You’ve probably noticed phrases like “All Rights Reserved” or “Copyright 2010,” or perhaps the copyright symbol and a date at the bottom of a website. But what do these words really mean on a website? Do you need to copyright your website? Here’s the inside scoop on what a copyright is and when you need register your website with the U.S. Copyright Office.

What is a Copyright?

Copyright falls under the auspices of intellectual property law and protects the rights of creators of original works of authorship whether the work in question is published or not. Original works of authorship include literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and photography. By law, when something is written, drawn, photographed, etc., its copyright is automatically owned by the author. In other words, a copyright exists at the moment the work is created.

Registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is voluntary. Copyright protection exists without registration; however, your work must be registered before you can file a copyright infringement case in a US court. In addition, registration of copyright makes it easier to prove ownership of your work in the event of an infringement and allows you to collect more in damages from the infringer.

While the concept of copyright is fairly clear-cut when it comes to literary works like books, it’s less clear in regard to websites and the information contained therein.

Why Should I Worry About Registering a Copyright?

In the past, the only people who had to worry about copyrights were writers, artists, musicians, and others in related professions. Today, with the onset of digital media, it’s a different story. Many people who wouldn’t call themselves writers or artists have personal or business-related websites that contain written material, photographs, or graphics that are original works and therefore eligible for copyright registration. The code and design elements of websites can also be copyrighted by their owners.

Website publishers are often victims of copyright infringement by unknowing or unscrupulous individuals who think nothing of copying someone else’s work and passing it off as their own. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to completely prevent infringement, but marking your website material with “All Rights Reserved” or using the copyright symbol can be enough of a deterrent to prevent many potential offenders from stealing your work. You may display the copyright symbol or language claiming copyright even if you choose not to register your work.

Should I Register the Copyright to My Website?

Copyright violation is always illegal, but it can be difficult to prosecute offenders without copyright registration, which establishes a public record of ownership. In addition, owners of registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation against infringers.

All websites and their content are inherently copyrighted, provided they are original works. Whether you decide to complete copyright registration for your website is your choice. If the content of your website is valuable to you, financially or otherwise, or if you feel you need to protect your website and its contents for legal reasons, then taking a few minutes to register the copyright to your website is probably worthwhile. If you do decide to copyright your website, a good online legal forms/copywrite service can help.

Copyrighting your creative work protects it from unauthorized use. With a registered copyright, you control how your work is reproduced, distributed and presented publicly.

A good copyright service can help you quickly and easily copyright original works of authorship including books, movies, songs, paintings, photographs, and website content.

When a copyright service uses the Copyright Office’s electronic application, your registration certificate could arrive up to 6 months earlier than a traditional paper application.

SafeHouse Web recently priced some of the online forms & service providers, such as LegalZoom and LawDepot, and found an average price to be around $115 for the service and $35 for the government filing fee.