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Understanding Your Website's Copyright Issues

Aug 17, 2007
Copyrights are what protect the work and the income of artists and authors by providing them with exclusive rights of control over the use and reproduction of their works. This can include music, art, wording, books, patterns, and all other types of specialized design.

For a work to be copyrighted, it needs to be considered to be original. This means that it cannot be so commonly used that it is considered to be public domain. It needs to be distinct in its existence. Therefore, ideas and facts cannot be copyrighted, however, their method of expression can be.

Although each country has its own specific copyright laws, they frequently cover the same items. Therefore, it is almost universally accepted that copyright infringement occurs when one person copies another person's copyrighted piece without permission from the owner.

It should be understood that just because you have a copy of the item, it doesn't mean that you own its copyright. For example, just because you've bought a copy of a book, or you've photocopied a newspaper article, it doesn't mean that you have rights to further copy or re-sell this item. To do so, you would need expressed permission from its author. This is done to protect the author, who depends on his or her piece for income. Even if the particular piece is no longer available or if you're not making an income from the piece, it is still copyright infringement if you make copies without permission. This means that if you buy a book, you are allowed to read and use the book, but you are not allowed to display, copy, or alter the book - in whole or in part - without the expressed permission of its author.

There is an exception to this rule, which is the fair use exception, which allows for comment and educational opportunities when it comes to a creative effort. This means that if you are writing an academic paper that is making a statement that is backed by another person's work, you are allowed to use a small portion of the total item as an example, or to make the point. Furthermore, you are allowed to express your opinion about any given piece, and use a portion of that piece to explain that point of view. Credit must also be given to the original owner. Therefore, if you quote or use a piece of a copyrighted work, you must state the source of this work, and give credit to its owner.

The same thing goes to website content and design. Since it is your work when you create it, then it means that nobody has the rights to use it - in whole or in part - without your permission. This also means that you can't "copy-and-paste" anything from another person's website content or design without their permission. However, this doesn't seem to stop many unethical web designers from doing this anyway.

There are ways to protect your web design from intellectual property theft. Though your work is automatically copyrighted to you the moment you create it in tangible form, you can add protection to this copyright in a number of ways. The first is to register your copyright with your federal government. Though there is often a processing fee that goes with this registry, if your piece is particularly large or valuable, or if you simply want the peace of mind from having registered proof of your ownership, this cost is well worth it.

For a less expensive method of marking your copyright, you may wish to add a sentence at the bottom of each the web pages within your web design, which states "Copyright [date] by [owner's name]" or "[date] by [owner's name]". Either of these notations is valid.

You may also want to check the internet periodically to make certain that nobody has taken any parts of your website. This can be done at a number of different websites for free, for example: www.copyscape.com. Simply plug in the URL of each of the web pages of your website into the field, and it will automatically scan the internet for other sites that have the same wording or pieces of your wording. This will allow you to find out if someone else has used your content, and to pursue them to have them cease their use of your property.
About the Author
Mark Nenadic
Mark is the director and face behind FifteenDegrees-North, where you will find articles and resources to help with SEO, marketing and Web design.
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