It's also important to copyright your Web site-that way, you can prevent unauthorized use of its content. A copyright can attach to creative works of authorship that are fixed in some tangible form. The U.S. Copyright Office permits copyright registration of both graphical and textual elements of a Web site (including graphics and photos, plus product and company descriptions).
If you intend to maintain control over how your work is being used, you'll definitely need to get a copyright. Keep in mind, however, that although copyright protection under U.S. law takes effect the moment a work is produced in tangible form, only those works that are registered with the Copyright Office are entitled to substantial damages in lawsuits.
If you own a Web site, you should register a copyright as soon as possible. Contact the U.S. Copyright Office at (202) 707-5959 or visit its Web site to obtain an application form. There is a $20 application fee.
McQuire says that if any part of your Web site was created by an outside Web developer, copyright ownership of the work "may reside in the outside developer, even if you've paid the developer for that work. If possible, have the developer sign an agreement stating that you retain the copyright to any creative Web site content." Put notices on your Web site alerting people to your copyright and trademark rights.
But keep the following information in mind: Internet merchants need to be sure that they-not the developer they're working with on the Web site-have the exclusive right to use the site and make any changes to it. Secure that relationship by drawing up a legal contract stating that the material on the site is owned "by the entrepreneur, as opposed to the Web company," says Bahls. "Otherwise, you might not be able to change your site without the original designer's permission, and you might even get kicked off the site." Bahls adds that the contract should include a clear "understanding of the fees and the ability to update the site."
Do you already have rights to the images or content on your Web site? If so, you may be able to create additional value-by selling or licensing them. IPnetwork.com, a New York City company, can provide support in this area. It offers information and services designed to guide you through the process of selling or donating your rights. If you want to license your property, IPnetwork.com will help you license it to the right bidder. IPnetwork.com can also help you determine a reasonable price for your properties and assist you in deciding what you really need to get out of a licensing deal.
What's more, the company allows entrepreneurs who want to buy or license any type of IP rights-from biotech patents to comic-book characters, which add artistic value to Web sites-a resource for doing so. You can browse through the properties listed in the auction area or use a comprehensive search engine to quickly home in on specific properties.
"You know you need art to make your site look great, but if you just lift some images from another site, that's infringement," says Christine Hearst Schwarzman, IPNetwork.com's founder and CEO. "This site helps you find out who owns the property so you can pay the small fee to the owner and not infringe upon them."
So take the time to cover your legal bases. Your work will certainly pay off for your Web site today-and ensure your Net venture will be able to rake in the profits tomorrow.