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Watch Over Use of Your Company’s Computers

Today’s companies have their hands full trying to police employees so they don’t visit non-business Web sites or send offensive e-mails. Now, there’s another legal worry: Ensuring that your employees don’t download or store material in violation of federal copyright laws.

Legal experts say employers could face potential liability for not prohibiting employees from downloading and keeping copyrighted material that may have been pirated, such as music.

Here are four basic tips to protect your company:

  • Write your policy down. Clearly spell out what is banned. Include the policy in your employee manual and distribute a copy to all employees. It’s a good idea to have staff members sign an agreement acknowledging that they understand the rules. Get professional help drafting your policy to ensure you meet all legal requirements. Having a well-known policy can alleviate some of the resentment your staff might feel about being monitored. Make sure employees realize that what they do on company equipment is not private and that hitting the “delete” button doesn’t mean that data is erased.

  • Include a clause about copyrights. Ban the unauthorized download, storage and distribution of copyrighted material.

  • Install monitoring software. Many companies install programs on their networks that keep an electronic eye on employees. There are many to choose from and their functions range from blocking access to pornographic, entertainment and other unauthorized sites to protecting a company’s trade secrets from being transferred by inside snitches.

  • Review your policy regularly. Much of the attention in online abuse so far has focused on employees viewing pornography, playing games and forwarding explicit jokes via e-mail. But the legal issues are evolving and the limited policy you instituted a few years ago may no longer work.