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Protecting your business website with copyright

2 March, 2020 · 8 min read·Content creation
Protecting your business website with copyright
Your website is a valuable business asset. Learn more about protecting it using website copyright registration.

As a business owner, you understand the importance of guarding your assets. You lock your office doors, store valuables in a secure place, and possibly even install video surveillance. However, you may be neglecting one critical asset: your business website.

In the digital age, your website is incredibly valuable. It allows your business to get found on Google by anyone in the world. While informative content, custom images, and compelling videos drive traffic to your site, these works are also vulnerable to theft and plagiarism. That’s where website copyright protection comes into play.

In this article, we'll answer your questions related to website copyright, including why you need it and how you can officially register with the U. S. Copyright Office.

What is copyright?

Copyright is legal protection for “original works of authorship.” These works can take a variety of forms, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, architectural, and technical. This protection comes from the U.S. Constitution.

Copyright is legal protection for “original works of authorship.” These works can take a variety of forms, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, architectural, and technical. This protection comes from the U.S. Constitution.

To qualify for copyright, a work must meet these two requirements:

  • It’s an original work of authorship. To be “original,” the work must exhibit some level of creativity. For example, you can’t copyright facts, but you can copyright an article listing related facts in a creative way. Furthermore, only the original author owns the right to a work’s copyright.
  • It’s in a fixed, tangible form. To copyright something, the work must be preserved in a fixed, tangible form, such as a recording, manuscript, or document. For example, a set of dance choreography must be recorded to qualify for copyright. Otherwise, there’s no way to officially identify the copyrighted work.

What can be copyrighted?

Any original work in a fixed, tangible medium may qualify for copyright. However, to get specific, here are some common examples of what can be copyrighted:

  • Novels
  • Nonfiction literary work
  • Poems
  • Articles
  • Essays
  • Speeches
  • Computer programs
  • Music (both notation and lyrics)
  • Screenplays
  • Scripts
  • Architectural and engineering drawings
  • Maps, charts, and globes
  • Paintings
  • Cartoons
  • Photographs
  • Sketches
  • Sculptures
  • Operas
  • Recorded choreography
  • Movies
  • Recorded music or sound effects
  • Unique compilations of pre-existing materials

As you can see, the works that qualify for copyright are vast. Each of these works requires a great deal of creativity, time, and effort. People would stop creating them if intellectual property theft was allowed. Thus, that’s why copyright exists.

What can’t be copyrighted?

Copyright does not cover “facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation.” Some notable examples that do not qualify for copyright include:

  • Scientific or technical methods
  • Mathematical principles
  • Formulas
  • Recipes
  • Business operations
  • Commonly known information
  • Unrecorded speeches
  • Unrecorded choreography
  • Names
  • Titles
  • Short phrases
  • Expressions
  • Fashion (since clothing considered a “useful article”)

For the most part, these items are off-limits. However, some of these things can be expressed in a unique, tangible way. In that case, they may still qualify for copyright.

For example, a recipe on its own does not qualify for copyright, but a cookbook does. This is because a cookbook is a meaningful compilation with “substantial literary expression.” Likewise, a mathematical principle is exempt from copyright, but a textbook explaining that principle would qualify.

Copyright vs. Trademark vs. Patent

Copyright, trademarks, and patents are all forms of intellectual property protection. However, don’t get them confused. They apply to unique categories.

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, protection applies the following categories:

  • Copyright - “Original works of authorship.”
  • Trademarks - “A word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.”
  • Patents - “A limited duration property right relating to an invention.”

Each of these protections can apply to businesses. For example, your company’s name, branding design, logo, and slogan are probably trademarked already. If your business invents a new product, it may even have a patent. However, these forms of protection are distinctly different from copyright.

What is website copyright?

Website copyright is a copyright protection for works found websites. It is not copyright for the website in its entirety. Website material that qualifies for individual copyright includes:

  • News articles
  • Blogs
  • Audio content, like music or podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • Whitepapers
  • Reports
  • Games
  • Original computer programs

All of these items require a great investment of time and money to produce. Unfortunately, they’re also easy to plagiarize, copy, or misrepresent as someone else’s work. That’s why copyright is so important.

_For examples of beautifully designed business websites, check out _B12’s Website Gallery.

Websites also feature many things that cannot be copyrighted. Some of these items include:

  • Links to other websites
  • Anything within the public domain
  • User-generated content, like comments or reviews
  • Domain names
  • Hypertext links
  • Plans for unpublished websites
  • Functional design elements
  • Layouts
  • Formatting
  • Names
  • General symbols

These items are exempt because they either don’t meet the authorship requirement, they’re unpublished, or they’re apart of the public domain. Furthermore, you usually can’t copyright a website in its entirety unless it qualifies as a compilation of works and you own all the individual contents’ copyrights.

