Publishing your work online gives you great reach and exposure to an international audience. But equally, it can expose you to intellectual property infringement from all four corners. We set out below our five tips to protect your brand online. 

1. Understand Copyright and Add a Copyright Notice

Copyright law in Australia protects the original expression of an idea, rather than the idea itself. For example, if you have an idea to take a photo, the idea itself is not copyright. For example, the idea to shoot a skyscraper silhouetted at dawn is not protected, but your own photo of that skyscraper is copyright to you. Once an idea has been committed to a material form, it has automatic copyright protection without needing to register your work.  

To protect your brand online, you should add a Copyright notice to your website, and all work that you create e.g. images, articles, reports etc. A copyright notice tells the public who owns the copyright, e.g. © LegalVision 2016.

You should set out your intellectual property rights in your Website Terms of Use. This alerts website visitors of your rights and the permissible or prohibited uses of your website. Generally no-one can use your work unless you give them permission. You can choose to give permission in your Website Terms, for example, and include a clause that allows people to use your work with attribution to you. 

2. Get Online and Surf the Net!

Google and search IP Australia’s database to see if another business is using your proposed brand. Once you’ve chosen and established your unique brand, confirm whether another business is trading under that name, using similar images or performing the same type of work.

3. Make Your Brand Clearly Distinguishable – Both Offline and Online

If your brand is unique, it is easier to identify as yours and easier to protect. When building your website, carefully consider your meta titles, descriptions and headers. Include your brand name wherever possible. This will boost your rankings on Google, and avoid the risk of ‘copycats’ ranking ahead of you.

4. Register Your Website Domain Name

When you register a domain name, you have a licence to exclusively use that domain name for a specified period. For example, for a “.au” domain name, the period is two years. You should also consider registering variants of your domain name, e.g. legalvision.com, legalvision.co.uk and others.

Other parties can register similar domain names to you. They should not, however, breach the Australian Domain Name Authority Policy (auDA Policy). auDA’s policy states that “.com.au” and “.net.au” domain names must be “an exact match, abbreviation or acronym of the registrants name or trademark or closely and substantially connected to the registrant”.

5. Register your Trade mark 

Registering your trade mark affords your business considerably stronger rights to enforce against a competitor that uses the same or similar mark in the classes you have registered in. If another trader is using your registered trade mark in the registered classes, this may amount to a trade mark infringement and a breach of the Trade Marks Act 1995. This may also be misleading and deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law or the general law of passing off.

Key Takeaways

It’s important to set up intellectual property protection early and establish a strong foundation to grow your business. Registering your trade mark gives you an exclusive and enforceable right.

Once you have protected your intellectual property, usually by registering with IP Australia, then you can monetise your intellectual property including through sales, licensing and even franchising. If you have questions about how to protect your brand online, get in touch with our online business lawyers on 1300 544 755.

Ursula Hogben

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