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What you don’t know CAN hurt you

Store closedImagine you run a successful shop in a busy high street. A growing number of customers know where you are, your brand and address are listed in all the important places like Yellow Pages, adverts in newspapers, local websites and on posters all over town. Business is booming.

Now imagine your world is rocked by the revelation that you are being evicted because your landlord, who you didn’t know existed, is kicking you out. You thought you owned the freehold on the shop but it turns out that a partner you trusted to set up the business had rented it in his name and not told you, and now he wasn’t paying the rent any more. You have to move to a different premises and suddenly business collapses. Now imagine that, when you move, you are contacted by your logo designer to say you can’t take the logo with you because you don’t own the copyright.

That’s what it’s like for a website owner who finds out too late that they don’t own their domain name or the copyright on their website. So many businesses discover, when they try to move their hosting or redesign their website, that the domain name was registered in the name of an individual who is now hard to contact or with whom they now have a bad relationship. If that person decides to hold the company to ransom they can, to a degree, and it is a painful lesson to learn too late. I’ve seen it happen to companies and sorting it out requires careful diplomacy.

The copyright problem is down to business owners not realising how copyright law works. If your website or your brand is designed by a freelancer or an agency, the copyright is automatically owned by the creator, not you the client. Unless full copyright is assigned to you, you don’t own it all.

Now, if you’re reading this having already registered your domain name(s) many moons ago, with a website that’s been operating for years, you are not in the lucky position of getting it all right before you hit the go button. What I would advise, though, is you check who owns your domains and ensure you know what copyrights you hold.

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