In the world of the printed word, copyright is well established and is quite clear cut – copyright is automatically assigned to the creator of a piece of work, unless they have signed that copyright over to another party. Any unlicensed and unauthorised use of that work is considered an infringement of copyright and the original creator is within their rights to take the infringer to court. But online copyright is a little less clear. Or is it?
The online copyright situation at present
The copying of online content across the web is rife and has been virtually since the dawn of the internet. This is in large part due to the ease with which it can be stolen – all that is needed is a few clicks to copy it from one site and then paste it onto your own.
Another reason for this proliferation is that there is a widespread misconception that copyright does not apply to online works. This is however far from the truth, and one other reason for this ‘wild west’ of online content rustling is that online copyrights are seldom enforced. In this post we hope to make the situation clearer for you, give you the information you need to enforce your online copyright and show you some techniques that you can use to protect your online content.
Why your online content needs protecting
Despite the ease with which it is accessible, online content isn’t somehow less valuable than its printed counterpart. The content on your website represents a significant investment, either of your own time if you wrote it, or a financial investment if you hired a copywriter to create it for you. Similarly, if you’re tempted to ‘borrow’ content from another website you should stop and consider the time and effort that its creator put into it.
If someone copies your content then there are also a number of direct consequences that can prove detrimental to your business:
- Brand dilution – Your content will not be able to work as hard for your brand if there are exact copies of it elsewhere on your competitors’ sites. Even though you are the originator of the content, you may be seen as having the same content as all the others.
- Duplicate content penalties – Again, the search engines are often unable to determine the original creator of the content. If there are multiple copies of your content across the internet, you may find that your own content is not indexed, effectively rendering it invisible.
Online copyright – The facts
As we stated earlier, the idea that copyright doesn’t apply to online works in the same way as it does printed works is a misconception. Just as with a magazine article, a book or a poem, copyright is automatically assigned to the creator of the content upon its inception. Though putting up copyright notices on your content does serve a purpose that we shall look at in a moment, it is by no means required. To further clarify for content creators and anyone thinking about lifting content from another website:
Copyright is assigned to all online content upon its creation, whether a copyright symbol or notice is displayed or not.
The only exception to the content creator being assigned the copyright is when they have entered into a web copywriting agreement with a client for whom they are a ‘ghost writer’. This is in fact the case for much online content, as most companies with an online presence use either in-house copywriters, freelance web copywriters or a copywriting agency to produce the textual content for their websites.
The real reason that so much content is copied is that its rightful owners do not enforce their copyrights.
How to detect unauthorised use of your content
The first step to enforcing your online copyright is to detect its infringement. You may come across it as a matter of course, but you can also locate unauthorised use of your online content using online tools such as Copyscape and Grammarly. You can find out more about these tools and other methods for protecting your content in our recent post, ‘How to detect plagiarism of your online copy’.
Another good tool is Tynt, which can be used to automatically get notifications when your content is copied and pasted, along with direct links to the content.
Enforcing your copyright
Once you’ve located copies of your content online you can take the necessary steps to get it removed. The best way to do this is to get in touch with the owner of the offending website, inform them that they are in breach of copyright law and ask them to remove it. This will usually be enough to get the content removed, but if not then you are within your rights to pursue legal action against the offender.
To reach the owner of a particular website you can usually find details on their contact page, but if this is not present then you should be able to find them by doing a ‘whois’ search.
To prevent the plagiarism of your online content you should aim for a strategy of deterrence. The purpose of placing a copyright symbol alongside your name and the date on all online content is not to claim copyright, but instead to indicate to others that it is yours and that you are prepared to enforce your rights. Doing so at the bottom of each webpage may be enough to deter many would-be copiers.
You can also make it more difficult technically for them to steal your content, by using tools and code which will prevent the ‘copy’ command from working. This is of course not a foolproof method, and the more determined will find a way around this, but it will at the very least make it harder for them to copy your content.
The fact is all websites should be creating original content, not just for ethical or legal reasons, but because it makes sound marketing sense. If you use the content of others then you are not leveraging what is special about your own business. How do you go about creating original content? Get in touch with Big Star Copywriting and we’ll be happy to guide you through the process.