How To Copyright Your Website In Six Easy Steps
How to copyright a website: And why it’s so important to do it today.
Your online content is who you are. How you represent yourself or your business online is the distinguishing difference (or Unique Selling Point) between you and your competitors. It’s what helps customers find you, buy from you, and keep coming back to your website.
Google frowns on duplicate content and therefore are subjected to lower standings within the search engines. The lower your site lists within the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) the less traffic you get — which can result in reduced income and brand equity. This is the core power behind optimizing your website for greater search engine friendliness.
It’s your intellectual property — you need to protect it.
Two ways to protect your online content
Actually, there are more, but these are the two of the easiest and most affordable.
1. Use an online copyright service
Some private services such as Copyrighted offer services ranging from free to $20/month that will protect and monitor your website. The less expensive option (but will take more time), is to use the U.S. electronic copyright office (eCO) website. Registration fee is about $35.
2. Do it yourself
Which is what this article is about and will hopefully save you time, money, and headaches.
What type of content can be copyrighted?
Before getting into the six steps, I should mention that there are three core elements of your website (Literary Works) that can be copyrighted. There are a few more, but theses three cover the majority of cases.
Literary Works that can be copyrighted.
- The content
The original material you created (text, graphics, etc.)
- Website HTML code
The actual HTML code you wrote to create your site
- Website screen displays
This refers to the art or design of the actual page–what you see on the screen. This can be akin to creating an illustration or painting. You designed the artwork, so it can also be protected.This has come more into play over the past few years with the advent of CSS and Blog platforms. I have read way too many instances where someone really liked a website design, so they swiped and used the CSS files for their own site. I hate to be the bearer of bad news folks, but that’s just a major No-No. Or as my three year old daughter likes to say,”Swiper, no swiping!“
Now that we understand some of the basics, here’s how you can get your website copyrighted in 6 steps.
Website Copyright in Six Easy Steps
- Add A Copyright Notice To Your Website
- Print out website pages
- Download Copyright form
- Complete the form
- Backup Website pages
- Mail application
Step 1. Add A Copyright Notice To Your Website
Make sure there’s a copyright notice displayed on your site. Simple enough. Just add a line of text to the bottom of each web page “© Copyright 2016 Your Business Name” (Change the year as required). You may see some sites also add “All rights reserved.” but I haven’t read anything indicating it’s required to protect your site or for filing the application form.
Also note that many sites use templates or Server Side Includes to automatically add a footer to their site that includes the copyright notice. If you have a website that is constantly updated or has new content added on a regular basis, I would personally recommend against that–or at least having a single template or Include. A problem arises that when you update your copyright notice text to reflect a new year, the notice is applied to all pages–not just pages added in the new corresponding year. That means that pages added in earlier years (say 2006) will display a notice for year 2007.
One workaround to this (and I’m sure there are many others) is to create separate templates or Includes that contain different copyright years.
A second, and perhaps easier, method would be to manually add a copyright line as the last line of text on each page as you create it. This way, your notice is always correct. Of course, if you’re using a blog platform, your posts will automatically contain the exact date and time that the post was created so you could modify the template to add © Copyright” preceding the posted date. Yes, you could easily fudge the date, but that would be unethical, wouldn’t it? The important thing is that no matter how you go about adding the Copyright notice; just make sure you add one.
Step 2. Print Out Web Site Pages
Print out physical copies of each web page that’s to be copyrighted.
TIP: If you’re using CSS to construct/display your site (if you’re not, you should be) you may run into a problem of background images either not displaying and/or not printing when you select to print each page. This is specially true if you have style sheets set for printing. If you are only copyrighting the original text of your site, this won’t be an issue. If however, the visual presentation of the site (images, layout, color schemes, etc.) is to be included as part of your copyright application, then you will need to use a work-around. I find the following options work really well, but you may choose to use whatever process or tools work best for you.
