Methods of Protection
If you or your company have created website, you are probably invested enough
that you would like to protect it. If you are a library or museum, you may have
The two primary methods of protection are technical countermeasures and legal
protection. Technical countermeasures include strategies such as digital
watermarking and spiders that search the Internet for copies of your pages or
graphics. These strategies tend to be cumbersome, expensive, or
user-unfriendly. The primary vehicle for legal protection is copyright. This is
by far the easiest and most popular form of protection in use today. In
implementing a copyright strategy, there are three items that you should
Before you slap a copyright notice on your website, you should
have a clear understanding of what exactly it is that you consider to be
protected by copyright. There are many elements to a website, including
If you created everything on the site, you can be reasonably comfortable in
your ownership. However, if you had someone else create text copy, or download
some clip art, or used scanned photographs from your archives, or hired a web
design firm to load all of your content into an attractive package, then you
need to think a little harder.
For every item on your website, you need to have created it on your
behalf, or have some mechanism to transfer the ownership to you. This may sound
like a pain, but book publishers and movie producers have done this for years.
Check the text; did you write it, or did an employee or an outside
contractor? If you did, and you did not otherwise assign the rights to someone
else, you're golden. If an employee did it during the course of their work,
that is good. But to be safe, it is good to have an employee agreement that
explicitly assigns their work to you. If a third party did it, then you need to
have an explicit contract that states that work was done as a work for hire.
Otherwise, you merely get a license.
For clip art, check the license agreement in the box. In many cases, the
license agreement will restrict the use to non-profit, non-electronic or
non-useful uses. Also, with shovel-ware clip art packages, even an explicit
license may be ineffective as they may not have the rights to pass on to you.
As evidenced by the preponderance of websites bearing them, it is generally a
good idea to slap that copyright notice on your website. It used to be that in
order to be afforded any copyright protection whatsoever, one needed to put the
world on notice by attaching a copyright notice to the work. While this is no
longer the case, it is still customary to attach a copyright notice on
copyrighted works in order to be eligible for certain types of damages.
The copyright notice consists of at least elements that include the copyright
symbol and/or the term "Copyright", the year of copyright, and the name of the
copyright holder. The term "Copyright" is technically not required in the
copyright notice, but it may be used in lieu of the © Copyright Symbol in the
U.S. However, the © Copyright Symbol is generally the standard identifier of a
Copyright Notice, and is required in many foreign countries in order for
copyright protection to attach.
Unfortunately, getting that © Copyright Symbol on your page can be done with
varying degrees of difficulty, depending on your development environment, and
display is not guaranteed. Varying HTML standards and browser specifications
can conspire to turn your nice "c-in-circle" symbol into a meaningless "#169",
"©" or "&copr".
Consequently, it is recommended that any Web copyright notice use both the
numeric entity and the full word "Copyright" to avoid as many of these problems
Now that you have your ownership issues squared away and you've slapped the
copyright notice on your website, it's a very good idea to register your
copyright with the Copyright Office. Although the Copyright Act affords you
protection just for creating your work and reducing it to a tangible form, that
protection is somewhat illusory without the registration. You must register
your website in order to sue anybody else for infringement.
Also, if you register your work within three months from the date of first
publication, or at least prior to the date of some else infringing, you can
collect statutory damages from the infringer. Otherwise, you are stuck with
actual damages, which depending upon the situation, may be only nominal.
Registration makes the difference between getting nothing and getting something
for an infringement. Timely registration makes the difference between a $10
award and a $100,000 award.
Since websites can contain a variety of media types, it may be a little
tricky figuring out which copyright form to use. Generally speaking, if your
website consists primarily of textual material, you will use Form TX. If your
website contains a preponderance of graphics which you own and want to protect,
then you will want to use Form VA.