Ask SCORE: Do I need to copyright my website to protect it?

Your business’s website can be one of the most powerful marketing tools you’ll ever have at your disposal. Unfortunately, the better it is, the better the chances it will catch the eye of unscrupulous competitors. They might have no qualms about hijacking your written content, images or other elements and presenting them as their own.

How can you prevent people from stealing content and images from your website? Copyright!

Copyright protects the rights of creators of original works—such as literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works (for example, play scripts, movies, poetry, books, songs, photography and even computer software). It protects the way things are expressed/presented in works (e.g., the images, arrangements of words or music, etc.); it does not, according to the U.S. Copyright Office, protect “facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation.” When you create (draw, write, photograph, etc.) something original, copyright law automatically gives you ownership of the work. At the moment you create a work, copyright exists.

This is also the case with digital content, including websites. 

At the bottom of most websites, you’ve likely seen terminology of the likes of “Copyright 2017, “All Rights Reserved” or “© 2017” at the bottom of websites. That tells others that the website’s owner claims rights to what is on the site. For example, SCORE.org uses “Copyright © 2017 SCORE Association, http://www.score.org” and my company’s website displays “© 2008 – 2017 CorpNet, Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.” to show that we own our websites. Even if you don’t include such a notice on your site, you still have copyright protection. But I recommend you consider adding that text because it can help deter others from thinking your content is free for the taking.

What Are The Advantages Of Officially Registering For A Copyright?

While not required by law, you can further demonstrate your ownership rights to your website by registering for an official copyright through the U.S. Copyright Office. By doing so, you’ll have your rights on the public record, and you’ll receive a certificate of registration. Before you can file a copyright infringement case, you need to have officially registered for copyright. A website with a registered copyright may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees if a lawsuit is successful.

How To Register For A Copyright

You must either be the original author of a work or the original author must grant you rights to register a copyright. Keep in mind, that creating a website often involves collaboration between developers, designers, photographers and content writers, so there may be some shades of gray where ownership is concerned. To avoid confusion and potential legal issues, consider making your working agreements with contractors providing those services as clear as possible regarding who owns the work they create when building your website.

To register for a copyright for your website, go to the U.S. Copyright Office’s online Registration Portal to complete an application under the category of “Other Digital Content.” Expect a processing period of six to eight months if you file online or eight to 10 months if you file using a paper form. The fee for filing a Standard Application electronically in 2017 is just $55.

For more detailed information about copyright law and the protection it provides you and your business, I suggest you visit the U.S. Copyright Office website. It describes the law in detail, and it also provides a helpful list of frequently asked questions.

And, as with any business issue or concern that has legal significance, consider talking with an attorney to ensure you’re taking the appropriate measures to protect your website and all of your brand’s assets.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nellie Akalp, CEO of CorpNet

Nellie Akalp is a serial entrepreneur, small business advocate, speaker and author. Nellie has been named a Top 100 Small Business Influencer by Small Business Trends the last five years and CorpNet.com has been recognized on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing privately-held companies in America in 2015 and 2016.

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