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How to Copyright a Website and Protect Content

Stored in Website Management and tagged
Content theft

Website content has copyright protection even without a line anywhere on the site with the word “copyright”.

So the challenge for a website publisher is not in how to copyright a website. The challenge for a publisher is in understanding the law and how to protect a site from copyright infringement.

Copyright and “initial ownership” belong to the creator of content, according to the copyright laws of the United States. Authors of a joint work are co-owners of the content.

When publishers hire someone to produce content for a site, they become the owners of that content unless the publishers and creators specify otherwise in writing. For this reason alone, it is critical for publishers and creators to have a written agreement about who has all or some rights to the content and for what period of time.

Unfortunately, legal protection of website content doesn’t stop two types of people from taking that content for their own use. The first type consists of people who don’t understand copyright laws. The second type doesn’t care about those laws.

For the sake of the first type, there are two common methods for making them aware that website material is copyrighted. The most popular method is a line in the footer of the website that says something like, © 2007-2019 Promise Media LLC. The other, less popular and in-your-face method is a copyright symbol in the byline of an article.

Still, some visitors may not see the copyright, understand what it means or care about the consequences.

One other method is available but not necessary in most cases. For even more protection, website owners can register a copyright with the U.S. government at copyright.gov.

How to Find Copyright Infringement

Finding someone who has “borrowed” content is possible but no easy task, especially for large websites with a lot of content. Is it even worth the time?

An easy method involves pasting a block of content into a search engine to see if it shows up anywhere else.

For example, I posted “Selling online advertising requires an organized and planned approach to finding customers whose understanding of online varies greatly” from one of my articles in Google and found many instances of sites that copied the entire article. (Note the use of quotes around the content to get an exact match.)

But this approach comes with a note of caution. Many of these sites are bogus. Their owners copy the content in the hope that the publisher discovers the theft, visits the site and gets hit with malware or some other scam.

Another option for finding infringements is with a service such as Copyscape that tracks plagiarisms.

That said, the search engines usually know that the site with the original content is the first and most important publisher. Content owners may not find the amount of time chasing after these infringements is worthwhile. There are two possible exceptions:

  1. For the most important content;
  2. In case search engines rank the articles on the other sites higher.

How to Respond to Copyright Infringement

Help

If the violation is worthy of response, a publisher can take several steps to resolve it. The steps go from simple to complex.

Step one is an email or phone call to the site owner. An email is better because it creates a paper trail for later legal use if necessary.

The email can take the form of a DMCA complaint. DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The email may look something like this:

I am writing you on behalf of my rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This letter is a Notice of Infringement according to §512 of the U.S. Copyright Law.

1. The copyrighted work at issue is the text that appears on: (their URL here)

2. The URL where my copyrighted material appears is: (your URL here)

3. My contact information is: (your name), (your address), (your email)

4. I believe with good faith that use of the copyrighted material described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

5. I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

(your full name)

How to Find Website Owners

Less reputable websites may not have contact information. In that case, the content owner should try to pursue the problem with the hosting company.

Go to a hosting lookup website to get the hosting company name. Then go to a whois website to look up the contact information for that hosting company. The results usually have an email address for abuse like the one below. Send the email there.

In my experience over decades, at least one of the above methods will usually resolve the problem.

Finally, if all else fails, and the fight is worth the time and effort, hire an attorney to send a warning letter to the other website owner. If that too fails, it’s time to go to court.

This information is based on U.S. copyright laws from www.copyright.gov. It is meant as general information and not as a substitute for professional legal advice.

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