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These days when a business wants to create a new website to promote its product or services, the first thing the owner does is Google his competitors and sees what their website says. After all, they’ve already done all the hard work of coming up with original ideas and organizing those thoughts into informative website content.
From there, it’s a mere skip down the road to actually swipe some of their wording — maybe a page or two here, a paragraph or two there. Read, copy, paste. Instant website. Wow, that was easy. But, was it legal?
The answer is NO! Copyright protection gives the author of an original work exclusive right to its publication, distribution and adaptation. In other words, the author or holder of the website owns this intellectual property, and anyone who plagiarizes it is in violation of copyright laws. (Note the spelling of the legal term “copyright” versus the spelling of the term for written text called “copywriting.”)
What if nowhere on the original page does it say the material was copyrighted? Is it now free for the taking? No way! It technically is copyrighted once it’s been created. And that fact is further bolstered if anywhere on that website like on the home page or in a footer, the copyright is explicitly stated and lists the current year.
So what should you do as the owner of a website to to avoid having your content stolen? After all, you don’t want some competitor benefiting from your creativity and hard work.
Make sure that somewhere on your website, you do have a stated copyright, even though simply by virtue of having written the website, it is copyrighted to you.
You can even include a stern warning that says you seek out and prosecute plagiarists. And you can use a site like www.copyscape.com, which has duplicate content detection software, to find websites that have appropriated your copywriting.
If you find that your content has been plagiarized, legally you have the right to go after responsible party. But is that realistic? Not really. Plagiarism is so rampant on the Internet that it’s virtually impossible, not to mention costly, to find and prosecute every thief.
You can, however, threaten to sue and hope that the warning is enough to make the offending party remove your copy.
You can also threaten to file a Notice of Digital Millennium Copyright Act Infringement with Google, Yahoo, Bing and other major search engines, demanding to have the site banned from all search results. Most website owners are savvy enough to know that removal from the search engines could cause serious damage to their business, so this threat is actually more potent than pursuing legal action.
Bottom line? Don’t worry too much about plagiarists and the legalities regarding website copywriting. It’s not worth keeping you up at night.
Just put your copyright statement (i.e. Copyright © 2017, Susan Greene, freelance copywriter. All rights reserved.), somewhere on your website at least once. And then be vigilant and downright threatening in protecting its content.
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In July 2017, I received an email from Steven Thrasher, a copyright attorney in Dallas, Texas. He had read my article above and wanted to provide some additional insights into copyrighting one’s content. I’ll share his comments below:
“Copyrighted” “copyright” “copyrightable” and “Registered Copyright” are different words with very different meanings and different legal consequences.
“Copyrighted” and “copyright” are ‘slang’– they have no precise legal meaning … usually, when these words are used the person using one of them means either “Registered Copyright” or “Copyrightable.”
An original webpage is COPYRIGHTABLE … meaning that it MAY be protected under copyright law.
However, to enforce the rights (“rights in copy”) one has to file a DMCA Notice or sue in federal court. A DMCA notice merely starts a process; if the infringer/thief responds properly, the notice has no enforceable effect (absent a lawsuit, and the powers of the court may not get the website owner/creator what they’re looking for).
To have access to easy, enforceable power, one must have a Registered Copyright — this requires a registration with the US Copyright Office.
Every few months you wait to register your rights (your “copyright”) you LOSE rights! After a few years you’ve retained only the right to sue, but at that point you have all of the burdens of proof and your damages are limited (you won’t be able to find a contingency lawyer).
Contact a lawyer, and register Your Website with the Copyright Office within two months of publication. Legally, it’s the smart thing to do.
All the best,
Thanks, Steven, for helping to clarify what can be a confusing topic for the layperson. If you have further questions about copyrights, please feel free to contact Steven through his website at www.thrashlaw.com.
Susan Greene is a website copywriter based in Orlando, Florida. She works with clients around the world to promote their products and services through creative marketing.