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Website Copyright Registration

By John DiGiacomo

Registering copyrights for websites can be a bit tricky. The reason is that the U.S. Copyright Office does not recognize a website as a “copyrightable” work of authorship. That is, the Copyright Office distinguishes between the website — as a whole — from its content. The content of websites is fully copyrightable (assuming that the text, photos, music, etc., contain a sufficient amount of original authorship).

However, there are methods of obtaining copyright registration for multiple works/groups of original works (like photographs and unpublished textual works). Generally, to register copyrights for multiple works, the works must be of the same type — fiction stories, blog articles, landscape photographs, etc. For textual works of authorship, group registration is available only for unpublished works. “Unpublished” is defined as not made available for sale. So, even though a blog article or story may appear on a website and may be viewable by anyone, that does not mean the article is “published.” So, group registration is an option. Sometimes the “group” can include the website itself if the website qualifies as a collective work,

The additional “tricky” aspect of trying to register a copyright for a website is that, if successful, only that version of the website will be registered with the Copyright Office. This is true even though, technically, later iterations of a website are considered “derivative works” which are protected by the U.S. Copyright Act.

From the foregoing, the rule of thumb is that a website owner should, first, seek to obtain copyright registration for the website as a collective work. If that application is rejected, then the website owners should seek registration for various content on their website. A separate copyright registration application is needed for each component of the website (although, again, there are options for registering multiple works on one application if they are of the same type and otherwise qualify as copyrightable original works of authorship).

What About Copyright Protections That Exist Without Registration?

It is to be noted that, so far, we have discussed the REGISTRATION of a website with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration of copyrights is important for many legal reasons. However, copyrights are protected by U.S. law even if the original works of authorship are not registered. Copyright legal protections come into existence when an original work of authorship is completed. These rights include the right to control who may use or copy the original work and who may create derivative works. As noted, these rights exist whether the copyright is registered or not.

However, copyright registration provides additional legal protections, the most important of which is the ability to sue for copyright infringement in a federal court. Registration is a necessary first step in bringing such a lawsuit. See Copyright Act. See 17 U.S.C. §101 et seq.; Fourth Estate Public Benefits Corp. v., 139 S.Ct. 881 (2019) (registration must be completed before an infringement case can be commenced). Further, registration allows a copyright owner/holder to sue for monetary damages and statutory damages and collect attorneys’ fees if successful.

Contact Revision Legal

For more information or if you need help with drafting Terms and Conditions, or if you have other legal issues related to internet law, contact the trusted internet lawyers at Revision Legal. You can contact us through the form on this page or call (855) 473-8474. We are lawyers specializing in internet law.

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