Protect Your Web Site
by Les Goss

Thanks to all the readers who took the time to write in response
to my article, "It's 11 O'clock -- Do You Know Where Your Web 
Site Is?" (
It's amazing how many people have had all or parts of their web 
site stolen and put into use by others. Several readers suggested 
I discuss some of the things you can do to protect yourself from
cyber-theft. I left these ideas out of the previous article in
the interests of brevity but now present them for your

Do You Have A Problem?

The first thing to do is find out if someone else has any of 
your content on their site. I discovered my problem by looking
through my traffic logs, but there's an even simpler way. On 
your home page, copy about 8-10 words. Paste them into Google's 
search box being sure to put quotation marks around the phrase.

Assuming your site is in the Google database, it should come up 
in the search results. If any other site shows up, click the link 
and take a look. You may be in for a rude shock.

What About Using a Copyright Notice?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "Copyright protection
subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form... and
immediately becomes the property of the author who created the
work." (All quotes are from Copyright Basics If you are not in
the United States, please see Circular 38
( for an explanation
of how you may be covered.

And again, "No publication or registration or other action in 
the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. Copyright 
is secured automatically when the work is created." That means 
that as soon as you start jotting your ideas on a yellow notepad, 
that material is copyrighted. As soon as your web page is live, 
you own the copyright to it. You don't have to register, and you 
don't even have to print the copyright notice.


Why Printing the Notice and Getting Registered May Be a Good Idea

According to the Copyright Office, "Use of the notice may be
important because it informs the public that the work is
protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and 
shows the year of first publication." Furthermore, if a notice 
is displayed and a work is copied, the defendant will not be 
able to use an "innocent infringement" defense.

The next step up is to actually register your site with the
Copyright Office. It costs $30, and instructions and forms are
available on their page listed above. The advantages are:

1. It establishes a public record of the copyright claim

2. It's necessary before you can file an infringement suit 
   in a U.S. court

3. Timely registration can make statutory damages and 
   attorney's fees collectible in court actions. Without 
   official registration, the most you can collect are "actual 
   damages and profits."

So, if you're concerned about protecting the content of your 
site (and this can apply to graphics as well as text), be sure 
to place the copyright notice on your site and then register it 
with the Copyright Office. More details are available on the 
Copyright Basics page (

What About Other Measures to Protect Your Code?

The code that creates your web site can easily be seen from your
browser. With your web page on the screen, just go to the browser 
View menu and slide down to Source. A new window will open, 
showing all the code that creates your web site. If your web 
designer puts about 50 carriage returns at the top of the code, 
that window will look empty when you View Source. However, 
scrolling down the page will reveal all the code, so that 
technique will fool very few.

The next trick is to disable the right click function of the 
mouse. This is sometimes used on sites where someone wants to 
protect their images from being stolen. As you probably know, 
if you right-click on a web image you can download the picture 
to your computer. Remember though, that even if it isn't so 
labeled, that picture is protected by copyright, so don't do it!

Of course, there are those who aren't as honest as you are, 
which is why some sites add a snippet of JavaScript code to 
disable the right-click of a mouse. Unfortunately, this only 
serves to anger those of us who use the right button legitimately 
(I use it instead of the back button all the time) and can be 
easily defeated by any serious thief.

A third option is to buy software that will encrypt your site's
code, making it impossible for anyone else to use. While this
sounds like a sure-fire technique, it's not without its own set
of problems. For instance, at the recommendation of a reader, I
tried to check out such a program at Web Lock Pro

Unfortunately, every time I tried to get to that site, my 
browser froze up. Sometimes the entire computer froze and had 
to be restarted. I never did get in.

Then I found a site that showed how very easy it is to defeat
these encryption techniques. Before you spend any money on one 
of these products, be sure to check out


The only 100% guaranteed way to protect your text and graphics 
is to not post them on the Web. Once it's on someone's computer 
screen, it can be downloaded and re-used. If they can hack into 
the computers at the Pentagon, our piddling efforts to protect 
ourselves are futile.

Of course I must make the disclaimer that I am not a lawyer, nor
do I play one on TV. (Heck, I don't even WATCH them on TV.) So 
if you need further help, please retain an attorney who 
specializes in these cases.

Barring that, your best bet is to make your copyright notice
visible on your site, register that copyright, and periodically
check to see if anyone has "borrowed" your material.

Good luck!

Les Goss is the head honcho at ZebraMoon Web Design, where he 
educates his business clients as he builds their web sites. To 
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