One of the most closely guarded secrets in the tech industry is the Google algorithm used to rank organic results in the world's most popular search engine. Despite this secrecy, however, every so often Google lets us in on one of the core components of the system. This past Friday was one such day.
On Friday Google announced that its search engine would begin to penalize websites suspected of improperly posting the copyrighted materials of others. More specifically, Google will begin to penalize the organic rankings of websites who receive valid copyright take down notices for content illegally posted to those web sites.
In layman's terms what does that mean? Don't have images or content on your business's web site to which you do not have rights. If you do, and if you are told to remove the same by the copyright owner or their representative, this could cost your company's website valuable slots in the race to organic search engine relevancy.
So how do you ensure you have rights to all of the content on your web site? Here are a few tips to make sure you are compliant with Google's new policy and copyright laws in general:
1. Audit Your Web Site
Depending upon the size of your web site and the frequency with which it is updated or amended conduct an audit of the content thereon. At a minimum this should be done annually but more likely bi-annually or even quarterly. Make sure that all of the images, content, and, if applicable, logos of other companies are either original content or matter to which you otherwise have rights in via license or other allowance.
Any material discovered that you do not have rights in should either be removed immediately or the owner of said images or content contacted for an appropriate license. Of note, some provisions of the law may allow use of the same without a license. However, when in doubt seek the advice of a licensed intellectual property attorney to see if your use of specific material without a license is permitted by law.
2. Use Reputable Web Designers
If you outsource the construction of your website make sure that you employ Web designers that understand and comply with U.S. trademark and copyright laws. How do you know if they will? Anytime you hire a Web designer the terms of your arrangement should always be spelled out in a written agreement. When reviewing the same, check the written agreement for a paragraph on copyright compliance and indemnification for liability should there be a violation of any laws or otherwise. Such a clause typically is an indication that your web designer is aware of copyright and other intellectual property laws and will make its best efforts to comply with the same.
In the absence of a written agreement or something that otherwise addresses these issues you are left guessing whether the person you hired will comply with the laws or even knows that they exist. Do not take this gamble. Use only reputable Web designers that understand the ramifications of infringement of others' intellectual property rights so that they will not assemble a website for you, in whole or in part, that violates the rights of others.
3. Only Post Content and Pictures to Which You Have Affirmative Rights
Never post content to your website unless you created it or you otherwise know you have rights to use it. So many people search for images and graphics for their website and then simply copy the same and post them on their website never thinking that someone else may have exclusive rights to that image. Don't do it. There are plenty of free image sites or royalty sites that permit you to purchase, or license, images for your website that are in compliance with our copyright laws. Make sure you have rights in your content through self-creation or license before you post the content to your web site.
4. Take-Down Policy
Finally, have a simple take-down policy in regard to all notices of violation of rights. Although we all must strive not to violate the law, should you be placed on notice that something is illegally posted to your website have a plan and policy in place to ensure that the infringing material is removed immediately. Otherwise, you may be subject to punishment by Google under their new policy and, worse, your Web host could drop your entire site for violations of their intellectual property policy if they receive the complaint directly from the copyright holder.