Advice on Copyright Law
Can I copyright my website content? PlanetMagpie’s W3 team has been asked that question so many times we finally decided to call in an expert—Terry Church, Chairperson of the IP and Technology Licensing Group at Silicon Valley Law Group in San Jose—to write an article about it for WOOF! Take it away, Terry!
For many companies, their website is the centerpiece of their marketing strategy. A great deal of time, effort and money are spent on creating a web presence that reflects their company's unique identity. The website's content in particular must be carefully written to convey the company’s value and drive the site's search engine ranking. Finding that same content on a competitor's site is frustrating and infuriating, and it can result in lost business.
How do I find out if content from my site has been copied?
One way is to search for your company's name on Google/Yahoo/Bing and go through the results for unfamiliar links. You may find (like PlanetMagpie has so many times) that not only did someone steal your content; they didn't even bother to remove your name from it!
Copying website content without authorization is both unethical and illegal – and you can take steps to stop it. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery. But if the flattery goes too far, you may need to take action. Knowing your rights under copyright law can help you do this.
Website content is protected under federal copyright laws. The law protects your exclusive right to reproduce or display copies of your written work, including your written work on the Internet. No one else may use it without your permission. Many people don’t know that you don't have to register website content to claim copyright rights on it. Under federal law, copyright rights arise automatically when a piece of written work is created.
So why register? First, copyright registration is required in most cases before an infringement lawsuit may be brought. (Certain actions under state law are allowed without registration.) Secondly, registration is required for enforcement of foreign infringement (someone overseas stealing your content). Finally – and most importantly – registration enables you to recover statutory damages and attorney's fees from the thief.
What are the statutory damages I can collect under copyright infringement law?
If you don't register, you must prove that the infringement caused you an actual loss. This is often difficult without clear evidence of loss of sales and revenue. With registration, a court may award damages without proof of actual loss. Such awards may range from $200 to $150,000 per infringement incident. In the case of a website, an infringement incident occurs every time the website is accessed.
The amount of the award depends on a number of factors, including the market value of the rights infringed (e.g., this newsletter vs. a chapter from Harry Potter), whether there is proof of actual loss, the amount of profits gained by the infringer, and the state of mind of the infringer (e.g., did he copy it on purpose?). You may also collect attorney's fees.
How do I register my content? You can copyright written content at the Library of Congress' U.S. Copyright Office website (www.copyright.gov). All that's required is an application, depositing a copy of the copyrighted materials, and paying a fee of $35 or $65 (depending on the filing method).
Are there any benefits to using a lawyer for our copyright registrations?
An experienced lawyer may help you avoid pitfalls and advise you on some of the arcane questions that are asked in the forms. Try doing the initial registration together with a lawyer. Then for subsequent registrations, you may feel comfortable doing it on your own.
Once the Copyright Office receives your application, they may have questions. Respond as soon as you receive them, or they may assume you have abandoned your application. The Copyright Office receives hundreds of thousands of applications each year—be prepared for a 6-to-8 month wait on your certificate of registration.
What should I put on my website content in order to mark it as copyright-protected?
Mark the material as copyrighted by attaching the word "Copyright" or the symbol "©", followed by the name of the owner and the year, at the end of the work. This serves as copyright notice to the world. A content thief can't claim innocence now.
Don't let your hard work benefit your competition. Take steps to protect your interests and prevent unscrupulous companies from taking wrongful advantage of your website content.
For more information, contact Terence N. Church of Silicon Valley Law Group at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Terence N. Church, 2009-2016. All rights reserved.