skyscrapers-1210010_1280.jpgYou value the work created by yourself and your employees. You take great care to make sure that you take the necessary steps to protect it with patents, trademarks and copyrights, and you are diligent in making sure that your employees aren’t divulging sensitive information like trade secrets outside the office.  You understand that the intellectual property your business generates is valuable, and you want to make sure that you are protecting that value by not allowing others to use it. But are you as considered when it comes to the rights of others?

Ownership on the internet can at times be a murky area. It is so easy and so quick for images, files and text to move around the web that it doesn’t take long for the name of the owner or rights-holder to get lost in the shuffle. All it really takes is one person to take a copyrighted image and pass it off as free to use for a chain reaction of sharing and copying to take hold. And in the absence of clear evidence of ownership, it can be easy for some to excuse what they ultimately know to be wrong in copyright infringement by allowing that many others are likely doing the same thing, and that the crime is ultimately victimless. But it isn’t a victimless crime, and ignorance of any degree is no excuse.

When looking for creative content to use for your website, marketing materials, or other projects for your business, make sure that you have the rights to use whatever you are using. In a perfect world, you would be able to draw entirely from content created and owned by you, but the realities of startup life mean that many entrepreneurs have to look to outside sources for such things. If you are using anything created by others, make sure that you have the right to use that work for the intended purpose.  For works that you have licensed, the fee paid often provides the licensee free reign to use the material as the wish (within reason). But when looking at free resources over the internet, don’t be as quick to assume the same amount of latitude.  Some licensing agreements for free materials are very particular about what they can be used for, while others are far more open. Take care when using free pictures, videos, and open source code for your business, and be sure to read all licensing agreements.

One of the most important aspects in avoiding potential infringement is making sure that you and everyone working for you understands the importance of intellectual property rights. It’s probably unreasonable to expect employees to become fluent in the nuances of intellectual property law, but it is vital that they understand the basics of what they can and cannot do when it comes to the fair use of work created by others. All it takes is one innocent mistake for your company to be facing potential fines or legal action for infringing on others’ work.  Creating an environment where people understand and think about copyrights and trademarks of not only your company but others as well will help to ensure a future free of messy legal disputes.

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