Daily Archive 28 March 2021

AvatarByJames Golding

Getting the Copyright Right

More often than not, when you visit a website, you’ll see that there’s a copyright notice in the footer. The purpose of that is to inform visitors that the content of the website is protected by copyright and that if anyone wants to use it, they must first seek the owner’s permission.

Some people actually believe that if they do not see a copyright symbol on the website, anywhere, then the content isn’t protected by copyright law, meaning they can use what they want without permission. Well, that’s wrong, according to the world’s leading copyright convention, the Berne Copyright Treaty (a treaty to which 92% of all countries, 179 at the time of writing, are signatories, including the UK, United States, Canada and New Zealand). This treaty suggests that a copyright notice is not mandatory and that even if you opt not to include one on your website, your content is still fully protected.

In this blog, we’ll discuss why it is still advisable to include the copyright symbol on your website, how you should use the copyright symbol to create a notice (including where to place it) and finally which year you should include within the notice. Happy reading!

Why should I use a copyright notice, if it isn’t mandatory?

As we’ve seen, for any country signed up to the Berne treaty, you don’t need to include a copyright symbol or notice anywhere on your website. However, even though it isn’t mandatory, it still does act to remind visitors to your website that the content is copyright-protected and that you are the owner. Therefore, they will know that they must seek your permission to use your content.

In Berne treaty countries, where the symbol is not mandatory, there are further great incentives to including the symbol. A few examples of these are:

  • The notice serves to educate, or remind, your visitors that they must respect the copyright that exists in your work and that they shouldn’t make any attempt to copy it without your permission.
  • In the United States, including the symbol (with or without a full copyright notice) prevents anyone who has ‘stolen’ your content from using the defence that they did not know it was protected by copyright.
  • In Canada, the inclusion of the symbol on your website can be used as evidence in court that the person who supposedly violated your copyright should have known that it existed.

In reality, more countries within the treaty make use of a similar logic, which means in general that you’re always better off including the symbol (and potentially a notice as well) on your website, unless you designed your website specifically to contain only content that was intended for people to use freely, a bit like Wikipedia. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?

How should I use the copyright symbol on my website?

Having seen why including a copyright symbol (or a full copyright notice) on your website is very useful, let’s now take a look at how we can use the symbol to create the perfect copyright notice, to deter any potential violators. Take a look at the image below, which is of the copyright notice for my website.

Digital Lychee Website Copyright Notice

As you may have seen, there are three key elements to any complete copyright notice, plus a fourth ‘optional’ one. These key elements include:

  • The copyright symbol ©. This can be replaced with the word ‘copyright’ or an abbreviation, such as ‘copr’. It just needs to be present in one form or another.
  • The year(s) for which the copyright is applicable. Mine includes a date range as you’ll see. We’ll cover why that can be useful in a bit.
  • The name of the copyright owner. This isn’t always the content creator. For example, if you work for a company, then it might be that company who owns the copyright, even though you created the content.

You can also include the statement ‘all rights reserved’ after the notice although this doesn’t alter the validity of your copyright statement. There’s no particular order in which you need to include these items within the notice either. For example, whilst my notice is displayed like so:

© 2019 – 2021 Digital Lychee

I could just as easily have written it as:

© Digital Lychee 2019 – 2021

And it would be equally as valid. Once you have created the copyright notice, you need to know where to place it. Ideally, you want it to be somewhere prominent, where it will easily alert any visitor that your content is protected. This could be on the home page, as it is the page most likely to be visited first, or a special ‘Copyright’ page.

However, I would recommend that you include the notice in a prominent position that is consistent across all pages of your website, so that any potential violators can’t claim they only took content from a part of the website that was ‘not protected’. That position is the website footer. Prominent and consistent across all pages, it’s the perfect place to put the notice, to be noticed (see what I did there…?) by all of your visitors.

Which years should I include in my copyright notice?

Generally, as a minimum, you only need to include one year within your website’s copyright notice. That year is the year of first publication of your website and its content (i.e., the first year in which it became freely accessible to the public. For example, if you started building the website in 2018, but didn’t publish it publicly until 2019, you would use the year 2019.

Presumably, to keep your website fresh with new and exciting content, to attract new visitors, you will constantly be upgrading and adding new content. If that is the case, it is good practice to include the date range, which would look like this:

© Year of first/oldest published element – Year of most recent published element

In my case, as you have seen that is 2019 – 2021. Now, the date range is not absolutely necessary, even with regularly updated content. Provided the date of the oldest published element is present, that will suffice. However, including the date range, to accommodate new content will remove any confusion for your visitors, as to whether or not content published outside of the stated year is still copyrighted. After all, that’s what you’re after, right?

So, what’s the upshot?

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether or not you include a copyright notice on your website. If you only have content specifically designed to be shared by everyone, including an online encyclopaedia or free learning resources, then you can choose not to include one.

However, I would always recommend that one be included, placed in a prominent area (such as the footer) no matter what the content is. It means your visitors would always require your permission to use any content you publish and wouldn’t be able to make money off it. To that end, you may want to include a statement on your website, perhaps on the contact page or in the footer, informing your visitors that they can get in touch with you for permission to use your content.

How will Digital Lychee help you?

At Digital lychee, I make sure that I tailor all my clients’ websites to suit their individual needs. In your initial consultation (free and no obligation, of course) we will discuss your needs in full and I can advise you on the best format for your copyright notice, as well as the best location, for maximum effectiveness. If you are interested in my services, or you want to find out more about my blog, I would love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me here.