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June 12, 2008

Quick & Dirty Guide to Copyrighting Your Content

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You work hard to create content that will inspire your users and describe exactly what it is your site is about. Unfortunately for you that unique content that you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into is now being stolen, scraped and copied at this very moment. It sucks, doesn’t it?

It totally does. Sometimes your content is stolen innocently because people don’t understand what free use on the Web means and other times it’s done not so innocently. Either way, you need to protect yourself.

Even though your content is technically copyrighted the moment you launch it publicly, it’s still in your best interest to register it officially. Doing so gives you documented proof of ownership and allows you to file a suit against those who infringe upon your copyright and collect actual damages. You don’t want to take someone to court and shell out thousands of dollars in legal fees, only to be awarded no real compensation. Spare the few minutes it takes to register your content and put yourself in a better position to defend yourself.

So what can you copyright: Original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works.
What can’t you copyright: Anything in the public domain, ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something.

The easiest way to copyright your content is to file a copyright registration at The Copyright Office. Simply head to the site, select the type of work you want to copyright, and go. Since we’re talking about copyrighting online content, you’re most likely after the Form TX that allows you to copyright literary works. To complete your application you’ll be asked to provide copies of the material you want registered and pay the Copyright Office $45 for their troubles.

Your application, fee, and copies of your work can be mailed to:

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

If you constantly update your Web site or have a blog you want to register a copyright for, brainy lawyer girl Sarah Bird recommends registering it as “a derivative work”. This will allow you to register a revised whole entity every three months. Sarah’s a lawyer, and one of my favorite Mozzers, so I’d listen to her.

The best part of registering your content is that you get to send people scary notices for stealing it, threatening all sorts of disastrous things. From the moment that you register your copyright it gives you a legal right to that work and the ability to take someone to court should they “infringe” on that right by posting your brilliant copy all over the pitiful Interwebz.

If you find someone has stolen your copy, I’d recommend first dropping them a polite, but stern, email asking them to remove it. It’s possible they didn’t realize what they were doing and will apologetically comply. If they don’t, then you get to send the fun email that states if they don’t remove your content ASAP you’ll sue them and take down their Web site.

Registering your content also gives you the right to go to the search engines and request that they remove your stolen material. All of the three major search engines provide detailed information on how to report instances of copyright infringement. You can find them here:

Google: http://www.google.com/dmca.html
Yahoo: http://docs.yahoo.com/info/copyright/copyright.html
MSN: http://www.microsoft.com/info/cpyrtInfrg.htm

Typically, to prove that your copyright has been infringed upon, you’ll have to provide a statement about the nature of the infringement, explain what the search results are showing, give your contact information, etc. The engines are required by law to respond and send a notice to the infringer. Even if the infringer was being difficult before by refusing to remove the content, you’d be surprise how impactful a letter from Google can be. When the choice is remove the content or be booted from the search results, most sane people will choose to remove the content.

The combine pressure of a lawsuit and being blacklisted from the search engines should convince the lame individual stealing your content to remove it.

This was just a quick and dirty guide for how to register your content and defend yourself against copyright infringement. If you’d like a more comprehensive How To, drop me an email or a comment and we’ll get one worked up for an upcoming edition of the SEO Newsletter. Or, if you have other topics you’d like to see discussed in the newsletter, you can send me those too. You can also send me cupcakes.





3 responses to “Quick & Dirty Guide to Copyrighting Your Content”

  1. Matt Cutts writes:

    Verry nice! I didn’t know the urls for Yahoo and MSFT copyright complaints..

  2. Jonathan Bailey writes:

    Just a few points and updates:
    1) The USCO has gone to purely electronic registration. There are no forms any more, just their ECO system. The bad news is that it is hard to use, the good news is that it is cheaper $35.
    2) With the DMCA, though you can, and likely should, submit to search engines, it is faster and more effective to submit to the hosts. You can do that by researching who the host is, locating their DMCA agent and filing with them.
    It’s not as easy but it gets the work removed completely from the Web and, in some cases, can get the entire site shut down.
    Just wanted to give you guys a heads up on your great article! Let me know if there is anything that I can do to help!

  3. American Flag Man writes:

    You made some great points and pointed to good resources. Thank you very much.



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