Ensure your website content (text or images) are original or if borrowed, you have permission to use.
This post is NOT intended as official legal advice...
Per the Copyright.gov website, copyright infringement occurs when the copyrighted "original works of authorship" has been "reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without permission of the owner of the original and protected work". It protects , [graphics / images], motion pictures, sound, & architectural form. However, it does not protect works that are a title / name / slogan, short phrases, ideas / procedure / method / system / process / concept / principle etc. or common information.
Company specific “words, phrases, symbols or designs” are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and will be marked as such.
Of course copyright is not to be confused with trademarks. Per the Copyright.gov FAQ, "Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others."
Fair-Use is the use of the copyrighted material, in a limited capacity, without the expressed permission of the owner of the original works. However it usually only applies when the reproduction of the work is for the purpose of “criticism, news reporting, teaching, or research”.
Per various definitions, plagiarism is essentially the reproduction of someone else’s work exact (or pretty close) and claiming it as their own. To avoid this misunderstanding, simply give credit must be given where credit is due.
In terms of published website design and content in the form of text, obviously the easiest way to avoid the act of copyright infringement is to come up with original content. However, two concerns arise… 1 - Can it be argued that all “original” content is inspired by another’s concepts and 2 - what concepts / pages of information reach beyond what is only applicable to and thus protected by a single business (i.e. - can be applicable to any business in that industry)? After all… two companies, of the same industry / having the same procedure and offering the same services… how many different ways can the same idea be expressed? In the case of electronic works, this specifically mentions to not use words such as “website, interface, layout, design, look of website, lettering, or concept” as those elements are “ambiguous”, but rather use specifics such as “text, compilation, music, art-work, photography, motion-picture / audio-visual, sound recordings”.
A definitive answer to these questions is still up for debate. In the end, it is always advisable to get permission, or better yet simply ensure that all works are original and your own. In the case of using a website designer or professional copyrighting service, this applies to both the “writer” of the content as well as the “owner” of the website where the content is displayed. Please note - an owner’s passion for their value offered will always speak louder than a 3rd party interpretation of that passion. In either case, ensure the work is original and comes from your own heart, mind, and soul. In the end, it is the owner of the website that ultimately “signs-off” on the content as well as design.
One source to see if there are websites out there that use your content is Copyscape. Once an infringement has been identified, you can go to the DMCA and request a take down. If you would like help with the design of your website and / or content, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We look forward to connecting the pieces of your online presence.
Again, this post is NOT intended as official legal advice...You should not act upon any such information without first seeking qualified professional counsel on your specific matter.