The code I write is protected by law

Legal protection of websites

Websites consist of a large number of components: texts, images, videos, the layout and databases, the domain also plays a role. The question, however, is whether and how websites are legally protected against counterfeiting at all.


Since the invention of the Internet in the 1990s, not only has the number of users increased, but also the number of websites. What was originally intended as a research network is now used for a wide variety of applications. Not only private people present themselves and their hobby, for example on their own website, clubs and institutions also use the global medium of the Internet to make their information available to the whole world. Under the keyword Web 2.0 there are countless social networks through which users can not only maintain current contacts via the Internet, but also revive old ones.

Companies, too, whether they are large corporations or rather small local businesses, have recently recognized the advantages of the Internet for themselves. Having your own website has become an indispensable part of life
Marketing tool for companies. It is the company's calling card and should of course appeal to users through its design and put the company in the right light around the world. For this reason, it is particularly important for companies, but also for every other website operator, that your own website and the associated information and your own creative performance cannot be imitated without penalty.

How are websites legally protected?

The medium of the Internet is incredibly diverse with its very large number of different websites. However, this diversity can only come about if the web designers are not restricted too much in their creativity by the legal barriers. On the other hand, nobody wants their page to be copied by other website operators without great effort. It is therefore very difficult to find the right balance between legal protection on the one hand and freedom for the web designer's creativity on the other. This is made more difficult by the fact that the laws in force in Germany have not yet been fully adapted to the digital age and in particular to the global medium of the Internet. Even the purely territorial effect of German laws does not really alleviate this problem, which is associated with the websites that are usually internationally accessible.

It is clear that there is no “magic recipe” that can be adhered to when answering the question “Is my website legally protected from imitation?”. There are always several factors to consider. The most important results of my diploma thesis with the title "Intellectual property and competition law protection of websites" should now be briefly reproduced here.

Protection of the website according to copyright

When examining the legal protection of a website, it should first be clarified whether the website or certain components of it, such as photos, animations, graphics, sounds, videos, texts, designs, etc., are protected by copyright. Copyright offers free protection for intellectual creations in the cultural field. According to this, theoretically all components of a website and also the website in its entirety can be protected by copyright with their creation. All that is required is the requirement for personal and spiritual creation in accordance with Section 2, Paragraph 2 of the Copyright Act. However, these requirements are set differently from one plant to the next.

Because of this, it is easier for some constituents, and more difficult for others, to have protection
about copyright. It can be said that copyright law forms a good basis for the legal protection of websites and should definitely be used as the first option in the event of unwanted imitations of your own website.

Protection of the website according to trademark law

If, however, copyright protection is not granted due to a lack of creation or other reasons that prevent protection, then the protection of individual elements under trademark law could be considered in the second instance. Due to the fact that protection under trademark law only applies to business transactions
trading companies or persons is an option and this protection is associated with high costs, it will not be considered for many websites. Despite all this, logos, graphics, animations, sounds, jingles and the website in its entirety can theoretically be protected via trademark law. However, there are no practical examples to consolidate these theoretical investigations.


Protection of the website according to design law

The design law (registered design law) and especially at the European level the community design law also offer an additional possibility to protect certain parts of the website. Not only for works that do not enjoy copyright protection, but also for works that are protected by copyright, protection by design law can come into question. Due to the lower protection requirements, the design right is also called "minor copyright". Above all, works of applied art, in this case all icons, graphics, logos and the website in their entirety, can be registered as designs. Similar to trademark law, a fee has to be paid when registering, which is why design protection will probably not apply in all cases. Furthermore, with the unregistered Community design, similar to copyright, there is also the possibility of protecting the website from imitation free of charge for a maximum of 3 years from the moment it is created.

Protection of the website according to competition law (UWG)

The last option, which is only considered and examined for a certain part of the website, is based on competition law. The law against unfair competition has the task of ensuring the quality of competition between market participants. For the case examined here, this means that supplementary performance protection under competition law can also be achieved for the website via Section 4 No. 9 UWG. However, this protection only applies in cases in which the two companies or persons whose website is concerned are in a competitive relationship with one another. Furthermore, in most cases, no other intellectual property law should already protect the website or its components.

In these cases, as the judgment of the Regional Court of Rottweil from January 2nd, 2009 has shown, protection of the website against imitation due to deception of origin or reputation exploitation can be granted. When answering the above question about the legal protection of a website, the other special rights under intellectual property law should first be taken into account and, in addition, an attempt can be made to achieve protection according to the UWG. Conclusion:

In conclusion, it should be noted that there are no laws specifically tailored to the Internet in German jurisprudence. The existing laws can, however, provide an answer to the legal questions that will probably arise more and more frequently in the future with regard to the protection of a website under intellectual property and competition law. In cases in which websites or parts of them are imitated or even copied 1: 1, the existing requirements must be checked every time. With the help of the laws dealt with in this work, a solution for the present case can then be found. With the increase in the number of accessible websites and the limits set by their tasks and goals in terms of creative scope, it will be more and more difficult in the future to protect your own website from unwanted takeover. It will be the task of the web designer to create ever more creative websites, elements and designs in order to be able to maintain the possibility of copyright but also trademark, design and competition law protection under the conditions of the existing laws. The article is a summary of the thesis "Intellectual property and competition law protection of websites"

The book "Legal protection of websites: How can I protect my website from imitation?" by the author Dipl. Wirtsch.-Ing. Olaf Borngräber is available at Amazon.

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