Paparazzi! is a small utility for Mac OS X that makes screen-shots of web-pages. It’s easy to use, fast, and best of all, it’s FREE. It will also name each screen shot with the exact URL–an nice added touch so you and the copyright office can easily identify each page. Download Paparazzi!
Use any other utility you may have to grab a screen shot of each page and them save the image to your local hard drive. Open and print each screen-shot in an application like Preview, GraphicConverter, ImageWell, Voila, or Xee. You can select to print the screenshot to fit the paper (full screen-shot on a single 8.5 x 11 paper, or have it print full size onto multiple pages). I selected the later in order to keep the content at 100% size. I then stapled each set of pages together so the copyright office wouldn’t get confused if they dropped the stack. Be forewarned, if you have a large website, the stack can get quite large.
Step 4. Complete the Form
There are only nine parts to the form, and four of them are for entering your address and signature. A brief explanation and screen-shots of each form section are shown below. (Click on images for a larger view)
Please note that copyright form “FORM TX” can be used to register a variety of different copyrights–not just websites. The following sections are based specifically on how I completed the form in order to register a copyright for KristofCreative.com. If you have any questions, PLEASE refer to the directions as described on the first few pages of the PDF. It gives detailed, line-by-line instructions for each section.
Copyright Form TX: Section 1
Write (in black ink–and that goes for all sections) the name of the domain where your content is displayed. This should obviously be your own domain. Do not use YourDomainName.com–this is for example purposes only. For the purposes of this article I used blue text to make it easier to distinguish between the form content and what I added.
Copyright Form TX: Section 2
A) Write in the full name of the Author (the person who created the material). For most website owners, the author will be yourself so write in your full name and check the “No” box in the “work made for hire” section.
Next, under “Nature of Authorship”, describe the material created for which you’re requesting a copyright. In simple terms, tell them what you want copyrighted. I my case, I added, “All text and graphics”–which covers both the actual text and individual graphics.
B) If the content was NOT “work made for hire”, leave section B and C blank.
If you happened to pay someone else (work made for hire) to create the material, you’re in luck, you are still the owner/author so you will write your full name again in part B (Name of Author) but leave the Dates of Birth and Death blank. Yes, your name will now be in two places.
Next add the year of your birth. If you’re still alive, like I was (wait, I still am) leave the “Year Died” part blank.
Copyright Form TX: Section 3
If there is one section that can throw you, this is it.
It can either be really easy, or it can tax your brain if you think about it too hard.
I can personally attest to this because it just so happens to be the one section I made a mistake on and cost me months of lost time in receiving my copyright. But follow along and I’ll do my best to explain it as simple as possible.
A) Enter the year in which the work was first published. In my particular case, I entered 1995. * Don’t fudge the dates! There are ways to revel the truth.
B) Enter the date and nation of first publication.
If you have a static site with content that’s never changed, the year should be the same as you listed in part A.
As you can see, the dates I entered were different. This, in and of itself, isn’t wrong. Just that I failed to complete section 6, which is used to clarify why there are different dates. More on that later.
As for listing a Nation? I left it blank. Since we are talking about a website (published on the Internet and available worldwide) there really isn’t a particular Nation to list as the location of publication. Also, the Copyright office never made any comments regarding it, or requiring me to add one.
With me so far? Good.
An important note about listing multiple copyright years on your website, e.g., 2001-2018.
The first year is the year in which the material was first created/published. The second year basically refers to the year in which material was updated, or revised. Meaning your website contains material published and/or revised between 2001-2018. In the words of the Copyright Office,
“… indicates this is a revised version of a published website.”
And this is where it can get a little confusing.
When I initially submitted my application, I listed 1995 in part A (the year in which much of the content was initially published – albeit, on a different domain) and 2005 in part B (the year in which the newest material was created/published to the website). And this is how I lost over three months in getting issued a formal copyright — after already waiting four months. Arrgh!
