The question often arises whether or not placing a copyright notice on one's website is sufficient to protect against third party infringement. While placing a notice is better than not having one at all, it is important to recognize that the protection truly lies in the enforcement of one's copyright. Therefore, the best way to stop someone from infringing your copyright and/or recover damages and attorney's fees for such infringement, is to file a copyright with the United States Copyright Office. When filing a website copyright, there are several considerations. First, it is important to remember that the requirements for a website copyright are no different than those requirements to have any copyright. Namely, one must create and fix in a tangible form the website in order to be entitled to copyright protection. Unlike other copyrights pertaining to text, a photograph, a computer program and the underlying source code, a music recording, or some other material, websites often include all of these types of material. As such, when drafting the copyright application, using Form TX, it is important to specifically identify for what you're claiming protection.
In addition, those seeking copyright protection often overlook the fact that a filed copyright pertains to exactly that which was filed. Therefore, when an update is made to a website, ideally a new filing should be made. While a copyright for the original website may offer significant leverage over an alleged copyright infringer, ensuring that the exact copy of the website and material contained therein is subject to a valid copyright registration with the Library of Congress, you will be in an even stronger position to enforce your rights and qualify for statutory damages. While filing every day in order to protect your online work may not be an option, it is often recommended that a filing should occur upon redesigns and major updates.
Finally, filing for a copyright for a website does protect the website and offer some protection to the content. However, having individual copyrights filed for that content, such as a particular photograph, image, or other copyrightable work, is advisable so that there is no question about confusing similarity if the alleged infringer uses only a portion of your website. Ultimately, filing for a copyright is a relatively inexpensive process and one that can lead to more successful enforcement of your intellectual property and a greater return on investment should you seek damages for that infringement. The ability to pursue a copyright infringement action in a federal court is dependent upon you having registered or attempted to register and been refused registration with the Copyright Office. Therefore, if you are going to look to protect your exclusive rights to distribution, display, reproduction and any other rights, filing for a website copyright is worthwhile.
Brian A. Hall is an attorney and partner of Traverse Legal, PLC, a law firm specializing in complex litigation, intellectual property matters, internet law, and copyright registration and copyright infringement matters. Speak with a copyright attorney today and learn more about the importance of understanding the intricacies of website copyright and other copyright issues.