If websites are the modern day store front, blogs are the smiling faces that greet you from behind the counter. The posts you spend hours crafting are marketing tools for your creative business as well as creative works in their own right. Copyright protection for blogs is especially critical if you are using your posts to debut your creative work—whether you are a writer, an artist, a photographer, or an entrepreneur. Protection is also important to maintain a competitive advantage for your business.
To protect blog posts efficiently, you as the author must treat them as unpublished work. It sounds counterintuitive, I know. Especially when the button you hit when you've finished writing the post says, "Publish." Bear with me as we unpack this idea because it is an important concept.
If your posts are unpublished, you will be able to file one application with the Copyright Office covering more than one post but only have to pay only one filing fee. When you design and operate your blog with this in mind, copyright protection for blogs can be efficient, effective, and affordable.
The Two Parts of Copyright Protection for Blogs
The first piece is foundational and only needs to be done once. The second piece is something you will do regularly as part of your work flow.
It's up to you to distinguish your blog posts as unpublished as opposed to published. The Copyright Office generally is not going to challenge what you tell them unless there is glaring evidence to the contrary on your site or in your deposit copy.
Unless otherwise indicated, the content on this site is unpublished and not for sale. You may link to and briefly quote the content on this site. Links to the content or brief quotes from the content on this site posted on social networks or elsewhere are not to be construed as publication.
You must not:
- Publish material from this website without prior written consent.
- Sell or rent material from this website.
- Reproduce, duplicate, download, create derivatives, copy or otherwise exploit material on this website for any purpose.
- Redistribute any content from this website, including onto another website.
Put Slight Limits on Post Sharing
We all know that sharing is caring, but oversharing can lead to holes in an otherwise tightly crafted strategy of copyright protection for blogs.
Specifically, do not use an email sharing icon that populates the email with a complete copy of the post. Set the email icon up so that your reader is only sending a link back to the post. By setting it up this way, you are not authorizing the distribution of a full copy of your work.
Don't include a print icon on your posts. You can't control when someone will right-click and print (unless you disable right-click on your site which is completely annoying). But by not encouraging your audience to print your posts, you are reinforcing the characterization of the posts as unpublished.
Customize the RSS Feed from Your Website
RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication. Essentially, RSS can deliver an entire copy of your post to a reader's feed without the reader ever having to visit your again. There are many blog readers who prefer to read posts this way.
Limiting the RSS distribution of your post to a summary instead of the full post provides two concrete benefits:
- First, for purposes of copyright protection for blogs, limiting RSS to a summary of the post means you are not authorizing further distribution of your post which is consistent with the notion that the post is unpublished.
- Second, when the RSS is a summary, you increase the chances that the reader will actually visit your website to read the full post. A full post RSS feed undermines the goal of driving traffic to your site.
You do not need to know much about how RSS works in order to effectively control it. For instance, this site is built on WordPress (.org not .com). In order to limit the syndication to summaries of the post in WordPress, the reading setting can be adjusted from the dashboard. It looks like this:
A simple toggle from "full text" to "summary" does the trick.
Why Unpublished Posts are Important for this Protection Strategy
Here's the thing about applications for copyright registration—whether and when the work has been published figures into the calculation of what it's going to cost to make the filing. A separate application is needed for each date of publication.
It costs $35 to file a single application for copyright registration. If you write and publish a post each week, it will cost you $1,820 over the course of a year in filing fees alone. That is not economically realistic for most bloggers.
Publication, in the copyright sense of the word, means making a creative work (in this instance, a blog post) available for sale or further distribution. Public display does not mean the work has been published.
This is a direct quote from the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices:
It may seem odd that allowing the whole world to view or hear a work does not constitute publication of a work, but the statutory definition is clear that the public performance or public display of a work does not, in and of itself, constitute publication. A mere display or performance is not a distribution, because the end user does not retain a “copy” or “phonorecord” of the work, as defined under the Copyright Act.
Sharing a link to a post on Facebook or Twitter does not create a copy or authorize a further distribution or download. Rather it sends someone who clicks on that link back to the original where the post is displayed. So there's no publication.
Filing Requirements for Copyright Protection for Blogs
With the structural pieces in place on your website, you are ready to file a standard application for copyright registration of your posts as an unpublished collection. The single application cannot be used to register an unpublished collection. Nor are unpublished blog posts registered using a group registration form or a serial registration form.
You must use the standard application to register an unpublished collection of blog posts.
All of the posts must have been written by the same author, or if they were written by multiple authors, at least one of the authors must have contributed to each post. There is no limit to the number of posts that may be registered using the unpublished collection option.
The copyright claimant for all of the posts must be the same person or organization. For instance, you may be the author of all the posts and your LLC, or company, might be the claimant. The claimant is either the author of the work or a person or organization that owns all the rights that initially belonged to the author.
Give your collection of posts a descriptive title: "Creative Law Center blog posts 2018" for example. In the contents title field, put the title of each post.
When filling out the online application, on the certification screen, there is a place to leave a note for the registration specialist. This is where you need to tell the Copyright Office that you are registering a number of works (the posts) as an unpublished collection. If there is a question about the unpublished status of the posts, you can point to each of the three structural features you put in place to establish that the posts are unpublished.
A Final Note
Remember not to include any reader comments in the deposit copy you upload. A comment is creative content owned by the person who wrote it. The owner of the blog does not have copyright ownership over comments they did not write.
This strategy provides you with copyright protection for blogs that is efficient, affordable, and effective. If you have any questions, drop in a comment below.