Writing is hard work. If you discover that someone has stolen your words, you may want to pursue legal action. But, as with many other aspects of business, you must have a plan to respond to theft or infringement of intellectual property (IP). A major component of this might be to protect your blog content through copyright registration. Not sure how to copyright a blog? We’ll get to that. First, let’s discuss with why you would want to.
Why register a copyright
When you create a blog and it’s your original writing, that becomes your property and the copyright is automatically granted. That means that others have to ask for permission to use your work. Unfortunately, not everyone does. It’s very possible you will find your work on other websites, either in its entirety or in pieces. If you don’t approve of how it is used on these sites, you may want to take legal action.
However, to sue someone for copyright infringement, you have to register your work with the United States Copyright Office (USCO).
Copyright registration for your blog is always a good idea if you want to maintain all the credit for the work you do. While it won’t necessarily prevent others from taking your content, it gives you a legal foundation for collecting damages if they do. It also establishes ownership of your property on public record, which will simplify the court process in your favor if you do decide to pursue legal action.
I spoke about copyrighting with Ruth Carter, an Arizona attorney at Venjuris who specializes in intellectual property and social media law. She has had her work stolen at least five times and advises bloggers to create a plan for protection, which might include registering a copyright.
“I tell my clients it’s not if someone steals your work, but when,” Ruth said. “Decide how you want to respond to suspected infringement before it occurs and take the appropriate actions in advance so you can seamlessly execute your response when it occurs.”
How to copyright a blog
Now that you know why you should consider it, you need to know how to copyright a blog. If you have decided to register a copyright for your blog, it can be done online through the USCO and costs less than $100. The online system is a bit tedious, but you don’t have to be a lawyer to navigate it. Articles saved as PDF or HTML documents are easy to register by following the website’s provided steps for how to copyright a blog.
Should you decide to register your blog for copyright, it’s important to stay on top of your registrations. As you create new content, you have to submit it to the USCO in a timely fashion. As Ruth explains:
“When registering a copyright for a website, it is essential to remember that your registration only applies to the content submitted with your copyright application. It does not protect any content added to your website after you submitted the application.”
That means you need to submit a new application each time you add content if you want it to be covered. Because doing so comes with a fee, it might be best to apply periodically when you have several articles you can protect at once. If you have a series of blogs and are publishing regularly, you might wish to consult a legal professional about a content protection strategy that is both effective and economical.
Your registration may only be used as evidence in court if it was acquired within five years of publication of the content. Additionally, to get your attorney fees and statutory damages covered in a suit, you will have to submit the content within three months of publication, or before anyone steals it. If you wait or find someone has taken your work before you get the chance to register, you may only collect actual damages and profits made off of your stolen property.
Registering a copyright is completely voluntary, but if you do decide it’s the right choice for you, make sure you know the requirements.
Other intellectual property protection tips for bloggers
Whether you register a copyright or not, it’s up to you to make sure your content isn’t being used unfairly around the web. Create a plan for monitoring your content and determine the best course of action for when you find it has been used inappropriately. Consider the following basic information when preparing a copyright plan:
“Poor man’s” copyright is a myth: Mailing a sealed copy of your blog to yourself is not how to copyright a blog. It does not provide any type of registration or protection.
The copyright symbol or notice is not required: You don’t have to have the copyright icon on your blog to be protected. If you created it, it’s your work and it’s protected. Having notice is a smart idea, though, because it reminds people the work is owned by you. When putting the symbol on your blog, include your name and year of creation.
Have a strategy to detect infringement: If you are going to spend the time and money to register your copyright, use software to monitor theft or, as Ruth suggests, “One way to detect potential infringement is to watch your website’s analytics. Many people assume, and so-called gurus profess, that they can use any content they find on the internet as long as they provide an attribution and link back to the original content. What the person might be doing is committing copyright infringement and telling you about it.”
Websites will often remove your content if you ask: In many cases, you can simply request the copied information be taken down with a cease-and-desist letter. Receiving this is often enough to scare the stealing party into removing it to prevent possible legal consequences.
Trademarking: Protecting your blog name
Establishing a trademark might be another protective measure you want to take if your blog has a large following.
While a copyright protects your words and limits others’ use of your blog, a trademark protects the name of your blog from being copied.
It gives the owner of the trademark exclusive use of the name and may help your customers find the right blog right away.
For example, let’s say your blog is very popular and someone else creates a blog with a very similar name. They might have changed some letters around so they aren’t identical, but the two names sound alike. By trademarking the name of your blog, you can prevent others from being able to use any name that is similar enough that it might cause confusion.
To acquire a trademark, you have to submit an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If you attempt to get a trademark on a name that is already taken or is close to another blog already registered, your application may be denied. Since getting a trademark is a legal procedure and has strict rules and deadlines, it is usually best to consult a lawyer before beginning the application process.
A note of clarification: Trademarking the blog name is not the same as securing a domain name or registering a company name for a business license.
Protect all of your intellectual property
Remember, your blog and website are your business’s intellectual property, but they are likely not the only things worth protecting. Learn more about other types of IP here and make sure you have a plan in place to keep all of your assets safe.
The above content should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.
Also published on Medium.