The ubiquitous use of Copyright Notices on websites isn’t always understood by business owners.
Let’s review why internet websites almost universally display Copyright Notices.
Under Canadian copyright law, ownership in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, such as website content, arises once two minimal legal thresholds are met: originality and fixation.
Originality at its core means that the work was not copied from another. Moreover, originality does not require any arduous labour, amazing novelty or extraordinary creativity. However, it does require minimal intellectual effort beyond mere mechanical exercise; it cannot be a “no brainer”.
Courts in Canada have held that to be original, a work must be the result of the exercise of “skill and judgment” and involve the “use of one’s knowledge, developed aptitude or practiced ability in producing work”. Originality depends on facts and the degree to which the work is from its creator.
Fixation means a work must be expressed in some material form, capable of identification and having a permanent endurance. In other words, it has to be capable of reproduction. This is because copyright does not protect ideas, only the embodied expression of those ideas.
Websites have been recognized as having sufficient fixation for copyright protection purposes.
So, your website probably contains original content and, being clearly fixed, meets the two-part test for it to be copyrightable.
Now, having considered copyright ownership, why publish a Copyright Notice on your website?
Like a “No Trespass” Sign on a Fence
A Copyright Notice is what it sounds like, a written notice stating that the work in question, like website content, is protected by copyright, and that you own that copyright. They are not required by law, however as a matter of custom they have become omnipresent in creative works.
The purpose of such notice is to avoid a situation where a rogue infringes your work, but then claims that he or she was completely unaware that it was copyrightable subject matter.
The analogy of a “No Trespass” sign on a fence is apt. The land owner is telling others “this is the boundary of my property, don’t enter it”. Your website is your property. You are telling web visitors to not make copies of the content of your website.
Examples of Copyright Notices
Typically, the Copyright Notice contains four elements:
1. The C-in-a-Circle symbol © or the word “Copyright”;
2. A date representing the time of creation and fixation such as a year or range of years;
3. The copyright owner’s full legal name; and
4. A statement of legal rights claimed, usually “All rights reserved”.
Here are examples showing different notice styles and legal rights involved:
© 2020 Suzy Creamcheese Music Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
© 2001 – 2020 Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin. Some rights reserved.
Copyright 2020 by Rocky Raccoon Productions Inc. No rights reserved.
Where to place the Copyright Notice on the website?
Unlike a book of pages, where the notice appears on the first page only, a website should have a notice at the bottom of every webpage.
You should also update the year of the Copyright Notice on your website each January, unless no new content is expected to be posted or added soon.
What if I paid a third party to create the website?
Unless you created the original content on your website, you need to have the legal title to it transferred to you by an assignment agreement. Your website developers and graphics designers may not have included that ownership issue in your contract, assuming you have one, so you need to bring it up early.
Even a simple memo or email confirming that the copyright in all of the website content was assigned to you in the context of the website’s development will be enough evidence for you to legitimately claim ownership and render the eventual Copyright Notice correct and accurate.
How about a Trademark Notice too?
Yes, in addition to the Copyright Notice, your website should also contain a Trademark Notice. The same principles apply as discussed above about ownership and notification to website visitors.
A TM symbol is notice of common law trademark rights and a R-in-a-Circle ® symbol is notice of registered trademark rights. Your website displays your brand and you should protect it just as you do with your original content. The two notices can be combined and placed together.
Examples of Trademark Notices
Here are examples showing different Trademark Notice styles and legal rights involved:
XYZ Group, its logos, slogans, taglines, domain names, and other trademarks are trademarks of XYZ Group Limited and may not be used without permission.
ABC and the ABC logo are registered trademarks of ABC Widgets Inc. and may not be used or displayed without the prior written consent of ABC Widgets Inc.
QRT and the QRT logo are registered trademarks of QRT Solutions Corp., or its affiliated companies, and any unauthorized use is an infringement of trademark rights and strictly prohibited. All third-party trademarks (including logos and icons) referenced by QRT remain the property of their respective owners.
Your website content is copyrighted if it is original. Make sure you own it all.
The best way to publicly claim copyright on your content is to add a Copyright Notice at the bottom of every page.
Similarly, the best way to publicly claim ownership of your valuable business brand is to add a Trademark Notice as well.
Copyright and Trademark Notices are not legally required but are extremely common on the internet. If you have them on your website already, just remember to update them as required.
If you would like more information about Copyright and Trademarks, please contact our Trademark Agent Marc Belliveau.