It is common to find at the bottom of many websites copyright notices such as “Copyright 2016” or “All Rights Reserved.” What do these phrases mean, and does your website need the copyright notice to protect its content?

The answer is no. Copyright protection is automatic and free from the moment a work is created in Australia. There is no need to register, however, using a copyright notice (©+ name of copyright owner + year) does help prove ownership. To an extent, it can also deter possible infringers from using your website’s content or images.

Copyright in Australia

Copyright enables a person to control the use of their creative expression. It is a bundle of rights by which an author (or artist, musician, playwright, film-maker, website content creator, etc.) can exploit their work. Copyright subsists in Australia by s 8 of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The duration of copyright is generally for the lifetime of the copyright creator, plus 70 years. Copyright applies to both unpublished and published works. If you are writing content for your website and it is in draft form and not published, it is covered under copyright law in Australia.

If you intend to use someone else’s copyrighted work (or unsure about whether a work is copyrighted), you should contact the website owner and obtain permission. This requirement applies to infographics, videos, images and even quotes. You cannot assume that because the content is published in an open forum that it is available to be freely copied. If you are managing a website, you must also ensure your content contributors do not use copyright material from other websites as you will be liable.

Copyright and Website Designers

If you outsourced your website design to a designer and wished to establish copyright of the website’s design, you should seek to assert such rights from the original developer with an Intellectual Property Assignment Agreement. With this agreement, the developer can assign their copyright to the design to you. You should consider a Website Development Agreement which sets out an express written assignment of copyright by the web developer to you. This Agreement should be granted worldwide (as your website is accessible around the world) and be fully transferable (in case you sell your business).

All websites should have a Website Terms of Use page. The Terms of Use sets out the rules for website visitors using your website, such as what sort of activity is prohibited (copying content) and a disclaimer to limit your liability for your website (such as viruses). The best practice for a Website Terms of Use is where a website visitor ticks a box or clicks “I agree” and explicitly consents to the terms. Where this is not possible, the legal test is for the operator of the website to do all reasonably possible to bring the notice of the Terms of Use to the attention of the website visitor.

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If you are developing a website or engaging a website developer, ensure you have the right legal documents drafted to protect your intellectual property. Questions? Call us on 1300 544 755.

Anthony Lieu

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