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Protect Your Web Site Source Code

By Les Goss
Posted Tuesday, February 10, 2004

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 consideration.

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 Measure 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 under the 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 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 simple 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 reused. 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!


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