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The Basics of Copyrighting


Copyrighting is a huge topic, it is not possible to give you a definitive guide to copyrighting so my intention is to introduce you to some basics of this important subject. As this is a web site, I will only apply this guide to copyrighting of works for the internet.

Also, I have broken down this guide into a number of basic sections which I think are the least you should know.

Much of this information is based on US law, simply because that is a readily available source of information. Most countries have similar laws but you will need to check with you're respective Copyright Office/Responsible Government Department for details.

If you have addresses of your Copyright Office/Responsible Government Department send them to me and I will post them online for the other 3 people who will visit this page. :-)

What is copyrighting?

Copyright is a basic form of protection provided by the laws of many countries to the authors of "original works of authorship". This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Works of authorship for the purposes of this guide include your code, site text, images etc.

The owner of a copyright has the right to do the following, or to authorise someone else to do the following:

  • Reproduce the works in copies;
  • Make derivative copies based on the works;
  • To distribute copies by sale or otherwise;
  • To display the work publicly, for example by publishing on web sites;

Who can claim a copyright?

The copyright exists from the time the work is created in a tangible form. The copyright automatically belongs to the original author immediately on it's creation. Only the author or those getting their rights from the author can claim copyright of the works.

In the situation where you are working for a design firm or creating the work for someone else as ordered then this is classed as "Work for hire" and the employer becomes the author and copyright owner, not you!

What is protected by copyright?

Copyright protects original works of authorship which are in a tangible form. What's a tangible form? Code in your head cannot be copyrighted, code on a web page can! A tangible form is a form which can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or device such as a web browser!

Copyrighting protects literary and pictorial or graphical works. This basically means your entire web page as a web page is generally make up of text and graphics.

There is a grey area though. How much of code can be copyrighted? You can't copyright basic HTML for example, firstly you didn't create the HTML and because HTML has a limited number of tags we are all going to construct tables in much the same way. This is something you definitely need to investigate more if you write scripts with Perl or Asp for example.

Unpublished work is also copyrighted by the author. It never needs to be made public.

How to secure a copyright?

Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is "created" when it is fixed in a copy for the first time. It must e created in a tangible form as described above.

The Copyright notice

First important thing. You do NOT need to have a copyright notice displayed. It must be assumed that anything and everything we see on the internet IS copyrighted with or without a copyright notice unless it expressly states that the "work" is not copyrighted.
So if you see something without a copyright notice assume that it IS still copyrighted!!

Having said that it is recommended that you display a copyright notice on everything that you publish on the net!

The copyright notice contains 3 basic but essential elements. A valid copyright notice must contain ALL of the following:

  1. The symbol or the word Copyright or the abbreviation Copr.
  2. Date of first publication or creation
  3. The name of the owner of the copyright, or an abbreviation of the name which can be recognised or a generally known alternative designation of the owner (alias).

An example of a valid copyright is: 2003 Joe Black and also Unpublished work 2003 Asumpta DeFaoileann

How long does copyrighting last?

A rough guideline is 70 years after the death of the author. For "works for hire" the term is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. For joint-copyrights, it is 70 years after the last surviving partner has croaked it.

These depend of course on local law, this is just a rough guideline.

International Copyrighting

Ah, the important bit, especially as we publish information on the web which is accessible by the majority of countries on this planet.

Bad news...there is no such thing as International Copyright! There is no copyright protection which will protect your work in every country.
Protection of a work in a certain country depends on the local laws in that particular country. Many countries have signed international copyright agreements and most countries will offer some protection to "foreign works".

This is something for you to check with your local Office/Dept.

Important Notes:

I am not a lawyer of any kind! This is merely information freely available on the web which I am passing on. I have presented this in good faith as a basic introduction to the subject. I have stated nothing as fact here, merely expressed my opinion. I can not be held in any way responsible for any damages arising from the use of or reliance on this information. It's up to to you to search further for accurate information.
You can view my full disclaimer here: Disclaimer

Having said that I do hope this was useful information for you and I recommend you investigate further!

Anything of value to you which you place on the web print it out and post it to yourself or a friend. Do not open it. If the need arises then you have something to present in court if someone tries to rip you off.

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