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Protecting your website's intellectual property online

Your website's domain name, images, text, design, and trademarks are just some of the online intellectual property that you own and that need protection from common online risks.

In this article we look at what some of those risks are, how to monitor them, and ways you can proactively reduce the likelihood of them occurring.

Protecting images from unauthorised use

It is easy for a person to copy images from your website and use them on their own site without your permission, but how do you discover if it has occurred? The answer is to digitally watermark your images. Digital image watermarks are invisible to humans but can be read by specialised software, and most importantly, the use of watermarked images can be tracked on the Web. Digital image watermarks should not be confused with "traditional" visible watermark overlays that you might see on stock photography websites, for example. Digital watermarks use "steganography", which is a term that refers to concealing a message within an object. When a digital watermark is applied to an image, a unique watermarking code is hidden throughout the picture. Many professional image editing software programs support digital image watermarking, and will also indicate to the user if a digitally watermarked image is being edited. You will also need to register with a watermarking service, which can optionally provide the tracking capabilities. Enter "digital image watermark" into your favourite search engine to find out more. If you discover that one of your images is being used online without your permission, various options may be available to you, such as the protections offered by copyright (see the section later in this article).

Automatically monitoring your name, trademark usage and related keywords online

Do you want to find out how people are using your website's name or trademarks online? A useful tool is Google Alerts: http://www.google.com/alerts . Enter a keyword or query you want monitored and you will receive automatic email notifications related to that query.

Preventing image hot-linking

The term hot-linking refers to another website owner adding your images to their site by linking directly to the location where they are stored on your server. This results in your bandwidth and server resources being used instead of theirs. The easiest way to track if this is occurring is to monitor your website's log files, or use suitable web log analysis software. For information about website log files, see the article at http://www.websitebytes.com/articles/viewarticle.php?id=weblogfiles . If hotlinking is occurring to you, you can block it using a .htaccess file. You can find many examples on how to add the required code to your website's .htaccess file online.

Note however, that as a software publisher and/or download site owner, affiliates and other developers might be legitimately linking to your images when helping to promote your site or software.

Proactively register domain names with similar and alternative spellings

Register domain names that are similar to the one you use for your website. Doing this stops other people and competitors registering them unethically with the intention of taking away visitors from your site who misspell your site's name.

Remember that the words your domain name consists of might have variations in spelling. For example, in the English language, many countries including Australia and the UK, spell the word "colour" with the letter "u". In others, including the US, it is spelt as "color". Similarly the word "centre" can be spelt with an "re" or as "center" (ie: with an "er"). There are many other instances of alternatively spelt words including "organisation" and "organization" (spelt with either an "s" or a "z") and "programme", "program" and more. If your domain name contains words that have alternative spelling variations, it is advisable to register domain names that contain the variants. After all, you could unintentionally be losing a large percentage of visitors who try to enter your domain name directly into their Web browser!

If you host your site with Multimedia Australia ( http://www.mmau.com/services/hosting/ ), or our Hosting Reliance division ( http://www.hostingreliance.com ), you can add-on an unlimited number of domain names to your Web hosting plan for free so that they all point to your main site. You can also register new domain names through our site at http://www.mmau.com/services/domains/ .

Search for similar domain name registrations

There are several websites that let you search for existing and new domain name registrations based on keywords. By using one of these services you can check whether people are registering similar domain names to your own site, or if such registrations existed in the past and have now lapsed, making them available for you to register yourself.

Register trade marks

Consider registering trade marks for your site's name and logo in the main countries where your website is accessed. A trademark protects your rights to use elements such as a word or logo within a legal jurisdiction for the products or service class for which it is registered. Other elements may also be capable of being registered as a trademark such as colours. If you are considering registering a trademark, we recommend that you seek legal advice.

Monitor your site's position in search engines

You have probably optimised your site for search engines based on certain key words. Regularly check your site's position in search results for those key words, and monitor the position of other sites that also appear in those results. Do this using popular search engines like Google and Yahoo. If another site starts increasing its position in search results, it can be an early indicator that you might lose your current position to that site in the future, and gives you a head start at proactively protecting your site's position.

Copy-protect your website's code

You will have spent a lot of time designing your site and writing its content, so you want to make sure that someone doesn't steal the design and content to use on another site. PageLock Website Copy Protection ( http://www.mmaus.com/products/pagelock.php ) can encode and protect your HTML website once it is online to make it difficult for others to copy. You can download the trial version for free.

Copyright

Copyright can help protect your work. For information on copyright, please see the following article on our WebsiteByes.com site: http://www.websitebytes.com/articles/viewarticle.php?id=copyright .

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