Today, the ability to copy just about anything within seconds makes violating ethical principles so much easier.
Indeed, in today’s technological climate, firms need to protect themselves from copyright infringement. Intellectual property may be the most valuable asset of design professionals. Firms should be aware of the problems that could potentially arise involving issues of document ownership and control. Design professionals are often asked to provide services based on another design professional’s efforts or to complete services started by someone else. The “new” design professional should require proof of a valid transfer of patents and copyrights to the client or that the client has been granted a license to use the documents. The “new” design professional should also obtain indemnity for all claims arising out of client-supplied information.
When intellectual property rights are transferred to another party, that party has the exclusive right to reproduce the original expression embodied in the documents. If a design professional agrees to transfer their intellectual property rights, they should obtain indemnity for claims that may arise out of the new party’s future use of the documents. Firms should review contracts carefully and look for language that may transfer intellectual property rights. Provisions that state that services are provided as “works for hire” automatically grant the copyright to the entity engaging the design professional’s services.
It is important for design professionals to properly mark their intellectual property whether it is trademarked, patented, or copyrighted. The copyright notice prevents infringers from claiming they were unaware that the work was protected. Also, it is required to properly register the work prior to filing an infringement claim. More information on intellectual property can be found in our claims study on intellectual property claims (access limited to Schinnerer and CNA active insureds and brokers only).
In addition to protecting themselves from becoming victims of copyright infringement, firms should also take care to avoid any illegal copying of software. With the economy’s current struggles, firms have reduced staff and culled less-productive employees. During such times, the likelihood that a discharged employee will provide an anonymous accusation of the illegal use of copyrighted software by the former employer increases. Care should be taken that no departing employees can call into question your firm’s professional ethics or business practices. Advice on business software piracy can be found in our Business Software Piracy Management Advisory (access limited to Schinnerer and CNA active insureds and brokers only).