Copyright Protection and Infringement of Web Content

Copyright is a kind of protection that authors have for their original work. This includes works in the domain of literature, drama, music and other artistic and intellectual creations that are published or unpublished.

Copyright Protection and Infringement of Web Content

It should be noted that copyright is only a protection of an expressed idea and not the idea itself. It gives the owner of the right the sole rights for reproducing his work and distributes or displays it in public. Copyright is automatic and does not need any registration, but you can assert your copyright by marking your original work with the copyright symbol.

Web content theft has been a hot topic of discussion in recent years. It is unethical behavior on the website, where your treasured content catches the fancy of other writers who feel it is their birthright to use it and pass it off as their own. Of course, they could always defend themselves by saying imitation is the best form of flattery. But this kind of flattery doesn’t go well for most, if not all, who find their website content appear on some other site. You have worked hard to create your content and would surely not like it plagiarized.

With respect to copyright on the web, there are basic rights that allow creators to have control over their creations and they can be compensated when others use and enjoy their creations.

Copyright laws – What it Protects

  • Short fiction and short stories
  • Novels
  • Newspaper articles
  • Magazine articles
  • Computer software
  • Advertisements with text
  • Brochures
  • Databases
  • Sound recordings
  • Audio visual works
  • Catalogs

Copyright Laws – What it does not protect

  • Facts and ideas
  • Words and names
  • Symbols, ideas and inventions
  • Processes
  • Systems of operations
  • Proprietary information

However, it may protect the way in which the above are expressed. Words, names and symbols are protected under the trademark laws and proprietary information gets protection from the trade secret law.

Copyright Infringement

Theft of website content can be considered as an infringement of copyright. You can easily find whether someone has been infringing on your copyright by word of mouth. Apart from this, if you suspect copyright infringement of your web content, you can just type out some new material from your web content into the Google search. Use a few words at a time and use them within quotes. You can even r unique find out whether someone is using the unique graphics from your website by entering the file name in Google images and searching for them.

Such copyright infringement can damage your website rankings with search engines, as content used in several websites are not viewed favorably by search engines and will be considered as spamming. This could lead to your website being dropped from the search engine listings or at least dropped in the rankings. It could also damage your reputation, as people might consider your site as the duplicate one.

When the copyright owner’s exclusive rights are carried out by a third party without the permission of the owner, it is infringement. The infringement can be on the complete work or on a part of the artistic work.

Myths Regarding Infringement

There are many myths regarding infringement in the internet. For example, many claim that copying a free advertisement is not infringement. False – The copyright holder has the sole rights for advertising his products. There are many sites where members discuss their favorite television shows and movies online and the big studios send the infringing owner websites warning letters ordering them to shut down their site.

Another myth regarding infringement is that people consider that if a website is free and the owner does not make any money from it, the material on the site can be copied and does not constitute infringement. False – Just because you don’t make a profit from the infringement does not mean that it is not an infringement.

Copyright laws of Online Work

Copyright protection can differ from country to country depending on the nation’s laws. According to the US laws, the copyright exists right from the time of any expression of your work in a form from which it can be reproduced or communicated, either directly or through a device. It is not mandatory to register the copyright with the US Copyright Office. However, registration could have some significant benefits. The work gets automatically protected when it is fixed in a copy, even if the author has not used the copyright symbol with the ‘c’ in it. You can register with the US Copyright Office with an online registration process that is quite fast and cheap by paying a flat fee for submitting your work.

Copyright laws protect written words that appear on your website along with digital formats, digital artwork and so on. Copyright laws are applicable to any content in digital form which is published on the Internet. Many people disregard copyright laws in the digital world and suffer losses in their attempt at copyright infringement. When publishing any content online, it is important to have the permission of the owner in case they wish to publish someone else’s work.

Copyright laws last for a lifetime of the author plus seventy years after the death of the author. There are also some provisions for older works that are unpublished. The author is generally the copyright owner, but in some cases there are also joint owners. In case of employers and work commissioned to an employee, the employer is the first copyright owner, depending on the contract. The date on which the work was created is very important. Copyright can also be transferred to another party or just licensed for use by other parties.

All works that have been published after January 1st 1978 need not get renewal of copyright registration. The duration of the protection depends on the several factors:

  • The time when the work was created
  • The person creating the work
  • The first commercial distribution of the work
  • Works that are created after January 1st 1978 have protection for the full life of the author plus another 50 years.

Copyright Owner’s Rights

The owner of the copyright has some exclusive rights:

  • He can reproduce the work or copy it, imitate or duplicate or transcribe it.
  • He has the right to distribute the work or issue copies to the public either by sale, rental, and lease or by lending.
  • He can communicate the copyrighted work by electronic means or by broadcasting. He has the public display right and can show it in a website, a slide, a film and so on.
  • He can decide whether others have the right to do any of the above.
  • There are several legal aspects that a web writer must be aware of with regard to the US copyright law. There are many misconceptions in this regard, especially to do with web content. If you find a copyright violation, you must write a letter to the offending party and ask them to withdraw the material from the website. If such a request is refused, you can inform the ISP or Internet Service Provider of the owner regarding the infringement situation. In many countries, the ISP is held responsible for such violations and generally, ISPs will respond to such infringement activities on websites.

What is Copyright Registration?

