Copyright Issues With Website Source Code

You want to create some websites.  You understand the value of owning the domain name for your name (i.e. DarrenHeitner.com), you need a website for your company, and maybe you also want to start up a blog.  But you have no idea how to write the code for your various sites and do not feel like shelling out thousands of dollars for a professional coder to create the framework of your webpages.

What about opening up the source code of some of your favorite designed websites and grabbing that code for your own use?  If you copy the entire code, you may be infringing on someone else’s copyrighted code.  However, quantity of originality that need be shown is modest, so if you alter the code in any way, you may be safe from infringing another person’s source code.   Even if most changes are not important modifications to functionality of source code, but rather consist of elimination of minor defects in code, if the changes require more than token independent effort or judgment and something is created that is recognizably its own in source code, it may be considered its own original work entitled to copyright protection.

Additionally, you might be able to argue fair use. Fair use permits people to use copyrighted material without the owner’s consent, in a reasonable manner for certain purposes.  Amongst things to look at are the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the work used, and the effect of the use on the market value of the original.

Your fair use argument might take a beating if you are making a profit through the website.  But if your use has no effect on the market value of the website that you scrapped the code from, which is often the most important factor of a fair use claim, the less you have to show that there is some public benefit of using the copyrighted source code.

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