I have developed a homepage that has become quite popular...it receives about 2,500 visitors every day. My site is a large collection of links that provide visitors with valuable information that can help them with their homework...i.e. it is a homework helper site. The problem I am having is since our site is so popular and the links that I use are so good, I have discovered at least 15 other sites on the web that have literally copied all of the links I have painstakingly accumulated...in some cases, the comments that we include after the links are also copied. Is it possible to copyright a collection of links on the internet?
3 Answers from Attorneys
The sites you use are in the public domain. I doubt very much that you could copyright the use of the sites. However, the content of your site certainly should be able to be copyrighted. However, enforcement of your protection is an issue. This is an area of specialized knowledge. I am not sure it will be worthwhile for you to incur the expense. However, you might consider charging for access to your site if you think that is a realistic possibility.
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Web Page Copyright
As soon as a work of authorship in the USA is fixed in a tangible medium of expression, e.g. stored on a disk drive, it is automatically protected by copyright. The owner of the copyright is entitled to include a "copyright notice" on the work, but due to a change in the law in 1989, the absence of a copyright notice no longer means that the work is in the public domain.
If it is necessary to enforce a copyright in court, the winner is generally entitled to receive "attorney's fees" as well as money damages and an order enjoining against further infringement.
However, a copyright does not protect a mere "collection of facts" such as the "white pages" of a phone directory. There must be something more, some "expression" even though short, must be added by the author in order for copyright to protect it.
Often when the author of a copyrighted work makes a serious demand that an infringer stop doing so, the infringer agrees to stop. There is a higher probability of success in this if the letter originates from an attorney.
To pursue the matter, it would be advisable for you to consult with an attorney with expertise in the enforcement of intellectual property rights.
Link page copyright
For a little bit of personal perspective, I run a web site for the Philadelphia trial lawyers. (http://philatla.org, if you want to check it out).
I assembled a pretty big links page of legal sites, and must confess that I "lifted" good bits of it from other sources. Some time later, when the PA Bar Assn opened its own site, I checked it out and found that its links page looked an AWFUL lot like the one I had done. I didn't have much original commentary, but the sequence, structure, and selection was so close as to make coincidence highly unlikely. I sent them a good-nantured note that since they had lifted our links page, the least they could do was put in a link to our own site.
With something like a directory, the key element to show originality would be in the creative material or commentary you added to the links. Stealing that could indeed be infringement, and if it really bothers you, you should feel free to contact a lawyer to write a cease and desist letter. I think it would be hard to prove enough damage to make a lawsuit worthwhile, especially since I assume you haven't registered a copyright, which would allow recovering attorney fees, among other advantages.
The above does not constitute legal opinion and is offered for the purposes of discussion only. The law differs in every jurisdiction, and you should not rely on any opinion except that of an attorney you have retained, who has a professional duty to advise you after being fully informed of all the pertinent facts and who is familiar with the applicable law.