A lot of work goes into web design, from the coding to the graphics and the images, the micro-interactions to the logos. Web designers pour their creativity into their craft. But what prevents someone from stealing all that work and using it for themselves? Thankfully, web design can be copyrighted, but it isn’t straightforward – here’s what you need to know.
A website can be copyrighted
The first thing you need to know about web design and copyright is yes – a website can be copyrighted. Copyright protects original works of authorship, which includes all the original work you did for the website, including its design, any graphics you produced and photographs you took.
There is no such thing as ‘International Copyright Law’
You may have heard the term ‘international copyright law’, or been under the impression that the same rules and regulations protect your web design work all over the world. This is simply not true – each country has its own laws when it comes to copyrighting. However, there are international and regional agreements in place that attempt to standardise copyrights such as the Berne Convention and the EU Copyright Directive.
Using altered images still infringes on copyright
The terms of copyright law also state that the owner of the original work is also the only one allowed to create derivative work based on it. That means that you can’t just take an image off of someone else’s website and change names, faces or logos without being in breach of copyright.
Copyright doesn’t cover your methods of web design
While copyrighting your website does cover all the physical elements of your website (provided you included them in your copyright application form), it doesn’t cover the methods you used to create that design. So, if you’re an innovator when it comes to your design processes, keep it close to your chest, as only the finished product can be protected by copyright.
You can’t copyright ideas
Just as copyright can’t cover methods of design, it can’t cover ideas either – there needs to be a physical product created by those ideas. So, if you have a great idea for your web design, you should get working on turning it into something tangible so that you can protect your intellectual property.
Cybersquatting is the term used when someone registers and uses an internet domain name without authority that is identical or similar to the trademarks of another company or person. Cybersquatters then hold that domain name for ransom and try to get the affected party to buy it back for a profit. Similarly, typosquatting refers to the registering of a domain that is similar to a competitor or popular site but uses a common misspelling to draw traffic away from a website. However, in both these instances, the trademark holder can file proceedings to claim the domains back from the cybersquatter.
The website owner and the web designer should specify in their contract who owns what
When you hire a web designer to create your website, unless it is stated in the contract, you do not automatically gain ownership of the created content. In fact, due to the 1976 Copyright Act, without having a written agreement in place, the designer retains the rights to all the work they create for the site, including any graphics or images. When hiring a designer to create your website, you should specify in the contract if you want to have ownership of all the work, including the source code, software and work up files.
Submitting your website for copyright
If you do submit your website for copyright, you need to include everything in your form that you want copyrighted, as they won’t simply be copyrighted by association. This means you need to include any graphics you have created and any photographs you have taken, and not just the website as a whole.
When it comes to web design and copyright, it’s important to know the rules and regulations, whether you are a web designer or a website owner. A website can be copyrighted, but you need to apply for this, and if you are hiring someone to design the site for you, make sure to include terms of ownership in your Ts and Cs.
If you’re looking for a web designer to create a showstopping site for your brand, please get in touch!