Intellectual Property Law, Copyright and Your Veterinary Hospital’s Website

0 Comments Posted by Vet Network in General, Legal on Sunday, April 1st, 2012.

Written by:
Mark Feltz, DVM
Monica Feltz, J.D., LL.M.

What is intellectual property?

When lawyers talk about intellectual property (IP), they are describing the right of people to own their unique ideas and creations. As an example, if you write a song or invent something new, this creation comes with a patent, trademark, copyright, or trade secret designation. It is illegal for someone to profit from your intellectual property without crediting you and paying
for the right to do so.

This is an imperfect system. Just ask the movie producer who spends millions to make a movie of Mark Zuckerberg only to see it poorly recorded and sold by some vendor in Shanghai or New York the day after the movie opens.

But if the person who sold the movie (or any other intellectual property) illegally is caught, the law is on the side of the creator.

How does intellectual property affect you, your website and your veterinary hospital?

All business owners are given the same legal protections. Intellectual property issues, especially those regarding copyrights, arise every time you elect to advertise or publish your original work. No one else is allowed to copy the content of your website, under any circumstances, and use or profit from it for their own purposes. Similarly, you are not allowed to just cut and paste other people’s content into your website and there may be huge penalties attached to these actions.

These protections come in part from the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The law is designed to protect intellectual property – IP – on the Web by increasing penalties for online copyright infringement. There’s a high price to pay if caught, sometimes as much as $150,000 per violation, not to mention accompanying court and litigation costs, and even
criminal sanctions.

What makes copyright law especially tricky is that it is not always obvious when you are in violation. Breaking into a car feels like a crime, but taking a phrase, paragraph or image from another veterinary hospital website may not feel like criminal activity. However, it is just as illegal and considered on par with trying to sell Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as if it were your own creation.

Additionally, claiming ignorance of the law or the violation won’t save you. Not every crime will be detected, but it is getting easier for copyright owners to find you and the costs of getting caught are severe. Violating copyright law is never a risk worth taking.

It is therefore essential to understand the basics of how copyright law works, as well as what steps you should take in order to help avoid significant legal consequences. If you fail to take these steps when creating your veterinary hospital website, you may end up paying large damages for copyright violation.

The basics of intellectual property laws

Three criteria must be met for copyright protection: a work must be tangible, original, and creative.

First requirement: Federal copyright law requires that a protected work must be tangible. This means it must be written down and not just thought or spoken.

Second requirement: your creation must be original. Even if the idea itself is not new, the work will be considered original if it were created or compiled in a way unique to the author. The concept of a website is not new, but the design, text and photos of a specific website is an original creation.

Lastly: the work should contain some creativity. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but your creation has to be more than a grocery list to be worthy of copyright protection.

Once these three requirements are met, you have automatically earned yourself a copyright!

This has not always been the case. Prior to 1989, an author was required to provide copyright notice in order to secure protection. Notice is signaled by the © symbol that you still often see in most literary works. After the US signed the Berne Convention in 1989, the symbol became optional. Even though it is not required to use the copyright symbol, it is still a good idea to provide your work with notice.

How to enforce your copyright

Notice of copyright: Providing your work with a © informs others of your rightful ownership and provides significant legal advantages in court. Pay attention though; If you are using illegally copied material on your hospital’s website and you affix the copyright symbol to it, a court will be more severe when awarding damages against you.

Register your copyright: The U.S Copyright Office will put your creation on public record (fee required).

Sue for damages: By providing notice and registration, the owner of the work may sue a violator for willfully copying their work and collect up to $150,000 in damages. Even if the copyright owner cannot prove willful violation, very large fines can still be collected.

How to avoid violating intellectual property laws

When you publish online, ensure your information is legally obtained. If you or someone you hire copies material from another website, you and your veterinary hospital can be held liable for the violation. This is the law and ignorance does not work in your favor.

Hire an experienced veterinary hospital website design company. These writers and veterinary web designers not only understand your business, but also know what will keep you lawsuit-free. You need writers who are familiar with your needs, concerns, clientele – and the law. If you hire a general website developer to create the website for your hospital and the material sounds like it was written by a veterinarian, it probably was (and most likely copied from another veterinary website). Unless the text has been written by a veterinarian who has excellent writing skills, you should be suspicious if the content sounds too good.

Notice and register your copyrights. This provides assurance that your veterinary hospital is using original work, while simultaneously upholding your reputation and online competitiveness. Remember, what you place online is a reflection of you and your hospital.

Copyright © VetNetwork, LLC / Mark Feltz, DVM, Monica Feltz, J.D., LL.M.

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