A website may be understood as a webpage or set of interconnected webpages. They are made available online to members of public through a server. The members can access the information on a website through various means such as scrolling webpages, using hypertext links or through a search engine.
Website consists of different components in different form of digital files such as text, tables, computer programmes, compilations including computer databases; photographs, paintings, diagram, map, chart or plan; works consisting of music and including graphical notation of such work which may be copyrightable within any one of the classes of works such as literary works, artistic works, musical works, sound recordings and cinematograph films as set forth under the Copyright Act, 1957.
The functional elements of a website, layout and format of a website or ‘look and feel’ of a website, other unoriginal material such as names; icons or familiar symbols cannot be copyrightable. Thus, a website as a whole is not subject to copyright protection.
There are several advantages to get your website copyrighted with the Copyright Office, Government of India. These advantages include:
• Copyright registration serves as a public record of your copyright ownership
• Copyright registration serves as prima facie evidence in a court of law with reference to dispute relating to ownership of copyright.
• Copyright registration is invaluable right for you to initiate civil or criminal action against the infringer. Statutory damages are awarded for each work infringed and do not require you to prove your monetary loss or the infringer’s gain. Conversely, the infringer found guilty would be liable for punishment for imprisonment for not less than 6 months and up to 3 years, or fine of at least Rs.50,000/- to Rs.2,00,000/-.
• Copyright registration provides for protection against infringement in several countries across the world, although the work is first published in India, as India is a member of the Berne Convention.
As stated earlier, a website is often a compilation of things text, graphics, photographs, video and computer programs created by several people. As an author you only own the copyright to the parts of a website that you created, unless copyrights to the other parts have been transferred to you.
• If the website was created by your employees as part of their regular job, you will own the copyright.
• If you hire someone to create a website for your business, the person you hired owns the copyright to whatever they created. If you want to own the copyright to all of the copyrightable portions of your website, you will need work for hire agreements or assignment agreements transferring the copyrightable content to you.
• Similarly, if you are a website designer, you own the copyright to the copyrightable portions of your designs and content, unless you have signed a written agreement transferring those rights to someone else.
• A copyright registration only covers the copyrightable elements of your website that you identify and submit to the copyright office as part of your registration. Thus, a separate application should be made for each element of the website.
• Updates to website must be registered separately unless they fall within limited exceptions for automatic updates and serials.
• If you developed a computer program, such as an html program, that establishes the format of text and graphics when a website is viewed on a computer screen, you can register a copyright in the computer programme, but the registration will not cover the contents of the website.
To register a copyright, you must submit three things to the Copyright Office, Government of India:-
• A completed paper application form or an online application along with an acknowledgement slip.
• A filing fee of Rs.500/- apart from the prescribed fee for the class of work as mentioned on the copyright office website has to be submitted.
• A copy or copies of your work that will not be returned to you has to be submitted in a digital format or as prescribed by the copyright office. In the case of copyright for a website, a copy of the source code and the object code must be submitted compulsorily as opposed to screenshots of the website.
By Shiv Mangal Sharma & Aishwarya
Advocate Supreme Court