Your website is your moneymaker. It’s your form of expression. For many website owners, it’s both. Regardless of how you view the website, it’s an art form, albeit a digital one, and every art form should be properly protected. As the age-old saying goes, better safe than sorry; it’s a terrifying feeling to find that what you’ve worked so hard to bring to fruition is being copied in any way. The result of this plagiarism strips you of worthy credit and potential sales. To protect you from a devastating situation, there are several elements of your website that should be copyright-protected and safeguarded.
1. Website Design
Your website design is the first impression for visitors, and could determine whether you make a sale or impression. However, as more businesses are launched and the Internet becomes a more prominent focus for all business types, the risk for design plagiarism increases. This is exactly what happened to the founder of Astuteo, a web design and marketing firm. They’d discovered an eerily similar website that was in the same line of work and geographic location. According to Beth Russell, a lawyer specializing in services for web developers and graphic designers, you don’t have to necessarily register a copyright to have legal rights to the work. The moment you create something, and put it into “fixed form,” you have a copyright.
However, there is some gray area here. You aren’t actually able to sue anyone without a copyright, and not all fixed forms are copyrightable. To prevent duplicates of your site from popping up around the world, and unauthorized use of some intellectual property, you should take proper precaution. Contrary to popular belief, you can protect your website design using copyright.
It’s always best to stay on the safe side and register your work straight away. Additionally, you should have a paper trail of paper contracts with any third-party vendors or freelancers who may have helped with your design. This ensures that you own the work they created for you.
Your logo should undoubtedly be protected by a trademark. This seems like a no-brainer, but there have been too many nasty cases of logo-theft to not make it a talking point. This mistake often happens when people create their own logos or hire a cheap freelancer or design firm.
Two years ago, an expose was published on the real value of Fiverr’s $5 logo, detailing the deceit many of its overseas-based designers, who padded their Fiverr profiles with work that didn’t belong to them. When you purchase a logo through platforms like Fiverr, you’ll also have to pay more for the logo’s source files if you want to actually do anything with it. Source files are only miraged as an option, but are a necessity.
Completing a logo or receiving completed work isn’t the final step. Brent Galloway, author of the “Your Freelance Career” blog, did a quick Google Image search of some of his design work (a recommended tactic for all designers) and found that a design firm provided a business with a blatant copy of his logo with a business name change. The firm apologized to him (though many copycats aren’t as friendly) and removed the logo.
3. Source Code
Any software, including the text-based HTML code you use for your site and other technical tools or programs, should be protected by a source code escrow. Just as you’d own the rights to a logo created by a design agency, you want to own every bit of code that comprises your website and its features.
Let’s say you own an ecommerce business and created a proprietary tool that allows customers to compare prices to other retailers within the cart. Unless you’re a developer and have a lot of time on your hands, you’ll likely be outsourcing this work to a third-party vendor. It gets even more tricky when you want to start licensing that bit of software.
“Any business licensing their software should use a software escrow to protect both the licensee and the vendor,” says AmritPal Singh, Senior Developer at DrFelix, a digital healthcare startup. “You never want to be in a position where your code is vulnerable, and vendors don’t want to protect themselves from businesses that could potentially go bankrupt, or experience any internal issues that prevents them from maintaining the code. With a neutral third party, you really mitigate the risks.”
Whether it’s a landing page, blog post, or entire ebook, finding that someone’s stolen your work is a hard pill to swallow. Unfortunately, it happens far too often. The good news is, when you publish a blog post, it’s instantly copyright-protected. Display a standard copyright notice on your blog to help prevent infringement. Like other creative works, however, you would still need to have work copyrighted in order to sue someone who has plagiarized.
For larger works, such as ebooks and white papers, it’s best to simply pay the $35 to copyright it. Copyrighting an entire blog, however, is tricky, because it’s consistently being updated and unless you have a lot of time and money, copywriting each post would be a cumbersome and financially draining process. As a workaround, you can submit copyright applications biannually or annually, which includes all work published during that time period.
There are many tools to help you find and remove plagiarized content. You can also use Google to help take down URLs containing your work.
Photographs you’ve taken or purchased and own need their own source of protection. For individuals who want to sell or resell those images, a watermark helps prevent theft. They’re fairly easy to apply on your own, but relatively inexpensive otherwise. There are also many online plugins and tools to help protect your images from being right-clicked and downloaded. While these could still technically be screenshot, it won’t be of high quality and would be difficult to alter.