How to Copyright a Website

Today, most businesses create a website and one common question we receive is related to how to copyright a website.  How to register a website for copyright protection?  this is an important question because over time, a company’s websites can represent a substantial investment of time and resources by the company.  This is also not an easy question to answer often times, these websites include lots of copyrightable content created by many different people, including computer software or source code, text, photographs and videos.  Copyrighting these websites involves copyrighting text, photographs, software and videos.

Registering a website for copyright protection requires that the copyrighted website be an original work of art and be fixed in a tangible medium.  A website is not “published” in the traditional sense.  It is broadcast over the internet, but it is not printed off and handed to someone.  Because it is not published in the traditional sense, a website may be considered an unpublished work.  Which makes registering a website a more complicated than a typical photograph.  The copyright office however provides conflicting guidance on a website and instead relies upon the copyright applicant to decide if the work is published or unpublished.

The next question which must be asked, is if a website has multiple authors or who owns the copyright in the website.  If the copyright contributors are employees or otherwise obligated by a copyright agreement to assign their rights to the business, then the business may own all copyrights.  However, in the absence of an agreement or of an employment relationship, the individuals who were involved in creating the website may each be entitled to ownership of the website’s copyright. In addition, a website is typically modified over time.  Therefore, the copyright of the website may require investigation into who has owned the previous copyrights in the website.  Is the website a modification of an earlier version of the website or is it the original website.  Was the website created using open source code or software which is free to everyone to copy?  Also, does the website include photographs or videos which need to be protected? Again, these are just some of the many issues which may impact the registration for the copyright of the website.

The first step in copyrighting a website is to determine what portion or portions of the website content need to be protected with a copyright and who was involved in creating the website.  Once the website content is identified, then we need to look at who is the copyright owner of the identified content and if the content has been published.  The copyright owner is generally the person who will have the right to stop others from copying the website content.

Registering the website for copyright protection can be as easy as meeting with a Copyright Attorney who may then obtain an electronic copy of the website and ask a series of questions related to who owns various rights in the website, if it published and who will be the owner of the copyright.

Instead of using a copyright attorney, a copyright on a website may be registered by the business owner or copyright owner directly with the copyright office for a nominal filing fee.  A copyright registration for a website can be very valuable to help stop someone who attempts to copy portions of your website. If the copyright is done correctly, the law may provide for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work infringed, depending on how the website is registered.

While hiring an attorney to copyright a website is more expensive than filing it yourself, in contrast to the amount of time and resource dedicated to creating the website or the value to the business for the website, it is a small investment. If you would like to copyright a website, please contact one of our Copyright attorneys.

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