You can review the official copyright letter I received for more detailed information, but it basically works like this.
If my new work (2005) contained material previously published, then my claim needed to be limited to that year (2005). In which case, I needed to complete Section 6 (see below).
But, if I wanted to register the version published earlier (1995) then I needed to submit a copy of the work as it was published on that date.
Given the fact that I had already lost four month and I was swamped with work, I opted for the former–knowing I was going to submit applications for all earlier content at a later date when I had more time to gather the copies. Please read the special copyright tip about this at the bottom of the post.
Copyright Form TX: Section 4:
This one is really hard–try not to break a sweat. Um, write in your name, address, zip code.
Copyright Form TX: Section 5
Another tough one. If you’re like most people reading this, your material has never been registered so check the “No” box.
Copyright Form TX: Section 6
If your content has never been published before, or the material has never been revised, you can skip this section.
If you have multiple copyright years listed (see section 3) you will need to complete this section. For further details, please see full text of the official letter I received from the copyright office regarding this exact issue.
A) In my case, I wrote, “Previously published version of website.”
B) The options the Copyright Office gave me were; “New text”, “Revised text”, “New artwork”, “New photographs”, or “New compilation”. And they were very specific about “Use only the terms that apply“. As you can see, I opted for “Revised Text”.
Copyright Form TX: Section 7
A) If you register for copyrights on an on-going basis, you can create a deposit account with the Copyright Office and they will deduct fees as they’re incurred. At the time, this wasn’t true for me so I left it blank.
B) Write in your name, address, etc. PLUS a daytime phone number and Fax number if you have one. Just make sure it’s clearly legible otherwise the Copyright Office won’t be able to contact you with any questions. And surprisingly enough, they actually did call me.
Copyright Form TX: Section 8
If you are the author, check the box “Author”. Otherwise, check the box appropriate for your situation.
PRINT your name and the date.
Sign your name again on the dotted line.
Copyright Form TX: Section 9
Another really tough one.
This is the part of the form that will be used to mail you your official copyright registration–so make sure you PRINT your information clearly.
Step 5. Backup Website Pages
Archive your site or pages to be copyrighted to a (cross-platform) CD-ROM. This should include each coded page and all associated images. Also include all screenshots created in Step 2.
Copyrighting your website is definitely not a fast process. But as you can see, it is pretty straight forward and easy to complete. And for the small amount of money, it’s well worth your time–not to mention that it’s imperative to have proof of copyright in order to protect your intellectual property should legal proceedings take place. AND it’s required for inclusion in any DMCA notice.
Bottom line: I look at it like this. If it was worth your time to create it, then it’s worth your time to protect it.
Best of luck with your application.
Website Copyright Registration Tips
Copyright Registration Tip #1:
If you’re site, or compilation of pages, being submitted for copyright is fairly large (like mine always seems to be) be prepared to send a very, very large package. Then take the extra step to have it mailed by either Priority or Express mail — preferably with a signed receipt. Believe me, you don’t want to find out months later that your package was lost and you have to go through the whole process all over again.
Copyright Registration Tip #2:
Make a duplicate copy of ALL items in your package! If you don’t have a copy machine, you can scan the documents into PDF format. I personally love and highly recommend YEP.
Copyright Registration Tip #3:
Given the nature of SEO, website owners tend to tweak their content on an on-going basis. And, in some cases, their website layout. In which case, I highly recommend you apply for a new copyright every year to cover any new or revised material.
Per the Copyright Office,
“... there is no blanket copyright registration covering future revisions and additions to a work that are published on different dates. A registration will cover only the new copyrightable authorship first published on the date given on the application.“
Obtaining a new copyright every year, for work published in that year, will protect your work more thoroughly on a year-by-year basis. If you have a Blog, it’s simply a matter of going back into the archives for the previous year and printing copies of each original post. Then submit a new application for just that year. Believe me, it is well worth the time and effort.