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Copyright 101: A Simple Guide For Business Websites

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“Certainly the interest in asserting copyright is a justified one.” – Johannes Rau

What is copyright? Well, in short, it’s a legal right created by the law of a country, which allows an author or creator of an original work exclusive rights to freely use and distribute it. Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your perception), copyright exists for a limited time. Also, there are exceptions to it, such as fair use. As Robin Gross once said, the copyright bargain is nothing else but “a balance between protection for the artist and the rights for the consumer.”

Now, a question for one thousand points: does copyright protect quotes? Have I just stolen the two quotes above or was I allowed to use them in this article? Perhaps you also used somebody else’s words in your blog post, or maybe someone quoted you on a different blog?

Well, in either case, let’s figure out which types of work are subject to copyright.

What Does Copyright Protect?

Contrary to common belief, copyright doesn’t protect everything you create or come up with. For example, ideas, facts as well as processes aren’t subject to copyright. A work has to be creative and fixed in a tangible medium in order to be protected by copyright. Thus, titles as well as names, by themselves, can’t be copyrighted as well.

What can be copyrighted, then? Well, here’s a list of works that are eligible for copyright protection:

  • Audiovisual works: e.g. movies, online videos, or TV shows.
  • Sound recordings and musical compositions.
  • Written works: e.g. articles, lectures, books as well as musical compositions.
  • Visual works: e.g. paintings, advertisements, and posters.
  • Video games and computer software.
  • Dramatic works: e.g. plays and musicals.

Now, as far as your business website is concerned, the original authorship that appears on it, that includes any artwork, photographs, or writings, can be protected by copyright. Domain name and the name of your brand, on the other hand, cannot. Click here to read more about it.

Since now you know what, in general, can be subject to copyright, let’s take a look at specific types of online content that can and cannot be protected by copyright.

The Content Of Websites: What Can And Cannot Be Copyrighted?

Copyright can be tricky. There are a number of types of content that can be protected by copyright law and a lot that cannot. It’s easy to get lost and make a mistake. Thus, to make everything more clear, here are four types of online content and who owns a right to them:

1. The work created by you and published on your website

As was previously mentioned, every piece of artwork you created by yourself can be subject to copyright. However, there’s one exception. If you relied on any previously published work while creating yours, in that case, it can’t be copyrighted. So, keep it in mind.

2. The work created by a third-party and published on your website

Any content, for example, an infographic or an article, created by a third-party and published on your website can and cannot be copyrighted. It depends. You need to be cautious. If that work was created by an agency, read their copyright policy carefully. Many content-creating agencies retain copyright for the material they created, such as essay writing services. You can use their material for inspiration only. Which is why it’s a wise move to google-check their copyright policies and user feedback if you intend to order from them. Is there a worse scenario than facing legal threats for the texts you’ve paid for?

To learn more about the issue, check these practices for using third-party content on your website.

3. The work created by you and published on a different site (e.g. guest posts)

Guest posting is one of the best strategies to increase traffic to your website. Right. But, what about copyright to articles that you create and the target website’s editor edits? Who actually owns the right to them? You, or the blog you pitched? Well, that depends as well.

Most websites with busy blogs that accept guest posts have specific “Terms And Conditions” as well as a “Copyright Policy.” Thus, read them before submitting your work to any site.

4. Links and user generated content appearing on your website

Any external links (i.e. links to other websites) in the content of your blog aren’t copyrightable. However, internal links (i.e. those that lead to content on your blog) are part of your website and thus, can be protected by copyright.

As far as user generated content is concerned, that is, content that users put on your site (e.g. comments and reviews), it cannot be copyrighted, for you don’t own rights to it. Users do.

Right. Now that you know what content can and cannot be copyrighted, let’s take a look at how you can copyright your business website.

How To Copyright A Website

Did you know that your work is automatically protected by copyright the moment you create it? That’s true! US Copyright Law automatically protects your articles and pictures when you create them.

However, even though there is automatic copyright protection, it’s good to do one more thing in order to make sure your creative work is protected. You can copyright your website by yourself by adding a copyright notice to every page of your website. You can do it in a form of a footer that says:

“Copyright [year], [your company’s name]”

You’ve probably already seen it before on other websites. It’s an easy and popular way of copyrighting a website, so many webmasters use it. Here’s a small remark: when you’ll be creating the footer, make sure you add there the year. Also, update it regularly.

Since we’ve already discussed how you can copyright your site, there’s one more issue we need to consider: what if somebody doesn’t care about your copyright notice and steals your content?

Content Theft And What You Can Do About It

Content theft occurs if somebody uses your content (it can be either written or visual content) without providing a link to your website. Thus, if a person re-publishes entire pages of content created by you on their site verbatim, or quotes excerpts of your content and doesn’t give attribution, it is considered content theft.

If you figure out someone stole your content, here’s what you can do:

  • Take a screenshot to have proof of content theft,
  • Contact the owner of the target site and inform about copyright infringement (many people don’t even realize it, so they could have done it unintentionally),
  • Contact the Web Host (if the webmaster refuses to take down stolen content, you can contact site’s hosting company),
  • Submit a removal request to Google.

Back To The Beginning: Did I Steal The Quotes?

Having the basic knowledge about copyright and copyright infringement, you should now be able to answer the question I posed in the beginning of the article: does copyright protect quotes? The answer, of course, is both yes and no. It depends on the type of a quote, where you want to put it, and whether you’ll add an attribution or not. Those that I used in this article have attribution, thus I didn’t commit a content theft.

Copyright: Wrapping It Up

It’s difficult to say what type of your work or another person’s work can be a subject to copyright. Thus, before using somebody else’s content on your website, contact them or read their policy. Also, in order to let everybody know you own rights to your website and the content on it, add a copyright footer. This way you won’t steal anyone’s content unintentionally, and nobody will have permission to use yours without your approval.

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