Copyright For The Webmaster

Matt Mickiewicz
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Intellectual property theft is a growing problem on the Internet. Anyone can right-click on an image, save it to their hard drive, and then use it on their web site. Anyone can copy and paste an article or review from your site, reproduce it, and claim authorship of it. This article serves as a basic introduction to copyright law, and what you can do to protect your work.

What Is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of law protecting an author from having his or her work reproduced without authorization. Please note that copyright law does not cover names, ideas and in some cases logos. It does apply to written works, images, music, and photographs.

When Is My Work Copyrighted?

For starters, all work, with the exceptions of the types listed above, is copyrighted from the moment you create it. You don’t have to put a copyright sign on your work, nor register it in order for it to be protected under copyright law. Nevertheless, doing both of those things will help your case if you ever have to take anyone to court. Here’s the text that you should put at the bottom of every page on your site:

The contents of this site are copyright (c) 1999, Your Name. All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to replace (c) with the copyright symbol, which in HTML is "©" – without the quotation marks.

Registering With The US Copyright Office

Since copyright law prohibits the reproduction of work "in part or in whole" you can register your entire site and all its images as a single work with the US Copyright Office, and you’ll be protected under copyright law. The price of registration is $30. You can find more information at: http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/

If you’re in Canada, like me, go to: http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/. You’ll find a wealth of information on that page regarding Canadian copyright law, and how it applies to the Internet.

What’s "Fair Use"?

Fair Use law allows you to reproduce a small part of someone else’s work. For example, it is legal to quote a paragraph or two from a book for a report. It would also be legal to take two or three sentences from this article, or one of my reviews, and use the quote on your site. Just remember, that the content has to be attributed to the creator. Take a look at how Sausage Software quotes reviews on their site. That is completely legal.

Can I Prevent My Text/Images From Being Taken?

There is absolutely nothing that you can do to prevent someone from taking an image from your site, from viewing your source-code, or from copying and pasting content from your site. There are JavaScripts out there that will disable right-clicking on images, but these and every other method can be very easily bypassed. However, there is a service out there that will "watermark" your images, and then constantly scan the web looking for sites with images that contain your watermark. You can find more information about this innovative product and service at DigiMarc.com.

How Do I Avoid Getting Into Trouble?

Either create all of your own content, or get permission to reproduce the work of others and give them credit for it on your site.

Ask permission before using ANYTHING on your site that you didn’t create. If you can’t contact the creator of it, or you don’t know who the creator is, don’t use it. It’s better to play it safe, than have your site shut down by your web hosting company, getting sued, and potentially being convicted of a Federal crime.

Be sure to note that taking someone else’s work, and making modifications to it, and then claiming ownership is also illegal. The changes would have to be very substantial, and even then, if it has a resemblance to another work, you’d have a hard time proving your case in court.

What Should I Do If My Work Gets Stolen?

Follow the steps below, in order, until your work is removed from the offending site:

1. Contact the site owner and ask nicely for the content to be removed. If you can’t find an email address on the site go to: http://www.networksolutions.com/cgi-bin/whois/whois and contact the administrative contact of the domain name. If after 24-72 hours the content isn’t removed, move on to step two.

2. Contact the web hosting company. Once again go to: http://www.networksolutions.com/cgi-bin/whois/whois/ and look up the domain name of the offending site. This time look at the technical contact. You’ll see an email address listed there similar to this: joeshmoe@webhostingcompany.com . You now know the hosting company of the site. Fire off an email to abuse@webhostingcompany.com, complaining about one of their customers, citing specific examples of how the content on one of their customers sites resembles yours. If the hosting company refuses to take action move on to step three.

3. Contact an intellectual property lawyer and pay him/her to send a letter via certified mail to both the web hosting company and the owner of the site explaining your position. This is as far as this will likely go. Most hosting companies will remove the offending site after receiving a letter from a lawyer. If not, move to step four.

4. Sue the hosting company and site owner.

The Disclaimer

I am not a lawyer. This article is not meant to replace the advice from a qualified intellectual property lawyer.

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