When Does Technical Work Need an Attorney?
Some issues can’t be solved with more code. In a half dozen or so of my projects, I have either been called in to answer technical questions for an attorney, or I have found that someone has committed an illegal act against my client through their digital assets. As much as I would like attorneys to stay out of my projects, I have learned when to recommend that a client consult with an attorney.
How is a Website Related to Intellectual Property?
When someone, at some time in the past, first mentioned “IP” to me, I thought they were talking about IP addresses, those dotted quads that make a server address: 184.108.40.206. But, in the legal field, IP stands for intellectual property.
First, you can’t just take any photos or content you want from other websites and use them in your website. That is someone else’s intellectual property. Where it gets a little fuzzy is when you provide a link to the photos or content. We do that all the time when we “share” on social media. Sharing a link to someone else’s web page is a way of directing them to that page, not stealing it as your own content.
But, what if it’s their logo. Logos are a different matter. Many companies provide a version of their logo that you can use, and other companies require you to ask permission before you do anything with any of their logos. As long as you follow the rules they provide, or ask them for permission, you won’t be likely to be facing their attorney(s).
Most years, I am called on 4 – 6 “lost domain” events. In most cases, a former developer registered a business’ domain name in their own name or registered that domain name with the business as owner, but put the domain name into their own account. I wrote about this in How to Lose your Domain Name.
In some of these cases, the business owner or organization decided to register a different domain name and avoid the work of fighting for the domain name. In others, we have been able to get the domain name back after some time of hounding the previous developer.
Sometimes, part of the work involved is finding the person who “owns” the domain name. In several of my cases, the person who set themselves as owner has moved to places unknown.
Finding who owns the domain name is especially difficult when the domain name has been set to a private registration. With a private registration, before you can find out who the owner is, you have to find out who added the private registration. They may not be the same.
These may not be tasks where your developer has the expertise. Attorneys are more likely to have experience finding people.
Web Service Accounts
Sometimes, web services, such as hosting, are in accounts that belong to former developers. 15 – 20 years ago, when the web was new to many business owners, developers frequently set up domain names, hosting, and other services in their own names or at least their own accounts because all that “technical work” was considered above the understanding of the average person. The complications that the practice caused lead to the understanding that setting up someone else’s digital resources in your own name was not only unprofessional, it was a type of theft called conversion.
It seems strange that this practice would still be in play, but as recently as last year, I ran into a company that had all its clients domains registered to the development company. That meant that they were the owners of the domain names.