Though copyright protection is automatic, you need to register it in case you want to bring a lawsuit against copyright infringement. There are several reasons for this:

  • In order to sue someone for infringing on your copyright, you need to first register the work with the US copyright office. The registration can also be done after the infringement, but it can only be applicable for future infringements.
  • Those authors who register their copyright within ninety days of the publication of their works can avail all statutory damages provisions for infringements taking place both before and after the registration date.
  • If you register your copyright, you can be eligible for up to $100,000 in the form of statutory damages and also claim attorney fees in case the case is successful.
  • Those authors making a registration within five years of their published work can get it submitted as prima facie evidence in court.
  • Registration is simple and also cheap, as you just have to fill out the application and mail it to the US copyright office along with a copy of the work to be protected.

How to Protect your Copyright?

  1. Protection for Authors: If you have posted any material on a website, it is automatically protected by copyright. However, it would be a good idea to add a copyright statement.
  2. Protection to Host: Those hosting a forum or a web page where there are postings from other members must warn them of the copyright violation or plagiarized material. You will need to post a warning in the site notifying members that any such material will be removed. Any violations should be immediately followed up, so that you can protect yourself from liability that others impose on you. Such liabilities can accrue from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
  3. If you find that someone has infringed your copyright, you can bring proceedings against them. Civil remedies can involve an award of damages or some penalties imposed on the infringer.
  4. You can also resolve the matter with infringing party by means of a settlement, without bringing it to court, as the latter could be expensive and time consuming.
  5. Seek specialist advice before you start pursuing a claim for copyright infringement.
  6. Though there is no need to go to any legal process for establishing copyright, it is a good practice to keep a record of your artistic works.
  7. You can put the symbol of copyright along with the name and the publication year in the work, as it can be useful while trying to bring about an action against infringement in the future.
  8. You can deposit copies of your work, stamped and unopened, to your solicitor.
  9. All works that were published before March 1, 1989 needed a formal notice for getting copyright protection. However, works published after March 1st 1989 there is no need of any copyright notice.
  10. However, it is important for authors to place a notice saying: Copyright with the symbol, the year and his name followed by ‘All Rights Reserved’, as a practical measure of warning others that the author takes copyright issues seriously and will not entertain infringement, thereby deterring them.
  11. By doing the above, no infringer can claim ‘innocent infringement’ in case of a lawsuit.

When does Copyright Protection NOT Apply? Fair Use

There are several cases where copying of artistic work is allowed without seeking the prior permission of the copyright owner. These are called ‘Fair Use’, as without such a use, it would not be possible to review any book or to study any works of famous people. However, this can be a rather slippery issue. Entire passages can be quoted and can still be considered as fair use, whereas a small amount quoted could be crucial to the work, if it leads to a decline in the commercial value of the original book or content. This is just a general guide and cannot be considered as an exhaustive guide. Using an artistic work is allowed if:

  • You need it for private research purposes.
  • For reviewing and criticism.
  • Reporting of current events
  • Artistic work for the purpose of advertising and for the sale of the work.
  • Educational uses, such as instructions by teachers to pupils.
  • Using it in libraries to help students in research or private study
  • In cases where the copyright has expired or the author or copyright owner has died more than seventy years ago.
  • When the work is done in the public domain and is not copyrightable.
  • Facts that are common knowledge can be copied and reproduced.

However, a compilation of facts that are created in a specific order and with a lot of original content and unique formatting styles have full right to copyright protection laws.

Duties of a Web Writer

Many people intentionally steal another writer’s work, while some do it on account of laziness or ignorance. You are only allowed to copy a work for fair use or in the public interest, such as quoting a passage from a book while reviewing it. This is done in order to prove that you have reasons for giving it a low rating. Critics are, therefore, allowed to include clippings and quotes from books and movies. You cannot, however, copy a full text from any article and send it to all members in the mailing list without adding any commentary or giving any credit. You cannot also just copy and post it in a public forum or a blog. You cannot share or distribute the full work without getting prior permission.

The best policy for writers would be not to copy from other sites. You can, of course, refer to the site for ideas. You can even share the content through your email or a link provided you give a comment or a brief excerpt showing why you need to share it. You can always ask for permission, as it is the author’s right to choose and not yours.

Conclusion

The issue of copyright protection and infringement is a confounded one in case of web content. It is important that authors protect their work with the US copyright office in order to protect their work from infringement. However, when you post your work, it is seen by all people from all over the world and even if it is infringed upon, it becomes difficult for the person to become aware of it. It is also quite expensive to pursue such infringement cases.

Writing an article can be painstaking work and copyright laws make sure that the credit goes to the proper person. No one can plagiarize another’s work by copying it exactly. The protection is given automatically as soon as the work is created even if you have not registered it officially. You have to be vigilant to those stealing your work online, as it is a simple matter to copy and paste content from one site to another. It can pose quite a struggle and you need to be aware of one’s rights as a writer as well as know more about copyright issues and how to tackle them.

Copyright is not just an iron clad lock that prevents you from publishing anything. The main purpose of copyright protection is to protect the author to his right of obtaining commercial benefit from the valuable work that he has created. It also allows him protection so that he can control the way in which his work is used.

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2 Comments

  1. The next step here would be to include an article on the creative commons license.

  2. In Canada, original work of an artist is by default property of the artist without any action needed to copyright the material. Copyrights must be transferred in writing to a second party. Without a written agreement, art and design work for a fee assumes a one time reproduction or one time use of the artwork by a client, ie. further copies and usage is not allowed without the permission of the artist. Without written stipulation of use, courts tend to side with the artist in copyright challenges, as long as the artist can demonstrate that they produced the art in dispute. Artists are very well protected here.

    With regard to online artwork theft; the rule of thumb is, if you don’t want someone to steal it, don’t put it on the web. Due to the sheer size and volume of the web, crossing international boundaries and therefore different laws, it is nearly impossible to police the web. There is no fool-proof way to protect artwork online.

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