How to Copyright your Website? A Beginner’s Guide

Last Updated: 7 mins By: Sajjan Sharma

You might have heard about the concept of copyright somewhere, even outside the internet. At the most basic level, copyrights are protection for creative works of various kinds. If you are a website owner, it has probably crossed your mind that the content you put online might need to be protected as well. If that is the case, then you’ve come to the right place since we’re here to show you how to copyright a website. It is surprisingly easy to do and can be of great help should an issue of intellectual theft.

Before we get into the thick of it, let us try and elaborate on the idea of copyright itself. A better idea of copyright is going to make you better prepared to defend your content against legal complications. It’s also important to note that this article is going to cover the United States Law only. If you already feel like you’re knowledgable enough about the topic, you can skip straight to how to copyright a website. Now without further ado, let’s get started.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is one of the three major areas of intellectual property, alongside Trademarks and Patents. It legally protects a piece of creative work. The basic principle behind copyright is that people should have the right to protect their intellectual property, as they would with their physical properties. A copyright grants you the legal right to do the following with your content:

  • Reproduce the content
  • Create derivates of the content
  • Distribute the content
  • Display the content
  • Perform the content

Although copyright laws vary from country to country, there are many treaties in place that allows for international enforcement of copyright. You don’t need to register in order to own the copyright for something though. In fact, copyright laws protect your content from the moment it is created. There are a lot of benefits to registering your copyright, though. Most importantly, you need to be registered to take legal action against anyone to protect your intellectual property.

How to Copyright a Website?

1) Identify the Copyrightable Content

The first step, of course, is to identify the content on your site that is copyrightable. In most cases, it means text, artwork, photographs, music, videos, and similar materials. However, while you can register the content on your website, the website in itself does not count as a type of copyrightable material. There is an exception to this rule though. To quote the United States Copyright Office‘s Circular 66:

A website is not explicitly recognized as a type of copyrightable subject matter under the Copyright Act. Therefore, you should not list “website” as the type of authorship that you will submit with your copyright application. You, may, however, be able to register a website or a specific web page if it satisfies the statutory requirements for a compilation or collective work.

Circular 66

To put it simply, you may only copyright a website as a whole if it qualifies as a compilation or collective work. For that to happen, there needs to be a reasonable amount of creativity in the way things are arranged on your site. For example, a telephone directory doesn’t count as a compilation worthy of copyright. On the other hand, a listing of ‘the best pizza places in New Jersey’ does count, since a certain amount of creativity is required to create it.

After that is done, you will need to make sure to determine the content on your website which you actually own. If you’ve hired an independent contractor to develop content for your site, the contractor is the one who holds the copyright and authorship for the content. In order to get the copyright, you’ll need a written and signed agreement from the contractor waiving all rights to the content. The same goes for all third-party content on your website. Unless there is a valid written and signed transfer, the ownership of all rights falls to their authors.

It’s important to note that it is not possible to copyright things like ideas, future website plans, functional design elements, domain name, URLs, layout, format, the “look and feel” of a site, and other materials that are common and unoriginal.

2) Prepare your Website for Copyrighting

To register your copyright, you will need to prepare three things first. It required a completed application form, a filing fee, as well a deposit. A deposit refers to a copy of the content which you want to register. In the case of an entire website, the deposit requires all of the pages of the site as they appear to the visitors. For specific content within a web page, you will need to show the content as it would appear on your site to the users. You can send all the required copies in PDF format.

Now, start filling the application form after you have the deposit and fee ready.

3) Registering at the United States Copyright Office Website

This part of the process is much simpler than you would think and costs very little as well. You can just go to the United States Copyright Office Website and access the Registration Portal. The cost of a basic registration is $45 but you can easily find the information about all the fees here.

The United States Copyright Office Registration Portal

From here, you can go on and select the option to Log in to the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Registration System on the left. It brings you to the User Login Page where you can register a new account for the website. Once you create an account and log in, it will bring you to the Copyright Registration Page. Here, you will be able to start registering your copyright by picking your preferred option from the right.

copyright registration page
Copyright Registration Page

Using the information prepared beforehand, you should be able to fill in and submit the copyright registration application. The whole thing is fairly intuitive. An alternative to this is to mail in your application along with the hard copies of the relevant material. However, in addition to being inconvenient, mailed applications can take much longer to process.

4) Add a Copyright Notice to your Website

While certainly not mandatory, adding a short copyright notice to your website can be a good deterrence in many cases. In most cases, the notice consists of the word ‘copyright’, the symbol ‘©’, the year of publication, as well as the name of the copyright owner. Just add a simple copyright notice on the footer of your website. It shows that copyright law protects your content.

ThemeGrill Copyright Footer
The Copyright Notice on the ThemeGrill Website

Wrapping it Up:

So this was our article showing you how to copyright a website. We hope this article helped you out. Copyright laws are a complex topic and everything is not as clear cut as one would like. Nonetheless, it is an important step to take in order to protect your intellectual property. If you have additional questions, feel free to leave one in the comment section below.

If you found this to be helpful, why not check out some more of our articles?

Sajjan Sharma

4 thoughts on “How to Copyright your Website? A Beginner’s Guide

  1. Can outsiders register in the United States Copyright Office Website? I’m just curious to know.
    Adding DMCA also a good idea, I guess.

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