At this point, it’s clear that both personal and business blogs are here to stay. They are a phenomenal way to reach an intended audience, whether the purpose is to grow a community or draw in customers. When you are the creator of a blog, whether it is your personal side project or part of your business, you need to know how to protect it.
Copyright for blogs
Copyright law protects original works that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This includes fiction and nonfiction literary works that are put down in print or electronic form, whether they are published or not. This applies to blogs and other websites.
Once you create a new, unique blog post, it is protected by copyright law. It is your work, and no one else has the right to use it without your permission. However, there are limitations to this. Your work is not protected by copyright law when you publish content that is:
- specifically not copyrightable, such as individual facts, lists, or recipes, or
- not original, such as quotes from other people.
It can be hard to hear for food bloggers, but recipes are not copyrightable. However, your unique arrangement of the facts, recipes, or quotes may be copyrighted as a whole. Take cookbooks as an example. Specific recipes may not be protected under copyright law, yet many cookbooks are because of their additional, unique content. That means when you publish a blog that includes a recipe and other content—like a personal history, or how you came to find the recipe—the blog post itself is still protected by copyright law.
Protecting your content
Your blog may be protected by copyright law, yet you still must take steps to protect your work and enforce your exclusive rights in the content.
- Provide notice
A good first step in protecting your blog is putting up a visible copyright notice. Many people choose to put it in a footer of the website. You can also explicitly say your website and its content are copyrighted in your terms and conditions section.
If you are attempting to grow your viewership and subscriptions, it can be beneficial to let people quote you or republish your content, with proper attribution, of course. The backlinks to your blog can improve your SEO and boost your reach and reputation. When you are open to others republishing your content, whether on a case-by-case basis or through a Creative Commons license, put up information regarding whether they need your permission to republish your work, and if so, how to gain your permission. A Creative Commons license ensures your work is protected, yet it can be used by others for specific purposes. For instance, you can allow non-commercial use of your blog content.
- Register your blog
“Any work that is entitled to copyright protection automatically receives protection when it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” writes Weintraub Tobin attorney Josh H. Escovedo in the firm’s IP Law Blog. “However, in order to benefit from the Copyright Act, the owner must 'register' his or her work with the United States Copyright Office.”
After providing notice to your readers that your blog is copyright protected, register your website with the U.S. Copyright Office. When and how you can register a blog can be complex. There is no specific option for copyrighting a website or blog, which is categorized as “Other Digital Content.” You can register each page of your website or each blog post as a literary work. You can also register the blog as a compilation once there are multiple original works posted. If you have visual content on your blog, you can register it as a visual work. There is a fee to register with the USCO, which will cost between $35 and $55.
No matter how you do it, you will need to keep the copyright registration updated with your new content. Some bloggers register their blog posts each month, quarter, or year. There is no standard. Your preference depends on how often you post, the value and popularity of your content, and the cost of repeatedly registering your content.
Presently, there is a division within the circuit courts on whether copyright registration begins upon filing or upon the USCO’s acceptance, which can take around nine months from your initial filing and payment. The Supreme Court agreed in June to hear a case that will resolve this confusion.
- Enforce your rights
After your blog is registered, prepare to enforce your authorship. If you find your content on other people’s sites without your permission or in violation of the Creative Commons license, contact them immediately with your preferred remedy, which could be proper attribution, payment, or having your content taken down.
If you want the plagiarized content removed, send a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice—or better yet, have your lawyer do so. You don’t have to register your blog to use a DMCA takedown notice. However, having your blog registered gives a greater ability to bring a legal claim against someone stealing your content.
If your blog is growing in popularity, especially if it’s a money-making venture, you should consider other ways to protect it, including contacting a copyright attorney. In addition to copyright protections for your content and other unique work, consider if you can trademark the name, a symbol, logo, or tagline associated with your blog. A lawyer can walk you through the process of trademarking your work and can fight for you if a larger company is profiting from your content without your credit or permission.
“By registering the trademark, you make certain that you have it in your legal grasp. After five years, it can’t be attacked by anyone—this is a way of securing it against continued use,” says Paul C. Van Slyke, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property litigation and trademark law. “If you have an infringer, you have a lot more power against the infringer and a lot more recognition in court. If you don’t have a registered trademark, then you have to prove your rights to it.”
Applying for trademark registration is more complicated than copyright registration and can bring about greater risks, along with its greater protections. Should you take this step, an attorney’s advice is crucial for saving you time and protecting against possible future litigation.