Can you copyright a website? Yes, no, and maybe. You can copyright the written content and the images used if it is your original work. However, generally, you cannot copyright the website itself or an entire website unless submitted and taken as a single work or collection.
A business’ website is one of the most important aspects of their business in today’s age of e-commerce. Designing and creating a website for your own business can be an easy task, however, it is very time consuming for most business owners. With the right website designer, you might just love your website enough to want to copyright it. Check out our article on picking a website designer.
Website Content is Copyrightable if it is Your Own Work
To answer the question can you copyright a website, it is important to understand what a copyright is. A copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects the original works of authors and artists. It is the exclusive legal right to distribute, publish, reproduce, or sell the work. Read more about what is a copyright. With a registered copyright, the author is able to defend their original works, license, and receive compensation if their work is reproduced, displayed, or distributed. Authors can also sue if the work reproduced, displayed, or distributed without their authorization.
When it comes to websites, you can copyright a website. Under copyright law, websites are able to be copyrighted due to their original creative content. Creative content includes text, images, design, layout, and code. The design and layout of a website is also subject to copyright law protection as a “collective work” or “compilation,” meaning even the overall appearance of the site, including the arrangement of text and images, might fall under copyright protection. If you copyright a website, others are unable to use or duplicate the content without permission.
The trouble is many websites are not created by the owner of the website. This happens for a lot of reasons, but if your website was created by a website designer, sales, marketing, SEO, or branding person or service, the content may be copyrighted by the person or service that “built” the website for you. If you want to seek copyright registration for your website, be sure that it is your original work beforehand.
You can Copyright a Website but Check with the Website Creator
If you write all of your content and use your own graphics and images, then the website is an original work and you can register to copyright the website. If you hire a sales and marketing person or service to build a website for you, and this SEO person uses only your content, graphics, and images or only their content, graphics, and images; then it is an original work and you might be able to copyright a website. Depending on the terms of your contract, the content created by a sales/marketing/SEO person may or may not belong to you.
Important Tip: Check the contract for any content provided to you to be sure you own the intellectual property rights before you file for copyright registration. Read about all 7 kinds of intellectual property in out article what is intellectual property.
Authorization to use copyrighted content of a website is up to the original creator/copyright owner. The business owner of a website is not always the website copyright holder. Website designers sometimes hold the website copyright. Your contract should address whether your designer keeps the intellectual property rights and/or details on later transfers of the ownership rights. Ideally, the copyright of a website is owned by the website/business owner. It is highly recommended that sales and marketing contracts, website design contracts, and SEO contracts contain clauses transferring all intellectual property rights to the business owner.
Creating a Website – Creating Common Law Copyright Protection
You copyright a website the moment your original creation website is publicly available on the internet. A website is considered a tangible form of expression, and if it is your original work, you acquire copyright protection under common law. In other words, when you make your website publicly available, you have copyright protection without copyright registration because that is provided under the common law. However, like any other intellectual property, it is advised to register it federally if you are or might be seeking to sell or license the work or foresee a reason to defend that it is your original work.
Registering a Copyright Federally in the U.S. is Easy
You copyright a website when it is publicly available, so you don’t have to register a copyright to have one for your original works. Copyright registration is almost always required in order to file a lawsuit in court. In the U.S., copyrights are registered with the United States Copyright Office. Registering the copyright of your website provides additional legal benefits and protection in the event that your copyright is infringed upon. Read more about infringement in our article what does infringement mean.
What does Copyright on a Website Mean?
A copyright on a website means that the website owner is saying that the website’s material (such as the text, image, video, and audio shown on the website) cannot be used without permission. It is virtually standard practice when putting up a website to include a copyright notice. For example, in the footer at the bottom of every page and post on our website, we have the text “© 2019 – 2023 Carson Patents®” as our copyright notice. It means that you cannot use the content of our website without our permission.
Want to use some content from our website? You probably can. We are the authors of the content on our website, and we generally grant use as requested provided we are listed as the author or original creator.
How to Register a Copyright for a Website – Copyright Registration
Provided it is your original work or it is work done under contract for your benefit, you can register a copyright for the written content, graphics, images, and videos that you use to create your website. In other words, the parts of your original website are protectable individual original works that you can register a copyright for. The website as a whole might also be captured as a series of documents and copyright registered as a collective work. It is highly recommend that if someone else did your website for you that you check with your website creator before registering to copyright a website.
Copyrighting the Contents of a Website Individually
You can register each element of a website individually by visiting the U.S. Copyright Office Copyright Registration Portal and filing for a single application. In a single application, one piece of work created by a single individual is eligible for copyright registration. In the case of a website, copyright registration would apply to the text on one or more pages and any media that is your own original creation. Each page, article, or post may have copyrightable text as well as images, video, and audio files.
Copyrighting the Contents of Website as a Collective Work
Alternatively, you can register elements of a website together as a collective work in a group registration. If you wish to copyright each page as a document or a collection of all pages as documents, you are able to as a collective work. Group registration exists for unpublished works, unpublished photographs, published photographs, and short online literary works.
There is a difference between copyrighting each page as a document versus copyrighting a collection of all the pages as a single document. Copyrighting a single page includes the text, images, design, and layout. You would do so by exporting the page as a .pdf and including it in your copyright registration. You can also copyright the entire website in one registration by exporting every page as a .pdf before placing it into a document that includes every page on the website.
Show and Use the Copyright Notice for a Website
Your website is copyrighted, now what? Most businesses choose to place a copyright on their website footer. A copyright notice is a written notice to site users notifying them that the website they are using is a protected piece of work. Whether intentional or not, infringing users have a written warning to the unauthorized use of the site. Although original pieces of work are automatically subject to copyright protection, most people are not aware of this. A copyright notice provides a clear and direct notice to users that you are aware of your legal rights and intend to enforce them when necessary. This weakens a potential “innocent infringer” defense in the case of infringement.
A copyright notice is made up of three elements in no specific order: the copyright symbol © or the words “Copyright” or “Copr,” the year of publication, and the name of the copyright owner. The year of publication is only necessary if the website is published. A website is published as soon as it is first launched. Changes and updates to your website constitute an updated year in the copyright notice. You can alternatively list the range of years your website has been published like Carson Patents has done in our copyright notice in the footer of our website. A copyright notice should contain language that reinforces the restrictions of infringing your site to deter such activity.