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Web Copyright Issues: Protecting Your Work

written by: Regina Woodard•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 4/30/2011

The written content on a web site is protected under copyright law, just as the code that designed the web site is. But what exactly do these rights entail?

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    Writing an article is painstaking work, which requires a lot of time and effort. Thus, it is understandable for a writer to be outraged to find contents of his work reproduced across the web without permission. If the writer is able to track down the person who distributed the work without permission, he or she may be able to sue for copyright violation.

    A copyright is the right of the owner to permit someone to reproduce his/her work elsewhere. The content would be considered to be stolen even if someone did so unintentionally. Even without clear statement of copyright protections, the works are almost always protected (unless they are public domain) and therefore would require either permission or cited use.

    Here, we will look at the concept of copyright website content and how you can make sure your stuff stays yours.

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    Copyright: Issue and Protection

    As mentioned above, copyrights are the rights of an owner to something. Even a sentence copied without permission can be termed as copyright violation. This is probably one of the things that the recording and movie entertainment organizations are facing; with the ability to not only get access to and download music and movies, there has been a real cry from artists about the 'freeness' of getting Web Copyright Issues: Content Issues their works.

    How does someone become aware of a copyright violation? Companies are able to either stumble and find something of theirs that is being viewed or used (such as on YouTube) and the same can be said for anyone who stumbles around the Internet and discovers that their book, their song, or their design is being used by someone else without permission.

    In the case of online content, the waters are a bit murky, but there are points to know and understand.

    • Design and content of a website are two different things. The writer may own the text, but not the design (including logo, images, etc) of the website.
    • The design belongs to the designer, who is also protected by copyright laws.
    • The writer will have rights only to the content of the site unless the design rights have also been transferred under valid written agreements or the writer of the site is also its designer.

    In the United States, any article written by an author becomes their property and they own the full copyright upon finishing the creation of the article with their name attached to it (unless the author has an agreement to release the rights to another person or entity). However, in order to have full legal protection and backing, a record of this must be on file with the United States Copyright, Patent and Trademark Office. Unfortunately, the costs of legal action far outweigh the result of it, and many freelance and independent writers cannot afford this risk.

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    Why Does This Matter?

    Web site designers often create the content for the web sites they are designing. If not, the content is provided by the client, or outsourced to a writer. Web designers need to be aware of the issues around the copyright protection of the written content as much as their own design. At times, people may unintentionally copy the contents, due to improper referencing. Approach them in resolving the issue before taking legal action.

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    Ways to Protect Copyright

    As an online desiger, writer, or web content guru, how do you protect yourself and thus copyright website content? Here are some ways:

    • Register the content of the web site for copyright protection before the publication of the work.
    • Clearly display sentences like, "This article is protected under copyright laws." or, "Do not copy the contents as they are protected by copyright."
    • Use programs with secure signatures which prevent "copy and paste" options.
    • Have written agreements between the content provider and web designer (if the work is outsourced), and an agreement between the web designer and client the site is being built for that clearly states content ownership. Make sure the agreement is signed by all involved parties.

    Making sure that you have a copyright for your website content is important, especially in this day and age of easy Internet access. Remember that you have rights, even if online.

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    Copyright Registration for Online Works,

    Image content via Flickr

Web Copyright Issues

This series will take a look at the different copyright issues web designers and developers face as they design a web site.
  1. Copyright Laws for the Internet and the Web Designer
  2. Web Copyright Issues: Protecting Your Work