The holiday season, for most, is a time for giving gifts to others. However, it’s also often a time of being generous to oneself and enjoying the finer things in life that, often times, we deprive ourselves most of the year.
When it comes to your blog and the laws that govern it, it’s no different. Many of us ignore the basic steps that we can take to protect ourselves legally thinking that it’s too expensive, too time-consuming or generally not worthwhile. However, the moment a legal crisis hits, we often begin to regret that thinking.
So, with the holidays upon us and, perhaps with a little more time on the clock and income in our pocket, the time has come to reevaluate how we protect ourselves legally and maybe take a few extra steps to ensure a brighter future for our sites and ourselves.
On that note, here are three legally-minded gifts that you can give yourself right now and better protect you and your work for years to come.
1. A Copyright Registration
If you’re posting works online, whether they are blog posts, photos, videos or audio, you’re creating copyrighted works and, since they are online, they are likely going to be infringed. Though you may not consider enforcement to be a top priority, it’s probably worthwhile to keep your options open.
However, if you live in the United States (or intend to sue someone in the US) your legal options are limited if you don’t have a registration on file with the US Copyright Office (USCO).
A copyright registration provides several benefits including proof of ownership of the work, the ability to sue in Federal court and, in the case of a timely registration, the ability to collect statutory damages and attorneys fees for infringement.
While you can certainly register after an infringement and sue later, you’ll be severely limited in the damages that you can collect, so much so that suing, most likely, is impractical.
Best of all, the process for registering a work is fairly straight forward and, at only $35 every three months, it’s a veritable steal considering the protection it provides.
Cost: $35 (additional registrations required every 3 months for maximum protection)
2. Designate a DMCA Agent
If you run a website that accepts comments or posts from third parties, you’re in luck. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects you from most laws that your users can break and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects you should they infringe copyright law.
However, the DMCA has a few additional requirements that you have to meet in order to guarantee you are protected. First, you have to expeditiously remove allegedly infringing works upon proper notification and, equally importantly, you have to designate an agent to receive such notices both on your site and on the USCO’s site.
The latter, however, is going to cost you. The USCO charges $105 to file a registration plus $30 for each group of 10 alternative names. The form is very simple to fill out and filing this registration can help you avoid frivolous copyright infringement lawsuits.
If you don’t take this step, you may be held liable for any infringements that your users post, even if you were unaware of them. This means that, if you accept a large amount of content from third-party users, it’s probably worth your time to make sure that the registration has been filed and is up-to-date.
Cost: $105 for one name and $30 for each group (up to 10) of additional names.
3. File a Trademark Registration
Finally, one area of law bloggers don’t routinely think about is trademark law. If you use your site’s name for a business in any way, whether it’s to sell ads, perform consulting services or something else altogether, you likely have trademark on your name already.
However, a trademark registration has many of the same benefits of a copyright registration, but for your site’s name, logo and other items that identify the business. Those benefits include public notice of ownership, presumption of ownership and the ability to file a lawsuit in Federal court. However, you also get the ability to bring actions in other countries and the right to use the ® symbol.
But the most important element likely involves your domain. Internationally, there is a standard process for dealing with domain disputes, the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy and Rules (UDRP). It was created by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and is widely followed for nearly all types of domains.
A trademark not only helps protect you from others that may attempt to “squat” on your name, but it also protects you against others that may attempt to use the UDRP to seize your domain. This is because a Federal trademark helps establish a legitimate interest in the domain and that goes a long way to making your case before a UDRP arbiter.
However, it’s important to note that only reviewed marks, namely Federal ones, are weighed heavily in UDRP disputes. Though states can issue trademarks and many sites recommend doing that as a way to protect your domain, WIPO policy only looks at examined marks, making state marks much less useful for domain defense.
The cost of a trademark registration, however, is fairly high. It will either cost you $275 or $325 per class of registration. A class is basically an area of business and a trademark can be filed for one or more of them. Also, given that a trademark filing is much more complex, it may be worth seeking out an attorney to help you with your filing, to make sure that your fee isn’t wasted.
However, if you have a name that others may want or may mooch off of, you’ll likely want to file a trademark registration to protect it.
Cost: Either $275 or $325 per class (line of business).
In the end, the total cost of all of these steps is fairly high, $415 at a minimum. That’s certainly not a small amount of cash but it’s also not a small amount of protection.
Not every site is going to have a use for a DMCA registration or a trademark registration, but if you’re looking for ways to secure your site’s future and give it some legal certainty, these are great steps that you can and should do.
On that note, there’s no time like the present to get it done. These can make some great gifts to yourself for the holidays or, if you’re looking for some good tax deductions at the end of the, can be wise investments for 2013.
So take stock of what’s in your site’s best interest and consider giving yourself the gift of better legal protection.
Jonathan Bailey founded and continues to write at Plagiarism Today, a site about content theft and copyright issues on the internet. He also manages CopyByte, a company that protects online content, and writes a regular column for BloggingPro.