Easy Web Copyright Mistakes Small Businesses Make

I’ve been talking a great deal lately with small business owners who have had a very serious problem with their sites. They are being accused of copyright infringement or, in some cases, being threatened with large settlement demands over content that appears on domain.

This is very frightening for small business owners as, especially in this economy, paying even a small settlement can sink a struggling business. But even if the case doesn’t reach that point, having to do significant work to repair a site can be a burdensome expense.

However, for the most part, it is not small business owners themselves committing the infringements. Though very gifted in their areas of business, they are not exactly Web developers, much less copyright experts. Instead, they are good people who trusted the wrong company to develop their site and are now left holding the bag.

It’s a sad tale and its one that isn’t always easily avoided, but there are a few mistakes that small business makes when having someone building their site that can make these situations much more likely.

With that in mind, here’s some of the most common mistakes I see businesses make when building their Web presence, whether through a third party or themselves.

Poorly Sourced Images

I talked previously about why stock photos and templates are a bad combination but it also applies to non-template Web design. Many people, especially those not familiar with copyright law, don’t realize that the images that make up their site, especially stock photos and artwork, are copyright protected and the rights need to be cleared.

As image detection improves and stock photo companies get more and more aggressive about enforcement, this is an especially dangerous mistake.

You have to make sure every image that appears on your site has the right to do so and this means planning in advance.

How to Avoid: Every image that goes on your site needs to have a clear sourcing record. If you purchase a site from a design firm, ensure that they provide receipts for the images that are used or some clear sourcing. Furthermore, ensure that you can use them legally on your site.

An ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure here.

Accepting Untrustworthy Text

It is one thing to hire a design firm to build a site, but another to hire one to write the content for it, especially when it is specialized.

I routinely see martial arts studios, doctor’s offices, roofers and other specialized companies turn their Web site’s content over to their design firm or other writers with no specialization in the field or even knowledge of it. This is a sure-fire way to either:

  1. Pay More: As writers have to do large amounts of research to be able to provide worthwhile content.
  2. Get Poor Quality Content: Writers, unfamiliar with the field, produce error-ridden content that’s embarrassing.
  3. Infringe Copyright: Authors, pressed by time and lack of knowledge, will often just lift and rewrite content from elsewhere.

Your text has to be vetted the same as your images but you shouldn’t put yourself at risk needlessly. Having your content written by professional authors in your field will, in the long run, save you time and money as well as give you better quality content.

They might have a higher rate, but they can turn it around more quickly and the odds of a copyright issue go down drastically.

How to Avoid: If you can’t afford to pay an author in your field to write your content, write it yourself and have someone else edit it. Editing services are usually cheaper per word and it still ensures the content is yours. If you do want to hire someone, get someone reputable and knowledgeable in your field.

Just like you don’t pay a mechanic to fix your leaky roof, don’t hire someone to do the wrong job.

It Isn’t Too Late

Though this is all great advice for a company that is either building a new site or revamping an existing one, but it doesn’t seem to help those who have an established site.

However, it isn’t too late to go back and recheck your content. Doing this might not only help you catch problems before a copyright holder sees them, but may also alert you if your original content is being misused.

  1. Use Tineye: Run your images through Tineye. It’s free and only takes a few seconds. It will find matches to your images that are in its database. Though it isn’t as powerful as paid solutions. It’s great for quick checks and should spot any obvious issues.
  2. Use Copyscape/Plagium: Copyscape and Plagium are two services for detecting duplicate content in text works. Copyscape has a very cheap pro version (5 cents a search) and Plagium is free. Run your articles through it and see what turns up as matching.

For the most part, until you’ve received the notice of infringement, it isn’t too late to take action as disaster can be averted. But if there is a problem, every day is a gamble so it makes sense to act as quickly as possible.

Bottom Line

If you’re a small business, you probably don’t have a large legal team, a cushion of cash to pay off a copyright settlement or a large reputation that can stand up against large companies such as stock photo organizations. As such, you have to be careful about your copyright as every cent you spend fighting a copyright problem is money off of your own table and your employees’.

This is an area where prevention is the best medicine by far. If you keep these issues in mind and are aware of them as you build your site, the odds you’ll have problems reduce significantly.

In short, be smart about these issues and you likely won’t have a problem. Ignore them, and you truly are rolling the dice.

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