How do I copyright my website?
As a civil law, copyright is meant to regulate the use of intellectual property. In recent years the issue of copyright on the Web has been recognized extremely important, as today the Internet is becoming the main source of information. The majority of users are aware of the copyright law basics, however, there are still rather many cases of false interpretation resulting from some deep-rooted myths about copyright. Let's destroy the most widespread of them, so that a person who wants to copyright a website or to take some data from other's sites has full knowledge of that issue.
Very often people think that without a copyright notice being placed at the bottom, the information isn't copyrighted at all. In fact, most countries followed the Berne copyright convention and nowadays almost all types on intellectual property are protected by copyright. So, if you are going to copy a text without the author's permission only because the copyright notice is absent, you should be very careful: actually, this data is likely to be copyrighted, and by "borrowing" it you will violate the law. Someone may ask: "if a copyright notice isn't necessary, why many webmasters resort to it?" The reason is simple: it gives additional protection to the copyrighted data, by warning those who love free online sources.
Another common mistake is to think that people who take copyrighted data without commercial purposes don't break the law. Even if you don't sell other's copy and just place it at your site, that can be still considered a violation. The law has several exceptions; thus, personal copying of music isn't a violation provided that exception doesn't imply such widescale anonymous copying as Napster.
Strangely enough, but some users believe that posting a copy to Usenet is the same with placing it in the public domain, so everybody can use it freely. As a matter of fact, you can copy the data only if you see something like "This information is granted to the public domain" from the author or copyright owner, otherwise you break the law.
Some people are inclined to invent excuses. Thus, many infringers justify themselves by telling they advertise the author when they reproduce his/her piece of work. Nevertheless, any author prefers to be informed about who and how helps to carry out an advertising campaign. So, before placing someone else's info on your site "just for the author's promotion", don't forget to ask the copyright owner beforehand, otherwise your action may be outlawed, and your website will be banned.
One should also be aware of the "fair use" exemption. According to this issue one can use copyrighted information without the author's permission in case the goal is to study, to comment or to criticize it. In other words, if you reproduce an extract from J. K. Rowling just to parody it, this action is recognized legal, but once you place it on your website to attract more visitors, it's it called "plagiarism". Of course, one can't copyright facts, but only the way of their expression; that means you can reproduce other's ideas using your own words. You should of course check with an attorney for exact laws.
Posting other's emails is illegal too, so, if you want to inform people about the message you received, retell it with your own words. The utmost thing you can afford is making quotations to support your statement. However, most private messages are non-secret and don't have commercial value, so, if someone posted your email, you shouldn't try to jail them him/her. In addition, the criminal code can't be applied to copyright issues, so the worst thing the infringer may get is a fine or website banning.
As you see, one have to be very careful while including data on his/her site, not to invalidate the copyright law. Even if there is no copyright notice and you strongly doubt whether that piece of work has been ever copyrighted, make sure reproducing this data is legal. Contact the author or copyright owner and ask whether you can use his/her intellectual property.
Another important consideration is how to copyright your own information. Actually, there isn't any special procedure of copyrighting web pages, because everything you produce is automatically copyrighted at the moment of creation. So, once the copy is written and saved, you are its owner.
You can expose your rights by adding "Copyright [year, your name]" at the bottom of the page, for example, "Copyright 2007 Nick Nickerson".
Unfortunately, in most cases that isn't enough to protect your brainchild. You need to have a proof that you are a law competent owner of the copy. The solution is to register the copyright in the copyright office in order to prevent your data from being stolen. Experts claim that a registered copyright implies a more sever penalty. There are many copyright offices all over the world, yet if you want to register your work at a US office, visit www.copyright.dot.gov. The procedure includes sending a copy, filling out an application form and paying a registration fee. The latter makes authors copyright only worthy pieces of work, the value of which is considerably higher than the registration fee.
If you don't create content for your website by yourself and just order it from some pros, make a contract specifying who will be the copyright owner. Most often that is the client who owns the full rights for the data, however, sometimes the author can retain the copyright.
To have deeper knowledge of the copyright law, read about DMCA, or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is its recent amendment. DMCA concerns net copyright and includes many points outlining the law competence of different issues. Thus, DMCA constricts the area of application of the fair use right and makes practically all kinds of copying software illegal.
So, while building your website, be aware of these copyright tips, being both a law-abiding citizen and a creative webmaster who places on his/her pages only original and high quality content. You should of cource consult a trademark or copyright attorney for more information.