Can a Website Be Copyrighted? (And Should I Copyright My Site?)

Macy is a Content Writer at WebFX. With a Content Marketing Certification, she's an expert in crafting pieces filled with the facts about all things digital marketing. You'll find many of her pieces featured on UpCity's Top Digital Marketing Articles of the Week. When she isn't clacking her keys, she's wondering why her dog is so cute. Follow her on Twitter @iinfinitestorm.

When you’re building your company’s website, it’s essential to understand everything you need to develop a secure and robust one. As you’re setting up your site, you may have questions about the things you need to do. A common one is: Can a website be copyrighted?

Yes, and we’ll show you how!

On this page, we’ll answer the question, “Can a website be copyrighted?” and provide you with the steps for how to copyright your website, as well as answer some common questions people have about copyrighting a site.

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Can a website be copyrighted?

Yes. A website can be copyrighted because copyright protects original works of authorship, including your website and any graphics you made or photographs you took for your site. Websites must meet four requirements for copyrighting.

Eligibility requirements for website copyrighting include:

  • Original work of authorship
  • Fixed to a tangible medium that allows the site to be perceived or communicated
  • Minimal amount of creativity

These are the requirements for having a copyrightable website.

What does a copyright cover?

When you submit your copyright, it will only cover the elements you provide in your form. If you have photos and graphics on your site that you want to add to your copyright, you must include those items in your copyright form.

What does a copyright not cover?

A copyright cannot cover ideas, procedures, or methods of operation. You can copyright your website’s design, but you can’t copyright the way you created the design. Only the physical appearance or product can be subject to copyright.

Website copyright laws also dictate that you cannot copyright your website’s domain or title.

Let’s look at Target as an example.

 

In this example, you would not be able to copyright “target.com,” which is the domain.

 

Additionally, Target can’t copyright the title for their website in the search results, as you see in the example above. Website copyright does not include either of these elements.

How to copyright a website

If you want to know how to copyright a website, follow these simple steps:

1.      Go to the registration portal

First, you’ll visit the registration portal for the U.S. Copyright Office.

Click “Log In to the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO) Registration System” to get started.

You will need to create an account if you don’t have one.

 

If you choose to scroll down the page, you’ll see different categories you can register content.

 

 

Your website qualifies as “Other Digital Content.”

 

The U.S. Copyright Office provides a helpful chart that details the types of digital works in this category.

2.      Fill out the copyright application

Once you create an account and log in, you’ll fill out the required information in the form.

Some of this information includes:

  • Title of the work (Create a title related to your brand)
  • The year it was completed
  • Date of first publication
  • Name of author(s) (You/your company)
  • Name and address of the person claiming the copyright
  • Description of work submitted

Once you submit this information, you’ll move on to paying the fee.

3.      Pay a filing fee

When you complete your application, you will have to pay a fee.

The electronic registration fee is $55.

You can pay with a credit card or electronic check.

The site will direct you to Pay.gov, which is the online payment system for the Copyright Office. Once you complete your payment, Pay.gov will send you back to the Copyright Office’s website.

4.      Upload or mail in copies of your work

After filing your payment and completing the application, you’ll submit your work.

You have the option to upload a copy of your work or mail it to the Copyright Office.

Since websites publish in an electronic format, you’ll want to upload your content (as a PDF of your pages) to their website.

Once you upload the content, you complete the process.

Why should I register a copyright for my website?

After learning if a website can be copyrighted and how to copyright it, you’re probably wondering: Do I need to copyright my website?

While it’s not required, copyrighting your website can save you from a lot of trouble later, like if people try to steal your work and claim it as their own.

By registering a copyright for your website, there is a public record of copyright ownership. If somebody tries to steal original work from your website, you have a public and legal record of owning the rights to that content.

This ownership becomes beneficial if the problem escalates to an issue where you must sue someone. If someone commits copyright infringement, you can only fight it if you have legal proof that you own the copyright.

For example, let’s say you upload a portfolio of your work to your website and get it copyrighted.

Company B took that portfolio and uploaded it to their site, claiming it as their own. Because you have copyright claimed on that content, you could sue Company B for taking your copyrighted material.

Additionally, having the copyright deters people from trying to steal your original work because it can result in a legal battle that they will lose.

Overall, copyrighting is an excellent way to protect the original works on your site and keep people from claiming your work as their own.

FAQs about copyright

For this next section, we’ll answer a few common questions that arise with copyright:

What’s the difference between copyright, patent, and trademark?

When you look at information about copyrighting, you may see people use the terms patent and trademark interchangeably. It’s important to note that these three terms all protect different things.

Let’s look at what each of these covers:

Copyright: Protects original works of authorship. (Target claiming their entire website)

Patent: Protects inventions or discoveries. (If Target invented a new stain-resistant fabric for their clothing line, it would be a patent)

Trademark: Protects words, phrases, symbols, and designs. (Target claiming their “Expect More, Pay Less” slogan)

As you can see, each of these protects different types of creations.

Who owns the copyright?

When you file a copyright claim, it’s important to understand website copyright laws. The biggest question surrounding these laws is who owns the copyright. It’s a common question for companies that try to copyright their website, so we’ll take the time to address it.

Your website is a compilation of different elements, like photos, text, and graphics. Even though these elements are part of your site, you can only claim copyright to parts of your website you created or pieces that others transferred to your business.

For example, if you have employees designing your site as a part of their job, the copyright belongs to your business.

If you hire people outside your business to create elements on your site, it’s a different story.

Let’s say you hire an agency to design your website. Since you hired this company, the work belongs to them. When you filed the copyright claim, you would not be able to register a copyright for the design on your website.

The only way you can claim copyright for this work is if the original creator transfers the rights to you. You can add a clause into your hire agreements that state that the designer transfers all copyrightable content to your company.

It doesn’t matter who files the claim for the copyright. If you submit it on behalf of your company, your business, as a whole, owns the copyright. The individual filer doesn’t own the copyright.

How long does copyright registration take?

When you’re looking at how to copyright a website, it’s also essential to understand how long it takes to receive copyright for your website.

The duration depends on whether you submit online or through the mail, as well as whether you need to go back and forth about your paperwork with the copyright office.

The average process time for all claims is around four months. The turnaround time also depends on how many applications the Copyright Office receives and clears at the time of your submission.

Can I see my copyright registration?

Yes. Once you submit your copyright registration and it’s processed, there is a public record of it available. You become part of the registration catalog.

In this catalog, you can search for any copyrights. Likewise, if someone wants to look up your copyright, they can easily search through this database to find it.

How long does a copyright last?

One of the most critical parts of adding copyright to a website is understanding how long that copyright lasts.

The length of a copyright depends on the work. Typically, copyright lasts the life of the author, plus 70 years for standard works. This category is where most websites fall.

For works made for hire or anonymous content, the copyright is 95 years from the year of the first publication or 120 years from its creation (whichever expires first).

Do I need to renew my copyright each year?

No! Any content created after January 1st, 1978, does not need renewing each year. As soon as you file the copyright, it is valid until the copyright expires.

Stay in the know-how with important information about your online presence

Copyright is just one of the many essential things to know about your website. When you’re building your online presence, it’s critical to understand the ins and outs of how to make this presence work for you.

To stay in the know-how with important online marketing concepts, like copyrighting your website, subscribe to our newsletter, Revenue Weekly, to keep on top of the latest changes and trends!