Protecting Your Website: Copyright Myths Dispelled

As “website” isn’t yet recognized by the US Copyright Office as a category of work, there are a lot of false assumptions floating around out there about exactly how to correctly copyright a website. Some of those assumptions land close to the mark—others, not so much. Since your copyright protection dates from when the Copyright Office receives your correct application, protecting your company’s website depends on you being able to separate fact from fiction. Below are a few myths about registering copyrights for websites that just don’t hold water.

Protecting Your Website -- Myths Dispelled
Image courtesy of Ata Ur Rehman. Some rights reserved.

Myth: If you register your URL with the Copyright Office, the entire page is protected.—FALSE

There are a few things wrong with this assumption. The first is that if you don’t give the Copyright Office a copy of exactly what you want protected, they can’t register it; if you simply tell the Copyright Office that you have a website, there will be no proof of the content itself that you can use to bring an infringement suit. And not only that, there are certain things that cannot be protected by copyright: names, short phrases, titles—and website addresses.

Myth: If you register a copyright for your website with the Copyright Office, any subsequently added content is automatically protected.—FALSE

Just as in the first example, in order for the Copyright Office to register your work, they need a copy of that work. It’s like adding a chapter to a book, after you’ve already copyrighted the book, but failing to register the new content. Logic dictates that the version of your website you send in is the only version that is protected by registration, and so does copyright law.

Myth: If you register a copyright for the section of your website that includes images of your products, you’re registering your products.—FALSE

Let’s think about this one in terms of photography copyrights in general. I can go to the Pacific Ocean, take a lovely picture, and register my copyright. But what am I copyrighting? It isn’t the subject—I can’t copyright the Pacific Ocean. It’s the photograph itself. If I register a copyright for that photograph, that doesn’t mean that no one is allowed to take another picture of the Pacific Ocean. It means that no one can use my photograph of it.

Therefore, if you register a copyright for a picture of a pair of pants, it’s the picture itself that is being registered for copyright protection. The pants themselves have no more copyright protection than the Pacific Ocean.

Myth: If your website is open to user comments, and one of those users posts someone else’s copyrighted material without their permission, you are not legally accountable.—FALSE…sometimes.

You may have heard of the Safe Harbor Act, a subsection of the Digial Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which limits the liability of an online service provider—that’s you—when a user comment contains copyrighted material. However, what you may not be aware of is that there is no safety in that harbor unless you follow certain requirements to the letter. For more information, take a look at the DMCA FAQ provided by Chilling Effects.

If you’re thinking about registering a copyright for your website, look no further! Click and Copyright provides quick, affordable copyright registrations.

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