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Copyright Laws for the Internet and the Web Designer

written by: Bruno Kos•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 1/7/2011

Copyright governs the design of the web site, separately from the content in it. Designs could be anything ranging from pictures, logos, graphics and colors used in the website. Read on to find out more about why this is important for designers and developers to be aware of.

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    Copyright and Design

    Just as copyright laws protect songs, movies, and books, these laws also protect the designs and content across the web platform. Copyright refers to the owner's control his content, to permit anybody to reproduce the work. Designs including the colors, links, graphics, and even the back end coding of a web sites are protected by copyright.

    Internet Copyright Issues and Design

    You have a web site or have plans for a new one. You have bookmarked designs to be used from different web sites. Before you know it, you have a full-fledged web site full of designs created by another designer. It is best to make sure the designs are original, or carry the license to reproduce rather than risking a copyright infringement issue. Using other web designs without the expressed written consent of the designer could put you in violation of copyright law.

    A company has a contract with a third party for their web design. The company provides information to the designer--the targets, philosophy, color and links to be used in the site. Even with their involvement with the design process, they may not own the copyright to their design. The copyright belongs to the designer unless an agreement (valid and written contract) has been signed, and transfers the rights to the company.

    Protecting Yourself from Internet Copyright Issues as a Web Designer

    A written contract should be signed before the completion of the design process and project development begins. Without a clause in the contract releasing liability from the designer, he or she may be the one liable for infringement issues, rather than the company the site was designed for.

    Other Internet Copyright Issues for Designers

    A designer who creates a designer for the company he works for, does not retain copyright, under the "Work for Hire" guidelines. Anything taken from public domain does not retain copyright for the designer, or the party it is being designed for.

    Avoid Internet Copyright Issues with a Contract

    It is best for the designer and the site owner to have a binding and signed agreement. The rights, duration, obligation and deadline should be mentioned clearly in the contract. Some of the benefits of this contract are

    • It saves time and money on legal cases.
    • There is an agreement to refer to in case of doubts.
    • There is mutual trust and respect between the designer and site owner.
    • The designer and owner may be able to work together on future projects and the designer would be able to upgrade the site continuously.

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    Why this is Important

    This is important for designers because it protects the original works of one designer from unauthorized use by another. If you are designing a web site, you need to be fully aware of the Internet copyright issues that can arise from using any portion of another web site to assist you in the creation of your project.

    This is important for clients and people who wish to have a web site designed so they can be aware of the Internet copyright issues they may face with their designer, during and after the completion of their project.

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    Things to Remember

    • Always create original work. If you must use something to assist you, make sure you are using something with free distrubtion and reproduction rights, or that you have documented license of use from the original author. If you are unsure, always give credit somewhere on the web site design.
    • Always document your creations and file ownership with the United States Copyright, Patent, and Trademark office to ensure complete legal protection.
    • Designers may get caught in the cross-fire if a site owner is found to have infringed on another party's rights. Make sure you include a clause in the contract to release all liability, and make sure the client understands what this means. Anyone using a third party designer should take it upon themselves to research and look for infringement possibilities prior to accepting the project as completed.

Web Copyright Issues

This series will take a look at the different copyright issues web designers and developers face as they design a web site.
  1. Copyright Laws for the Internet and the Web Designer
  2. Web Copyright Issues: Protecting Your Work