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Copyright Laws – What Do They Mean For You and Your Website?

business by Shannon Noack on April 2, 2010 | 0 Comments

Copyright laws are something that cannot be ignored, whether you’re a designer, a writer, or a business owner. People often don’t know enough about copyright laws because the website design is more fun to think about, or there are other things to worry about. However, your website and the content on it is public and copyrights are important to think about before publishing it.

As defined by Wikipedia:

Copyright is the set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. These rights can be licensed, transferred and/or assigned. Copyright lasts for a certain time period after which the work is said to enter the public domain.

Copyright laws as they pertain to your website deal with the design, content, images, and anything on your website. Here are some questions that I’ve heard from clients about copyrights:

Do I need to copyright my website and how can I do that?
You can add a copyright symbol © to the footer of your site if you’d like, but it’s actually not necessary. Copyright law says that anything that has been created by someone is copyrighted by them unless they give up the copyrights to someone else. According to an article online about website copyrights, it will help if you need to defend yourself in court, so it’s a good idea, but not necessary.

Can I borrow an image I found online, it’s public domain isn’t it?
It’s always best to ask permission. They may allow you to use it, but you certainly don’t want to get caught in a lawsuit if the image is copyrighted by the owner. Lots of great information on using someone else’s work can be found on this website.

When you publish your website, you must do so with the knowledge that everything on it is alright for you to use. Some things to think about:

  • Make sure someone at your company, maybe you, wrote the text on your website.
  • If not, make sure you have all the rights to publish it. Such as if a writer wrote copy specifically for your website, they probably gave you the rights to publish it for your site.
  • Give credit where it’s due if you referenced ideas or thoughts from some other source. If in doubt, ask them if you can use it.
  • Borrowing images requires permission from the owner, or credit depending on the circumstance. For example, I showcase great websites and photos on my blog occasionally and link back to the source whenever I do so. So in some cases you can just give credit, but if in doubt, ask for permission.

Other resources to check out

US Copyright Office – A great amount of information can be found here.
Copyright Registration for Online Works – A pdf download that talks about copyrights for websites.
10 Big Myths About Copyrights Explained
– Great explanations about copyrights.
What Does Copyright Protect? – More great copyright info, including some on websites.

This overview on copyrights is brief considering the enormous subject at hand, but hopefully it gave you some ideas to think about. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments area below. I’d love to hear any copyright questions you’ve heard from clients and colleagues or issues you’ve encountered as designers, business owners, and working professionals.


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