December 31, 2017

Protect Online Content From Copyright Infringement

In our always-online world, websites are a necessary asset that is part of both small and large business’ marketing, sales, and customer service. With the wide variety of content available online, it’s all too easy to click the copy button from page to page or lift a picture from a Google Image search or someone’s Instagram (in fact, one artist did exactly that for an entire exhibit in New York). Unfortunately, many people don’t even think of this as copyright infringement.

Whether it is your website copy, images you took and posted to social media, or the choreography in a video you created, don’t allow others to benefit from your hard work and creativity. Protect your online content from copyright infringement by taking the following steps.

Learn the Basics of Copyrighting Your Online Content

Copyright protection generally applies to any original work that is fixed in a tangible means of expression, including “literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.” Your website, your photographs, your content, and your artwork can all be examples of unique and original combinations of copywriting, images, code, and design.

In 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) extended the scope of copyright protection to online content while limiting the liability of online service providers. Providers must still adhere to some guidelines and take steps responsive to claims of infringement, but it is really the content owner’s responsibility to protect online content from copyright infringement.

Copyright protection arraches upon the creation of any original work, but it is still a good business practice to display a copyright notice on your website. The vast majority of websites routinely put a copyright notice in the footer of each page, and it typically looks like this: ©; followed by the year that the website was created; followed by your name; and then finally by the phrase ‘All rights reserved.’

Copyright Registration

The inherent properties of a copyright give you rights over the following: derivative works, distribution of copies to the public, and reproduction, public display, or  performance of the work. However, unless you actually register your copyright with the US Copyright Office, it can be difficult to prosecute any offenders. Registration of your work’s copyright establishes a public record and makes it easier for you to prove your ownership. In addition, your work must be registered, or an application filed, before you can file a copyright infringement case in court. The best advice is to register your website within two months of publication, but even if you don’t register your copyright, you can still display the copyright symbol on your website.

“Fair Use” Terms

A limited right of “fair use” allows for some exceptions to the control you have over how your content is used. Small parts of copyrighted works can be used without the permission of the author for purposes of research or reporting, teaching, and criticism. The US Copyright Office provides a Fair Use Index to help get a better understanding of this, but as an example, a book review may quote a few lines of text from a book. Using content for commercial purposes is less likely to be covered under the fair use terms.

Other Copyright Practices and Tools

In addition to adding (and registering) a copyright to your website, there a few other tools and practices that you can use to deter thieves and protect online content from copyright infringement. You could also register through the DMCA and add one of their badges to your website. A “DO NOT COPY” badge or a “Terms of Use” section can help to inform visitors of your protection, too. Terms of Use are a good way to outline what others can and can’t do with the content on your site. And, because a copyright may not protect any user-generated content, your Terms can help protect your rights to manage the comment sections.

Actively Protect Online Content from Copyright Infringement

Marking your site with a copyright symbol might help to protect it, but it's almost impossible to completely prevent infringement. Ultimately, it is the copyright holder’s responsibility to actively work for the protection of their content.

Update Regularly

If you register your copyright, keep in mind that it only extends to the content first presented with the registration. You will need to update it every few months to ensure that all new content is protected.

Search for Duplicate Content

There are specialized tools, like Copygator, that can help you to search the internet for any occurrences of your own written content. Not only is it critical to find these for copyright and plagiarism reasons, but they could also hurt your website’s search engine optimization efforts. An update to Google algorithms (Panda) penalizes more heavily for duplicate content on multiple pages. So, if someone has stolen your words and placed them on their site, your site’s ranking powers may have also been stolen. This can result in Google interpreting you as the infringer, and you can get booted from the search results. You can actively search for unique phrases from your text in Google search (using quotation marks) to see if they show up anywhere else, or you can set a Google Alert to tell you exactly when they do.

Follow “Notice and Takedown” Procedures

If, indeed, you do find a copyright infringement, you can first get it removed from the internet before you take legal action. “Notice and takedown” procedures provide copyright owners provide an easy way to cut links to the infringing content. With this rule, if you find an infringement of content you own (on any platform), you can notify either the platform or the web host via a takedown notice, and the content will be removed. Some sites and popular platforms even have their own DMCA takedown procedures.

When in Doubt, Look to the Professionals

Collaborating with many others on an original website for your business is not uncommon. If there are many ‘authors’ to your website’s content, the copyright issues can become complex and rights might be difficult to determine. Protecting your content via registered copyright is always a good practice, because the internet will never be without copyright infringement risk. If you have been the victim of copyright infringement, it may be wise to seek the help of a professional intellectual property attorney. And to safeguard all of your online content, whether it’s photographs, artwork, music, choreography, or written content, it is wise to seek copyright protection.


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