The Internet is not a legal vacuum – warnings

To consider

When you are designing websites, it is really tempting just to take what you want in terms of image, sound material, etc. from the Internet. You should be careful as the Internet is not a legal vacuum. Just because photographs and music can be simply and easily found and used on the Internet, it does not mean that they are not protected by copyright. It is always advisable to assume that such things are protected by copyright when you are not one hundred per cent sure that an image or a piece of music is protected by copyright.The use of protected works on the Internet has given rise to an actual line of business in its own right, cease and desist letters from lawyers. A particularly large number of German legal firms have specialised in combing through the Internet for possible infringements of copyright uses of photographs and other works. Pursuant to the German Copyright Act (Art. 97a UrhG), everyone who is infringed by an unlawful use of a work should “warn” the transgressor before they initiate legal proceedings for an injunction. With this warning, the injured party demands that the transgressor desist from the copyright infringement and pay a particular sum as reparation for the efforts of the lawyer. An increasing number of people in Switzerland are receiving such warnings from German lawyers. And although the Swiss Copyright Act does not recognise the formal warning like the German Copyright Act, more and more Swiss lawyers are resorting to warnings in the form of requesting the alleged transgressor to stop using the work and to pay a sum of money as compensation for the damages which occurred. You should take warnings seriously; however, it is usually worth taking advice from a lawyer or engaging a lawyer before you react to the warnings and corresponding requests.