How to protect your website copyright

Last updated: 9 August 2019

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

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Copyright is an automatic IP right and protects your original website content. Setting up a website and producing content takes a lot of time, creativity and effort. The last thing you want is for your content to be copied elsewhere on the web. Apart from this being frustrating, it can also adversely affect your brand and reduce your website’s search engine ranking.

Here we’ll be covering:

  1. Is your website content protected by copyright?
  2. Step 1: Assert your copyright
  3. Step 2: Update your website terms and conditions
  4. Step 3: Choose a unique domain name for your brand
  5. Step 4: Disable copy and paste on your website
  6. Step 5: Register your logo or business name as a trade mark
  7. Is your website code, functionality or layout protected by copyright?
  8. How can you detect if your website content is being stolen?
  9. What can you do if your website content is stolen?

Is your website content protected by copyright?

In the UK, websites are usually protected by copyright so long as the content is the original work of the author or content creator. This is because copyright protection arises automatically once the work is created, so that there is no need for registration. Copyright protection prohibits people from copying your work, distributing copies of it or posting it anywhere on the internet. The length of copyright protection for written or artistic works is 70 years after the author’s death. Even though copyright protection arises automatically, there are steps you can take to further protect your online content.

Step 1: Assert your copyright

It’s good practice to include a copyright notice in your website footer to notify website visitors of your copyright, in case they are unaware. You can add the copyright notice to your website footer yourself via the admin panel. Alternatively, if you are unsure, you can either contact your website hosting company or ask your web developer for assistance.

A copyright notice usually takes the following form:

© [name of copyright owner] [year of creation of website – current year]

Step 2: Update your website terms and conditions

Another way to protect your copyright is to ensure that you include an intellectual property clause within your website’s terms and conditions. This adds a layer of protection should you ever have to go to court to enforce your rights. The clause should outline what website visitors can do with your content and when they will require further permission. The website terms and conditions should set out what licences, if any, you grant for use of your content. You can include an email address for anyone who wants to request permission to use your content for purposes that are not expressly set out in the website terms and conditions. Keep your website terms and conditions up to date to reflect any changes in your intellectual property rights and licences granted.

Our solicitors can help you with drafting a suitable set of website terms and conditions.

Step 3: Choose a unique domain name for your brand

You will need to choose a unique name for your website by setting up a website address, more commonly known as a ‘domain name’. Make sure that your domain name reflects your brand and purpose for your website. It also helps if the domain name is memorable and easy to spell. Registering your domain name using an accredited registrar will ensure that you have the exclusive right to use it for the duration of your registration. You can arrange with the registrar to auto-renew your domain name registration before it expires. If you fail to renew your registration your domain name will become available for purchase in the open market, which will mean that you can no longer use it. If this happens this could adversely affect your brand as your website content will no longer be directly attributed to your brand name.

Step 4: Disable copy and paste on your website

If you are worried about your website content being plagiarised, you may want to consider adding functionality to your website to disable the right click function. If your website was created on the WordPress platform you can add a piece of software, known as a ‘plugin’, via the admin panel. Alternatively, you can ask your web developer to add it for you. One of the popular plugins for this purpose is the ‘WP Content Copy Protection & No Right Click Plugin’, which is available in free and premium versions. This plugin will disable the right click function on your website therefore preventing visitors from copying and saving your content, including images. Although this is an effective way to prevent content theft, it could also affect the usability of your website and/or interfere with other elements of its functionality.

Step 5: Register your logo or business name as a trade mark

If you have a unique business name or logo you may be able to protect it by applying for it to be registered as a trade mark. This is advisable if you want to claim proprietary rights in your business name or logo as, unlike copyright, trade marks do not arise automatically. You can apply to register your trade mark in the UK only or internationally. This is a tricky process and can be quite expensive. If you want to pursue this route, our expert trade mark lawyers can help guide you through the process and therefore increase the chances of your trade mark application being successful.

Is your website code, functionality or layout protected by copyright?

The HTML and CSS codes for a website are considered original work and therefore protected by copyright. This means that large scale copying of the theme elements, for example, could be considered as copyright infringement. You cannot copyright the general layout, look or functionality of a website but it is possible to protect the code behind it.

How can you detect if your website content is being stolen?

If you notice that your website’s search engine ranking decreases for no apparent reason, it may be that your content has been copied and pasted elsewhere on the internet. This is because search engines cannot tell which content is the original (unless there is a canonical tag used) and they will often penalise duplicate content. This may lead to your website not being indexed and its visibility therefore being reduced.

Another way to detect if your website content has been stolen is by using duplicate content checker software, such as ‘Grammarly’, ‘Plagarisma’ or ‘Copyscape’. Plagarisma is available for free whilst Grammarly and Copyscape offer free options for those who have a smaller budget. These tools will allow you to detect cases of plagiarism and will save you the hassle of having to search the internet yourself.

What can you do if your website content is stolen?

If you detect that your website content has been stolen, the first step would be to contact the owner of the infringing website, inform them of the breach and ask them to remove the infringing content. You can usually find website owners’ contact details on the contact page of their website. If you are unsure of who owns the website or you cannot find their contact details, you may be able to find out who registered the domain name via the “Whois.com” website. Contacting the website owner in this way should be enough to get the infringing content removed. However, you can take the matter to court if they refuse to do so. The possible remedies at court include; compensation for the infringement, an injunction to stop further copying or an order to remove the infringing content.

Google also allows you to report any instances of website copyright infringement. You can do this by submitting a legal removal request via Google’s website. They will investigate and then decide whether to block, remove or restrict access to the infringing website pages.

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What next?

If you need legal advice on how to protect your website copyright, our intellectual property solicitors can help.

Call us on 0800 689 1700, or fill out the short form and we’ll contact you to discuss your situation and legal requirements. There’s no charge for your initial consultation, and no obligation to instruct us. We aim to respond to all messages received within 24 hours.

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