How to Copyright a Website to Protect It
Your website is an important business asset that needs protection
Your business website is a valuable asset for marketing, sales, and customer service power and you should protect it just like you would your other business property. You can do that by copyrighting it, and this is a step-by-step process.
Your business website is intellectual property just like a trademark or patent. You'll want to protect your domain name, the graphics on your website such as your business logo, and all the images it contains.
What Is a Website?
A website is defined by the U.S. Copyright Office as "a webpage or set of interconnected web pages, including a homepage, located on the same computer or server (i.e., fixed together on that computer or server), and prepared and maintained as a collection of information by a person, group, or organization."
What Is Copyrighted on a Website?
Copyright protection is only for original works fixed in a tangible means of expression. A website qualifies provided that the work is original, owned by the applicant, and is clearly described.
Copyright protection on a website is for the content on that site. The U.S. Copyright Office also says that content is "material that is perceptible to the users of a particular website." This includes just about everything from news articles, literature, blogs, music, audio such as a podcast, webinars, games, and video.
You can only copyright what's already on your website. The U.S. Copyright Office indicates that the registration extends only to the content presented with the registration. Any content created later to be added to the website, or any updates to the website would require its own registration.
What Can You NOT Copyright?
Links to other websites don't reside on your website so you can't copyright them, although you can copyright internal links from one page to another on your site.
You can't copyright work that's in the public domain. This means it is owned by no one.
User-generated content is content that users put on your websites, like comments and reviews. This content is owned by the users so they own the copyright to their own contributions.
You can't copyright ideas, such as plans for future websites, or functional design elements. Nor can you copyright domain names, hypertext links, or the layout, format, or “look and feel” of a website. Common, unoriginal material, such as names, icons, or familiar symbols are not subject to copyright.
Who Owns the Website?
It's important to distinguish between an employee of your company who writes content for your website and an independent contractor who writes this content. The employee doesn't own the content—your company does.
But let's say you hire an outside party to create your website. You're paying that person to do the work so that's considered work for hire. He's an independent contractor hired by your company. The independent contractor does own the content so you'll need an agreement with him that gives your company an exclusive license to use it.
Having an outside hosting company for your website doesn't affect your copyright. Your hosting company—the company whose server your website resides with—doesn't have to be owned by you but you should still back up all your website data in case your hosting company server crashes or some other accident destroys it.
How to Copyright Your Website
Although it's true that you have automatic copyright protection the minute the website content is put up before the public, it's still smart to take a couple of additional steps.
Put a copyright notice on every page of your website, including the year. The best way to do this is to have a footer on every page that reads, "Copyright [date] [company name]". And be sure to update the year regularly. Some businesses include all the years of copyright protection, as in "Copyright 2010-2017 XYZ Company".
Register your copyright. You can do this easily with the U.S. Copyright Office. It should be registered under the category "other digital content".
The copyright for a website can be complicated. You might want an attorney to help you or contact the U.S. Copyright Office.
What If You Don't Copyright Your Website?
Your website is ever-changing. You're probably adding content to it all the time so you might not want to register the copyright. You'll still be protected by putting the copyright notice on your website. Just be sure to keep the year on the copyright notice up to date and make sure it shows on all pages.
Is a Blog a Website?
A blog is a type of website with original content that's added by you or by others working for your business. A blog can be copyright protected in the same way and in the same category as a website.
Protecting Your Domain Name
Be sure your business owns not only its website content, including graphics and images but your domain name as well. A domain name is a unique identifier on the Internet. It appears like "http://www.domainname.extension", such as "http://www.domainanonymous.com".
A domain name is unique—it cannot be duplicated. When you register your domain name, you get an exclusive name. But domain names can be the same if they carry different extensions. For example, there might be "domainanonymous.com", "doomainanonymous.net", "domainanonymous.biz", or "domainanonymous.info".
Buy the name under your own business from a reputable domain registration service, but keep in mind that buying the ".com" extension leaves the others open to be taken by someone else. Someone could buy "domainanonymous.biz" and start drawing potential customers away from you.
If you want to protect your domain name from copycats, you might want to also buy some or all of the most common extensions from a domain registration service then have them forwarded to your main domain name.
Protecting Your Domain Graphics and Logo
The "look" of your domain name is separate from its content. This look might include a graphic like the famous Amazon arrow or Google's multicolored "G". You'll have to register it as a trademark or service mark if you want to protect your website's logo.
Protecting the Images on Your Website
You might want to copyright any original images on your website separately. And if you use images, make sure that your use isn't plagiarism.
Don't Want to Lose Your Copyright? Defend it!
You'll have to be vigilant if you want to protect your website's copyright. Register the copyright and monitor regularly for plagiarism by searching for copycats. Issue "cease and desist" letters if anyone has plagiarized your site.
In short, you can protect your original website content by adding copyright notices to each page, but it's also a good idea to register your copyright. If your site is complex or includes multiple authors, look for a good intellectual property attorney to help you.