1007.4 Layout and Format
The copyright law does not protect the overall look and feel of a website. It only protects the specific copyrightable expression found on a website on a given date.
As a general rule, the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of particular content on a webpage may be copyrightable if it is sufficiently creative. However, the layout (i.e., spatial placement) or format of a webpage is not copyrightable in and of itself, regardless of how many elements are used in the layout or format. For example, a claim based on the border width for a webpage, the placement of some banner, and a placeholder for blocks of unspecified text or images would not be registrable. By contrast, a claim based on a particular banner, text, and images that are arranged in a creative manner may be eligible for registration, but the claim would extend only to that selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of those particular elements. It would not extend to other elements that have been arranged in the same or similar way.
The U.S. Copyright Office will not register the format and layout of a website because it would impede the very purpose of copyright–to promote creativity–by limiting the ways in which creativity may be expressed. After conducting a formal rulemaking, the Office determined that it cannot register the overall format or layout of a book or other printed publication, including the choice of style and size of typeface, leading (i.e., the space between lines of type), the placement of the folio (i.e., page numbers), the arrangement of type on the pages, or the placement, spacing, and juxtaposition of textual and illustrative matter in the work. The Office cannot register these elements because they fall within the realm of uncopyrightable ideas. If the Office registered claims in format or layout it would extend protection to the idea itself, because there are only a limited number of ways to organize content within a publication. Barring these types of claims thus serves the goal of copyright by ensuring that these building blocks of expression are available to all creators. See Registration of Claims to Copyright: Notice of Termination of Proposed Rulemaking Regarding Registration of Claims to Copyright in the Graphic Elements involved in the Design of Books and Other Printed Publications, 46 Fed. Reg. 30,651, 30,653 (June 10, 1981).
For the same reason, the Office will not register the standard arrangement or placement of the common elements and features on a webpage. The decision to add or place a banner, border, frame, sign-in box, title, footer, video screen, text blocks, or other elements in certain positions cannot be registered in the absence of specific copyrightable content in those elements, because these types of choices do not constitute original authorship. For instance, an original banner may be registered as a pictorial work if it is sufficiently creative, but the registration will not extend to the placement of that banner because there are a limited number of ways to layout that type of content on a webpage.
Style sheet languages, such as Cascading Style Sheets, are merely methods of formatting and laying out the organization of documents written in a markup language, such as HTML. Because procedures, processes, and methods of operation are not copyrightable, the Office generally will refuse to register claims based solely on CSS.