must be specially ordered or commissioned for use as: