Website copyright and web design advice

Fact sheet P-11: Website copyright

Issued: 7th July 2004
Last amended: 20th February 2009

Exploring website copyright and specific considerations that apply to website designers.

  1. Copyright notices

    Although notices are not a requirement under the Berne Convention, (which states that copyright is automatic, whether you mark your work or not), it was a requirement of some countries covered under the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). It is strongly recommended that you properly mark your work as the use of notices will make it clear that copyright exists, and help to deter infringement. Please see our fact sheet P-03: Using copyright notices for information on wording you notices.

    Websites are particularly open to abuse, especially theft of content and images. You should assume that files will be accessed randomly, downloaded as individual chunks, and distributed out of context. It is therefore important to include a copyright notice on as many individually deliverable items as possible:

    • Image file properties should include a notice.

      Under Windows for example, right clicking on a image will allow you to bring up the properties dialogue where you may enter details about the file, (though this will only work with certain file types). More typically, your image software will provide a way to insert comments into the file; this is preferred as these are harder to remove.

    • Every page should contain a notice in the visible text (text shown on screen), or at least link to your notice in the body of the page.
    • Every delivered file should include a notice in non visible text.

      For example, in HTML files and CSS stylesheets a copyright notice can be included as a comment.

    Watermarking may be worth considering if you have a lot of valuable images on your site.

  2. Creating websites for third parties

    If you design web sites for others, it is important for all parties to understand ownership.

    • Ensure that rights are transferred or licences granted as appropriate. For example; the copyright to the site content and design may passed to the client upon payment, along with licenses for more generic code or modules that the designer/developer may build or use.
    • In the case of work undertaken in stages, rights or licenses to individual features may be handed over for work completed to date.
    • Where material for the web site is sourced from elsewhere, or where third party technologies are to be used, appropriate licenses should be obtained.
    • Moral rights: Will the developer be credited for the work on the web site? If so, the developer will also want to reserve the right to remove the credit if the site if later developed in a way that would discredit the original developer.
  3. Copyright registration

    Websites are one of the easiest things to copy, particularly any written content and images, so registration is particularly important. For information on how to register a website, please see our factsheet P-23: Registering websites.

  4. Detecting infringement

    Copyscape is a useful tool that will compare your web pages to others indexed by Google and return any it finds with matching text.

  5. Dealing with infringement

    If you notice another web site using your content, the best place to start is by reading our copyright infringement fact sheet

    It is a good idea to get a copy of the site as it exists at the time, this is useful if the site owner later changes their site in an attempt to disguise the infringement. Wget is a good tool for this and is available as free software under the GNU General Public License.

    Besides the points outlined in the copyright infringement fact sheet, in some countries the (such as the UK), the ISP (Internet Service Provider), may also have an obligation to uphold the law. An ISP that continues to host infringing material is knowingly permitting the infringement to continue and may therefore be liable.

    You would need to check that the ISP is covered by this legislation, (as it will vary due to differences in national laws), but this is often a good additional route to pursue, particularly if you have trouble contacting the domain owner, (we have seen occasions where domain records have been falsified to avoid tracing).

    If you need help tracing an domain owner, provide a search facility that will display the contact details of the web domain owner.

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The use of this fact sheet is covered by the conditions of a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works License.

This fact sheet is intended only as an introduction to ideas and concepts only. It should not be treated as a definitive guide, nor should it be considered to cover every area of concern, or be regarded as legal advice.

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Web design copyright fact sheet from Copyright Witness.