Avoid Intellectual Property Disputes Related to Websites in South Africa

 Regardless of the industry in which your business operates, to stay competitive, you need a website. The internet has changed the playing field. A small business can be just as competitive as a large firm, simply by establishing a strong web presence. However, when you design and populate your website, you sometimes don’t think about the possible intellectual property disputes.

Indeed, many intellectual property disputes develop right from the design phase. You, for instance, discuss the design and layout with the website designer. You may think that you own the copyright to the design, but this is not necessarily the case. The same holds true for the content created for you by a third party.

Various intellectual property rights exist regarding a website. Whether it is the logo, the design, graphics, music used, images, database rights, written content, multimedia content, or even the font type. You may assume that because the content and design are embedded in your website, and you have the relevant copyright notice on every page that you have the necessary legal protection. Unfortunately, it is not necessarily the case, and if you do not adhere to the various intellectual property laws, you may soon find your company embroiled in various intellectual property disputes.

For copyright to apply, you do not have to register the content for copyright. In South Africa, it is established the moment the creative work takes a tangible form. The moment you create a copyright protected work, you gain the copyright ownership over the creation. That is if the work meets the criteria of originality. With copyright protection, the work does not have to meet the strict requirements of, for instance, a patent, where it must also be new. As long as you have not copied the creative work from another website, publication, or other source, and you have created it, then you are the copyright owner.

The problem comes in when a third party designs and populates the website. You must make sure that you have an agreement in place in which you commission the work and get the full copyright of the work in return for the monetary benefit you pay to the creator. Keep in mind that an idea cannot be copyright protected. Only if it takes a tangible form can it enjoy copyright protection.

Even though it is not necessary to mark your intellectual property with the copyright symbol for it to have copyright protection, it is certainly wise. Make sure that you use it in conjunction with the name of the owner, and the year in which the copyright protected work was first created and published.

When it comes to a website, you can easily become embroiled in intellectual property disputes, such as when one of your employees have designed or populated the website with photos, media, and content. Do you own the copyright or does the employee own it? Have you commissioned the work, or have you completed it yourself? What was the original agreement?

Be sure to draft relevant agreements regarding the website before any discussions about ideas commence. This also pertains to the people that work for you, outsourced writers, and any other parties involved. To this end, you will appreciate our expertise in handling intellectual property disputes and in drafting agreements to protect your copyright ownership.

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Contact our attorneys for legal advice, rather than relying on the content to make legal decisions – April 2018.

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