If you are a business owner or blogger seeking protection for your website, you should begin the process to copyright your site by registering with the U.S. Copyright Office. Here are the 5 steps to copyright a website:
- Determine the ownership of the website’s content.
- Determine what can be copyrighted.
- Work with an experienced copyright attorney.
- Submit your application to the U.S. Copyright Office.
- Add a copyright notice to every page of your site.
Who actually owns the content on your website? The answer may seem obvious. However, if you use images or elements on your site that you do not own (think of stock photography you may be using) then all the elements of your website may not be included in a copyright filing. Therefore, the first step to filing a copyright application for your website would be to identify the truly unique content that can be protected under US copyright law.
Determine What Can Be Copyrighted
Once you have determined what elements of your website you truly owned a copyright application may be prepared for those elements. Typically, the most important elements that website owners should seek to protect include:
- Blog posts
- General content
- Original music that is posted
You may be seeking protection for additional intellectual property, like your domain name or logo. While these cannot be protected with a copyright, they can be protected through trademark registration. Talk with your attorney about how to seek trademark protection for these elements of your website.
You are not required to hire a copyright attorney to manage your filing, but it is highly recommended. When protecting intellectual property through registration, it’s best to partner with an experienced attorney who can walk through the legal decisions that need to be made. Once your copyright has been registered, you will need to monitor the use of your content and take action against potential copyright infringement. Having an existing relationship with an attorney will allow you to take the necessary action quickly. In many cases, a cease-and-desist letter drafted by your attorney is enough to put the infringer on notice, but in other instances, your attorney may recommend more formal legal action.
Submit a Copyright Application
The U.S. Copyright Office does not have a specific application for websites. While websites can certainly receive copyright protections, as mentioned above, the Copyright Office asks that you determine the “predominant authorship,” whether a literary work, a work of visual art, or a work of performing arts. Then, you can submit the appropriate application. Work with your attorney to determine which application type best fits the content of your website.
A copyright application can be submitted online, directly through the U.S. Copyright Office site, or it can be submitted through a paper application. Online applications are typically processed faster than those mailed into the Copyright Office. You will also be able to submit a digital copy of the work you wish to copyright when you register online. Applicants using a mail-in application will need to include a hard-copy. It’s important to note that your work will not be returned to you after your application has been processed and that your work will become part of the public record. In some cases, the Library of Congress may ask for a hard-copy “best edition” of the work, even if you’ve filed online. If you are asked to submit a hard-copy to the Library of Congress, refer to the information on their site concerning the requirements for submitting your “best edition.”
Add a Copyright Notice to Your Site
A copyright notice is a written notice stating your work is protected by copyright. Including a copyright notice on your website isn’t mandatory, but it does have benefits. Because your website is easily accessible to the public online, it is far too easy for a person to simply cut and paste content, stealing photos and text from your site for their own use. While a copyright notice will not deter everyone from using your content without permission, it can be all the public notice needed to deter most people from infringing on your work. Including a copyright notice on your site may also help with future legal action against infringement, as infringers will not be able to argue that the copyright status of the material was unknown.
It is recommended that you add a copyright notice to each page of your site. An effective copyright notice does have some strict requirements, and must include the following, in any order:
- The copyright symbol, ©, or the words “Copyright”
- The name of the copyright owner
- The year of publication
Copyright Your Site
If you are a business owner or a blogger wondering how to protect the content on your website, consider obtaining copyright. Although an official copyright through the U.S. Copyright Office is not required to protect your site from infringement, it will greatly increase the effectiveness of your legal claim. First, determine who owns the content, and sign an agreement with a third-party creator, if necessary. Next, learn what can and cannot be copyrighted on your site. Partner with an experienced attorney to draft and submit your application to the U.S. Copyright Office, and then include a copyright notice on every page of your website. These steps will help to protect your website and your business from infringement.