Although copyright protection comes into existence automatically upon you creating a work which satisfies the requirements of copyright, it is often a good idea to have evidence that you created something on a particular date just in case there is later a dispute regarding who owns the copyright in your creations. A third party may say that you have copied their work. Having each draft of your work marked with a time and date stamp and signed can help you prove ownership in a dispute between the third party.
If you are creating your website from scratch, it is advisable to place a copyright notice on your website to indicate that you own the copyright and to record the date of your creation. Your website may take a while to create if you are developing it yourself. Therefore as you create each page or even each element of your website which is copyrightable, such as a drawing or another element that could attract copyright protection it is a good idea to keep a record of all of the drafts and revisions you have created so you have evidence of what dates you created work various works within your website.
A technique authors use when creating websites and any other kinds of copyright is to post a copy of the works you prepare to yourself with the dates on them so that you have further proof of the date that they were created by you. If you are creating content, source code, computer programs, databases that may qualify for protection, images or photos then you may undertake various iterations before being satisfied with the final result. It would be a good idea to keep all of these drafts so you have a complete set of drawings of pictures or drafts of text as they evolved. This may help you in an ownership dispute. This is known as “poor man’s copyright” and it does have it’s limitations as a method of proving ownership.
Sometimes you may either consider registering your copyright with the USPTO or alternatively involving a third person who can perhaps verify that you created the work and keep a separate copy of your work in their possession. They may be a Solicitor, a Notary or an Escrow Service. There are ways that third parties have cast doubt upon the credibility of the method of “poor man’s copyright” as a method of proving ownership. There are commercial services who may be able to assist you if you wanted to do more than post the work to yourself but cannot afford the expense and trouble of registering your work with the UPSTO.
You can only claim copyright if you are the author of an original work and didn’t copy it from another source. This is another factor you need to keep in mind when creating your website. If you are going to use a work as a source of inspiration for your website, even if you feel that you have altered a work so that you have made it your own, it is always safer to merely contact the third party and ask whether you have permission to use their work. Otherwise you may be found liable for copyright infringement, as questions of copyright can be subjective and it is not always easy to predict with certainty whether you will have any defence available to you such as fair dealing or fair use. There are many creative commons licences works which you can make use of to create your website which you might find suitable. It is also sometimes easy to sub-consciously copy a work without intending to. This has happened to musicians who didn’t intentionally copy another person’s work.
Registration with the USPTO is the most reliable way of proving ownership of your work. If you register your work with the US Copyright Office you can be assured that it is filed on public record that you are the owner of various constituent elements of your website and this means you will be eligible to recover damages and legal fees if you have registered your copyright and received a certificate of registration which verifies your ownership. By registering in the United States, a Treaty called the Berne Convention which many countries have signed up to, means you will automatically be given the same protection in other countries who are signatories as they would be obliged to provide authors in the United States.
Any original content you post, such as photos, drawings, content you write, movies you make, soundtracks, songs and computer programs you write may be eligible for copyright protection provided you satisfy the other criteria for copyright. You might have placed music on your website which could be protected both as a musical work if you wrote the musical notation and as a literary work if you wrote the lyrics. You may have performance rights depending on the situation under which you recorded the work. However there are limitations to what copyright protection can protect, just as there are with other forms of intellectual property.
For example, copyright isn’t intended to protect ideas, new processes or products or new ways of doing things. This is the province of patent law. If you are intending to register your website for copyright protection you should identify all of the possibly protectable elements of the website under copyright law, as you will have the onus of listing the works you seek protection for in your application. When you complete revisions or updates to your website be careful to update them with the registration body. Not all revisions will attract a separate copyright protection especially if they are insubstantial.
Whether or not you are completing a form for registration of the different works which may exist in your website, or merely making note of them for your own records if you decide not to register your copyright works in your website, it is a good idea to list them and identify what kind of copyright they may include. As mentioned above sometimes you will have more than one copyright within one work. You would have a copyright over the musical score and for the lyrics. The same would be true of a multimedia file in the form of a video or a separate sound recordings if you are making a podcast.
It is preferable to itemise each work rather than just state that you wish to acquire copyright over your website or the look and feel of your website, as you may not have a copyright entitlement over the look and feel, as look and feel is more to a trademark related right.
You may have rights over a section of your website which has an original and unique typographical layout of the columns of your website and the juxtaposition of the text and images although this may be difficult to establish. It all depends on the circumstances. Copyright does not give you protection for ideas, rather the expression of ideas. If you have translated your website into another language, you may or may not be entitled to a separate copyright for the foreign translation but once again it will depend on the circumstances. There is some overlap between trademarks and copyright and you may find that if you have developed a logo which is a combination of an artistic work and text you may have an entitlement to register the artistic work separately as a copyright.
If you have written any unique computer program this may constitute a separate literary work. However you cannot claim copyright for ideas or concepts so if you developed a method for shopping on your website or a particular ecommerce solution for your customers you might need to make sure you are not infringing on the many other software patents that exist for e-commerce solutions. It is possible that your methods or processes may qualify for protection but may do so under patent law rather than copyright law.
You cannot copyright your domain name, titles, names or slogans unless there are exceptional circumstances.
If you discover a work online which you believe is an act of infringement of your copyright which is not excused by a defence, then you can always send a Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) Take-Down Notice to the web host asking that material which infringes your copyright is taken down. You will need to provide details of your copyright and signed a sworn statement under penalty of perjury.
The USPTO should be able to provide you with some materials to assist you in better understanding intellectual property which can be complicated although they cannot provide you with legal advice. Remember that legal measures are expensive in enforcing your copyright.
You may consider some inexpensive ways of monitoring your website once published such as subscribing to alerts. Search is evolving quickly and we don’t know what the future of search will look like down the track. For instance there now exists sophisticated image protection software called http://www.tinyeye.com which can track your photos across the internet even when someone has made additions to try to disguise their copying. It is more efffective than watermarking and electronic devices to prevent people copying your work. It uses different technology, similar to that which protects a song from being copied. If you detect content which you feel has been copied from your webpage you may use a tool like copyscape to help you determine if a third party has infringed your copyright.
Your website is your business and there are many components which can be copyrighted or if not copyrighted protected by another intellectual property regime or form of law such as trademark infringement, false and deceptive advertising of unfair competition. Therefore if it is very important to you, it is worth spending the time to protect your investment against persons who may steal your content and possibly ruin your goodwill as a businessperson by tarnishing your reputation.
Having said that, on the internet, there are millions of new pages being added to the world wide web everyday and it is very difficult to police and monitor copyright infringements by every single website owner.