Why should you get website copyright?

Before the boom of digital commerce, copyright was primarily a concern for artists -- not business people. These days, businesses invest a lot of money in creating original marketing content for their websites. From SEO-optimized blogs to custom graphics, a lot goes into modern websites.

Furthermore, it’s easier than ever to steal original content online. It’s as simple as a quick “copy” and “paste.” That’s why website copyright is so valuable — it can protect your original content from being plagiarized and misrepresented as someone else’s work.

Technically, copyright is effective as soon as an original work is published. However, garnering legal copyright protection takes a few more steps.

The only way to deter people from reusing your work is to make your copyright protection known with a valid copyright notice. If your copyright has been infringed upon, you must also register with the U.S. Copyright Office to seek legal damages.

What is a copyright notice?

To obtain legal copyright protection, you must display your copyright notice with your work. By doing so, you make sure that people won’t innocently infringe upon your work. If they’re deemed “innocent-infringers” by the court, you are less likely to receive damages.

An effective copyright notice clearly communicates to visitors that a work is original and legally protected. A valid copyright notice must contain the following elements:

  • The copyright symbol © - In the United States, the words “copyright” or “copr.” are also acceptable alternatives. However, in many countries, the symbol is required. Thus, it’s prudent to include the symbol.
  • The year of publication.
  • The name of the copyright owner.

These elements can occur in any order, but they all must be present. A complete copyright notice would look like the following: “© 2006 John Smith.”

Why register your website copyright?

Even with a valid notice, there’s no way to actually stop people from stealing your work, and it happens more often than you think. That’s why it’s prudent to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. While creative ownership exists the moment an original work is created, without registration, you can’t pursue legal damages.

Once registered, you are eligible to file a copyright infringement case. If you win, you can receive statutory damages and even get your lawyer fees covered. For this to happen, you must register within three months of publication or before the infringement occurred. That’s why it’s in your best interest to register as soon as possible.

Registration is especially important if the protected works are of financial value to you or your business. However, registering is ultimately up to you.

How to register your copyright?

To officially register your copyright, you’ll need to follow these steps laid out by the U.S. Copyright Office:

  • Complete an application form. You can do this electronically or by paper.
  • Pay the application fee. For online applications, this is only $35. For paper applications, you must pay $65.
  • Provide a copy of the original work. Depending on the work, you may submit an online file, CD, printable document, audio file, or video file. The office will hold on to this work, so make sure you have other copies.

The registration process usually takes around 6-10 months, with paper applications taking longer than online applications. Keep in mind that the applicant must be the original author of the work. You can’t copyright work on someone else’s behalf.

How to get website copyright

Website copyrights are similar to most other copyrights. Choose the appropriate registration category for your website content. For example, blog articles would fall into “literary content.”

Next, place your copyright notice clearly on your website. The footer is a popular location since it’s visible throughout the entire website. You only need to place a copyright notice on the home page to ensure legal protection, but including it on every page will help deter infringements.

If you want to go one step further, create a landing page for your copyright notice with detailed restrictions on what visitors can and cannot use. Link to this page in your footer’s copyright notice to provide greater clarity for visitors.

Note: Copyright registrations only apply to the specific works submitted at the time of registration. Since most websites are constantly updated, future registrations will be required. Some exceptions account for automatic updates, but these are limited. Also, make sure to update the copyright date with each updated registration.

Who owns the website copyright?

Websites employ a lot of creative collaboration. A number of people will contribute original works, including web designers, content writers, photographers, videographers, etc. Each creator is entitled to the copyright of their work. Thus, collaboration can make things a little more complicated.

Furthermore, copyright ownership varies depending on if the creator is an employee or an independent contractor. To ensure clear, legal ownership of your business website, you need to understand this difference. The work of an employee belongs to the company, as long as this work is a part of their job description. On the other hand, independent contractors own the copyright to their work, unless they transfer the copyright.

For example, if you outsource your web development, hire freelance content writers, or use professional photographers, they will need to agree to transfer the copyright. You can write up an agreement to establish this transfer, with the help of a legal expert. This will give your company an exclusive license to use this material.

Does copyright protect you internationally?

If you register within the U.S., your copyright will often be honored in other countries, as there are standing international copyright agreements. However, these agreements aren’t universal. To learn about the specific copyright agreements between countries, check out the International Copyright Relations of the United States.

If you’re interested in protecting your work, we recommend consulting an intellectual property attorney.

For more information on website design and business development, check out B12’s Resource Center.

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