Small business owners know that building a website does not happen overnight. The process can be lengthy and involved.

So, after spending weeks tweaking page layouts, menu navigation and finalising copy and colour palettes, you are unlikely to be happy to find your creation replicated in part, or in full, by a competitor.

In this article we look at how to copyright a website to protect yourself from such a scenario.

Why copyright a website?

Your website is a brand asset. It may be the first point of interaction with a potential client and should reflect your business identity.

If the unique elements of your website are used elsewhere by competitors, your brand integrity is compromised. 

What’s more, some users may even mistake a rival’s website and service offering for your own, which can be hugely damaging both in terms of your bottom line and reputation (should the competitor be offering an inferior product or service).

How do you copyright a website?

In the UK, there is not a register of copyrighted works as you might find in other countries.

If it is original, your website is automatically covered by copyright law, under the category of original “non-literary written work, such as software, web content and databases”. The Government lists the various categories here.

However, it is recommended that you protect your website more robustly by marking your work with the copyright symbol (©), business name and the year the website was launched. 

Note: including this symbol and information does not elevate the legal protection you have – but it may be enough to put a “copyright freeloader” off or prove useful in a copyright dispute.

Typically, you’ll find a copyright symbol in a website footer. Information on how to code this in is featured here.

You can hyperlink the copyright notice to a page providing more information which may serve as a further deterrent.

What to do if someone copies your website

Your website is your intellectual property (IP), and it is up to you to defend it from infringement.

In the first instance, it’s worth speaking to the other party and simply asking them to refrain from replicating elements of your website. There’s a chance they’ve infringed inadvertently, or they simply may have not understood the IP protections that cover websites.

If this isn’t an option or proves unsuccessful, it’s worth engaging an IP professional to advise on your case. Alternatively, speak to the Government’s Intellectual Property Office who can provide guidance. 

Legal action may be necessary; copyright infringement is a criminal offence. This should be reported to Trading Standards.

Do the same rules apply abroad?

Automatic copyright protection is not necessarily a given in other countries, and if you are operating internationally it is worth taking specialist advice.

In the US, for example, although there are some automatic protections, you may choose to register your copyright with the US Copyright Office

How to copyright a website – a guide

While this article should not be a substitute for legal advice, it should reassure you that you have the right to protect your website from infringement – and the first step to doing this is simple: include a copyright message in the footer.

At Accountants East London we offer small businesses a wide range of services to support their growth and development. If you would like to find out how we can help your business, get in touch today.