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You are here: Home  Copyright Law Benefits of Web Site Copyright Registration

Benefits of Web Site Copyright Registration

by Richard Keyt

Your web site is probably the product of  hundreds or thousands of hours of work and an investment of thousands of dollars.  Any or all of your original content could easily be copied and displayed by another web site.  If that were to happen, can you prove that the infringer copied the material from your web site?  If you previously obtained a federal web site copyright registration from the U.S. Copyright Office, you have excellent evidence to prove copyright infringement.  Copyright registration makes a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright.

However, unless you register your web site copyright, you will not get the full protection of U.S. copyright law.  When you weight the time and money you have invested in your web site against the small cost to obtain a federal web site copyright registration, registering is a no brainer.  Obtaining a federal web site copyright registration gives you powerful weapons to use against copyright infringers.  See the Benefits of Web Site Copyright Registration below. 

U.S. Copyright Law

United States copyright law does not require that the creator of a work register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office.  U.S. law provides that when a work is created, the work is protected automatically by U.S. copyright law without the need to register the work or display a copyright notice.  Copyright protection attaches to a work when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time, whether or not the author uses the "" symbol or the copyright notice.

Benefits of Web Site Copyright Registration

United States copyright law provides the following valuable benefits to web sites that register their copyrights:

  • By registering your copyright, you create a public record of your work and your copyright claim.

  • If somebody infringes on your web site copyright, you may sue for copyright infringement.  Copyright registration is a prerequisite for filing an infringement claim in federal court with respect to works that originate in the United States.  If you want to sue an infringer and you have not registered your web site, it will take four months or more after receiving your registration application before the U.S. Copyright Office issues a Certificate of Registration.

  • If you register your web site copyright before or within 5 years of publication, the registration is prima facie evidence in court as to the validity of your web site copyright and of the facts stated in your U.S. Copyright Office registration certificate.

  • If you register your web site copyright within three months after publishing it or before an infringement occurs, you may seek statutory damages and attorney's fees in an infringement lawsuit.  For web sites that are not registered timely, the infringer is only liable for your actual damages and the infringer's profits.

  • If you registered your web site copyright, you may record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service and obtain its help in protecting against the importation of infringing copies.  For additional information, see the U.S. Customs Service publication called "U.S. Customs & Protection of Intellectual Property Rights."  See also the U.S. Customs Service web site at www.customs.gov.

Additional Benefits of Web Site Copyright Registration

Besides making a public record of your protected web site, copyright registration has the very important benefit of allowing you to obtain statutory damages for infringement.  Many times, especially with unpublished works, it may be difficult or impossible for the copyright owner to prove actual damages.  If the web site copyright is registered, however, the owner is entitled to statutory damages of $750 to $30,000 as determined by the court, even if actual damages cannot be proven.  If the copyright owner proves that infringement was willful, the court may award statutory damages of up to $150,000 per violation.

You cannot get attorneys' fees for a copyright infringement action unless you registered your web site copyright before the copyright infringement first occurred, unless your registration is within three months of first publication.

Another benefit of a registered web site copyright is that the copyright owner's cease and desist letter will have substantially more "teeth" because the copyright owner has the ability to seek statutory damages and attorneys' fees.  These two factors make it much more likely that a web site owner can convince an infringer to cease displaying infringing material without resorting to litigation.

$30 Web Site Copyright Registration Fee Pays $46,015

The benefits of registering a web site copyright are illustrated dramatically by the recent United States District Court web site copyright infringement case of Getaped.com, Inc., v. Shelly Cangemi (2002 WL 338110 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 28, 2002).  The defendants copied content from Getaped.com's web site and displayed it on their web sites.  After hearing evidence, the U.S. Magistrate ruled that Getaped.com's actual damages were $1,050.  In reviewing the decision, the District Court found that the Magistrate erred and entered judgment against the defendants for $30,000 in statutory damages plus Getaped.com's attorney's fees and costs of $16,015.

Because Getaped.com had registered its web site copyright before the infringement occurred, it was entitled to: (i) damages equal to its actual damages plus the infringer's profits or statutory damages, and (ii) its attorneys' fees and costs.  If Getaped.com had not registered its web site copyright, it would have obtained a judgment only for its actual damages of $1,050 proven at trial.

Getaped.com's investment of $30 for the copyright registration fee paid it a dividend of $46,015, which is $44,965 more than Getaped.com would have won from the defendants had it failed to register its web site copyright. 

Many times, the owner of an unregistered copyright will forgo taking legal action against a copyright infringer because: (i) the owner's actual damages may be small and/or difficult and costly to prove, and (ii) the owner cannot obtain attorneys' fees and costs.  Web site owners that register their web site copyrights have a very powerful weapon that can be used not only to enforce cease and desist demands, but to obtain actual or statutory damages of up to $30,000 per infringement ($150,000 if infringement is willful) and attorneys' fees and costs.

Getaped.com v. Cangemi

Comparison of Possible Results

 
Registered Web Site
Copyright
No Registered
Web Site Copyright
Actual Damages

$1,050

$1,050

Statutory Damages

$30,000

$0

Attorneys' Fees & Costs

$16,015

$0

Total Judgment

$46,015

$1,050

Protect Your Valuable Investment in Your Web Site

Do not be pennywise and pound foolish.  You spent a lot of money to create your web site, so treat it like the valuable intellectual property that it is.  Protect your investment in your web site by obtaining a web site copyright registration from the U.S. Copyright Office.  The relatively small cost of obtaining the copyright registration, could save you a lot of time, money and headaches in the future if another web site copies content from your web site.

Image Protection

If you own the copyright to pictures and images, you should consider registering the copyrights for individual pictures and images.  You should also consider using technology to reduce or eliminate copyright infringement.  A company called Digimarc sells image watermarking solutions that give you the power to control your images online.  Digimarc ImageBridge product allows you to add watermarks to pictures and images to:

  • communicate image copyrights
  • track images as they travel the web
  • enable image licensing and commerce opportunities
  • enhance asset management applications

Related Articles on Internet Copyright Law by Copyright Attorney Richard Keyt

How to Obtain Web Site Copyright Protection

Remedies for Web Site Copyright Infringement

Getaped.com, Inc., v. Shelly Cangemi - web site copyright infringement case awarding the plaintiff $46,015 in statutory damages and attorneys' fees and costs

Web Site Owners: How to Protect Yourself from Claims of Copyright Infringement for Users' Conduct

About the Author

Richard Keyt is a business and contracts attorney licensed to practice law in Arizona.  Rick can be reached by telephone at 602-906-4953, ext. 3, email at  rickkeyt@keytlaw.com and fax at 602-297-6890.  Rick's internet, e-commerce and domain name law web site is KEYTLaw, located at www.keytlaw.com.  Communicating with Richard Keyt via email, telephone or otherwise does not cause you to become a client of Rick's or of KEYTLaw, LLC, or cause your communications to be confidential or subject to the attorney client privilege.

This article was first published on April 21, 2002.

 

 

This page was last modified on December 12, 2009.

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