How to Copyright Content on Your Website (It’s Easier Than You Think)

Copyright sign made of jigsaw puzzle pieces

Editor’s Note: Today’s Community Question comes from BuzzBlog reader Summer Sikes of Dallas, PA. Summer asks, “How can I copyright the content on my website?”

If you are wondering how to legally protect your website’s content from being stolen, you are not alone. Copyrighting is a huge area of confusion for content creators across the Web.

Before 1978, official copyright in the U.S. was obtained by publishing content and posting a copyright notice. More than three decades later, many people still believe this is how to copyright content.

The truth is, your work is protected by copyright law when it is created in a tangible, fixed form. That means you blog post is protected the moment you write it down. It doesn’t matter if you scribble it in a dog-eared, spiral bound notebook, type up a draft on your laptop, or publish it straight to your blog. It’s copyrighted — in the U.S. and many other countries, thanks to the Copyright Act and several international copyright agreements like the Berne Convention.

Legal Disclaimer: I would like to remind everyone that I am not an attorney. Nothing in this blog post should be construed as legal advice. It is for informational purposes only. If you feel you need legal advice on this subject, you should consult a reputable copyright attorney in the state your business is registered in. Got it? Great, let’s move on!

Post a Copyright Notice on Your Website

Use of the copyright symbol is widespread on the Web. This leads some folks to make assumptions about content published on websites that don’t post a copyright notice or Creative Commons License. Assumptions like the content belongs to the public domain. So what these folks do with that content? Whatever they like, that’s what.

This is known as innocent infringement. It happens frequently, and less-than-innocent content thieves know about it. Sometimes these copy bandits try to claim innocent infringement as a defense when their bad behavior is called out. They are pretty silly to do this when they have stolen content from a webpage that has a proper notice of copyright. In such a case, their defense will be not be recognized. Period.

So while posting a copyright notice on your website isn’t required, it can help you avoid excruciating headaches. You should do it.

Place your copyright notice in the footer of every page of your website. Make sure the font is legible, and big enough to attract some attention. Include the following elements:

Copyright Symbol

On a PC, create a circle with the letter C inside of it, like ©, with “Alt + 0169″. It’s “Option + G” on a Mac, and “©” or “©” in HTML. Alternatively, you can simply use the word “Copyright” or its abbreviation, “Copr.”

Year(s) First Published

If you launched a website this year with fresh content, you only need to post the year 2013. Next month, you will need to update your copyright notice to cover 2013-2014 (assuming that you continue to publish content).

Note: If you use WordPress or another content management system (CMS), you can add a code snippet to your footer that automatically updates the copyright notice. 

Name of Copyright Owner

This is the commonly recognized name of your business. If you do not own a business, use your author byline name.

Statement of Rights (Optional)

All Rights Reserved is the default if not specified. Other options include Some Rights Reserved and Creative Commons licenses.  If you allow your content to be distributed under a Creative Commons license, link to a copy of the license here. This is also a good place to link to content usage guidelines that specify on what terms and conditions you allow your content be distributed and republished (if at all).

Consider Registering Your Online Content

In the U.S., copyright law favors content owners who have copyright registrations on file. Maybe you can’t picture yourself ever needing to file a copyright infringement lawsuit. Registering your online content with the United States Copyright Office now, though, could end up saving you boatloads of money should you have to do just that. You would be eligible to recover attorney fees and statutory damages in a successful lawsuit.

So, you see, it’s smart to consider registering your online content. What’s even smarter? Consulting a copyright attorney about it. U.S. copyright law changes often and is subject to interpretation. Plus, it’s not exactly up-to-date when it comes to the Interwebs. Be sure and ask your copyright attorney how often you need to update your registration (if at all) if you take this route.

3 More Ways to Protect Your Content

Now that we’ve covered copyrighting, let’s talk about three more ways to protect your content from both innocent infringers, outright bandits, and associated duplicate content issues.

1. Use Canonical Tags

Canonical tags tell search engines which pages on your website have original content, and which ones have duplicate content. They help identify a piece of content’s original publisher (i.e., creator or owner), and prevent the SEO headaches that duplicate content can create.

If you allow other websites to republish your full-length articles, require them to use canonical tags that point to the original source on your website.

Note: If you use WordPress, use a plugin like Yoast SEO to implement canonical tags. Once the plugin is configured, it automates the process of inserting canonical tags into the header of every HTML page on your website.

2. Link RSS Feed Articles Back to Your Website

Publishing article excerpts, vs. full posts, in your RSS feed is one way to avoid duplicate content issues created by scrapers. If you have a large number of subscribers who rely on RSS readers to read your blog posts in full, though, this isn’t a viable solution. Instead, configure your RSS feed so that every article links back to the corresponding URL on your website. If you use a feed burner, the service should provide you with documentation for setting this up. Otherwise, there are a number of great tutorials on the Web that will teach you how to do this.

3. Monitor for Duplicate Content

It is essential to make sure people are not duplicating your content without your permission on the Web. (And if they do have your permission, that they are correctly implementing canonical tags and following your attribution policy.)

Using the right tools to monitor duplicate content will save you some elbow grease. Copyscape and Plagium are two of the most popular free ones. Copyscape runs searches for duplicate content based on your URLs. Plagium, on the other hand, scours the Web for content that matches blocks of text you copy and paste.

Paid anti-piracy services such Discovery by iCopyright are also worth looking into. If you have a large eCommerce site — or don’t have the time to properly monitor for duplicate content, period — this is essential.

Final Thoughts

To review, copyrighting your content doesn’t require you to lift a finger. Modern copyright laws in the U.S. and many other countries provide built-in protection for creative works before they are even published. How awesome is that?

Despite the awesomeness of this fact, protecting your online content goes beyond copyrighting. I’ve emphasized the importance of creating and posting a copyright notice, asked you to consider registering your online content, and discussed three other ways to protect your website from copyright violations. These take time, effort and resources — and you’re already up to your eyeballs in busy. I get that. Really, I do.

It’s worth it, though. If you do this:

Publish original content that is useful and engaging. That’s the kind of content people want to steal. <Click to Tweet>

If you don’t think your content is valuable enough to be stolen, much less protected, let’s talk about what we can do to fix that.

 

(Image by Horia Varlan, made available under the Creative Commons License.)

7 Responses to “How to Copyright Content on Your Website (It’s Easier Than You Think)”

  1. As a photographer, I need exclusive ownership of my work. After some extensive research I found out about this firm called Levy, Levy & Sosa in Miami. I decided to set up a consultation to meet with their attorney and I’m sure glad I did. They assisted me with applying for copyright registration, the process was so simple and they guided me along the way, explaining in ways that were easy to understand. I encourage you to contact them on 1-800-464-5554 or visit their website http://www.trademarklaw101.com/practice-areas/copyright/ to secure your work!

  2. Thanks for the recommendation, Paul.

  3. GREAT article! I think this point is overlooked. Not only should website owners invest in great copywriting but they should “copyright” that “copywriting” (I’m doing that because I always hear confusion on the two different words and their meanings!) :)

  4. You make an excellent point, Julia. The fact that copywriting and copyrighting are homophones could definitely be a source of confusion. For instance, if someone skims my list of posts, looking looking for information on how to protect their valuable content from plagiarism, they may very well skip right over this post. Without reading the title carefully, they may think the post is about writing web content. Ah, homophones!

  5. PS – Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you liked the article!

  6. One way to avoid using copyrighted pictures is by harnessing Flickr’s advanced search option. You can specify to search within the creative commons, find content to use commercially, and find content that can be modified as well. Here is a link http://www.flickr.com/search/advanced/

  7. Hi Josh, thanks for sharing this invaluable resource! Note: Creative Commons licenses don’t get rid of copyrights. What they do is allow content creators to easily modify their copyright to “some rights reserved” on their own terms. :)

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