Lets say I have an idea on a social networking site; something unique.
Haven't built a site yet.
I like to protect anybody from copying the idea (before the site go live possible?).
What are my options here, patent or copyright?
Copyright is there for the specific expression, not the idea, so you can copyright the design, the specific code that runs the site, but you can't copyright the concept. Patents cover 'inventions' and processes, so this may come under a business method patent, or even a software patent - one of the criteria is that it's non-obvious, i.e. not a natural progression of existing ideas; it also has to be very specific, so you can't patent 'a social network' or 'a search engine', although you may be able to patent a very specific process or algorithm used when calculating search results. It also takes years to secure a patent, so even if you got it, your idea would most likely be old news anyway (social networks may not even exist in 2 years time).
IMO, it's better to get the site out there and concentrate on making it a great as possible. If it's good enough for people to copy then it proves you have a great idea, so continue to innovate and cement yourself as the market leader.
As Shadowbox says, copyright is for specific expressions - whether that be text, music, photography, etc. Code falls under text and as such is copyrighted to the author as soon as it is written in most countries - you do not normally need to register copyright.
Patents are there to protect new and novel technologies and processes. For example, making a social network for astronauts would not be patentable per se, as it is an obvious extension of the idea of group social networks like those for everyone, or just women, or just member of the military, etc. But if to register to become a member of that astronaut social network, the service would scan the astronaut's helmet and use some unique identifier from that to prove the person is an astronaut - then this sign-up process could be patented as it would be a new and novel process. General ideas can be worth working on from a business perspective, but they cannot be patented.
Contrary to popular belief, you cannot protect an idea - and ideas are not really worth much tbh. It is the expression of that idea that is important as a product or service more than anything else.
If your idea is any good you can be sure someone will copy it. You just have to accept that. Look at all the Pinterest clones popping up now.
You need to get on with launching your site and not get bogged down by legalities which will actually do little to help you if there's a dispute. How will you prove the date you launched your site in a particular form, with a particular feature set?
Just launch. Good luck.
I guess its gonna be extremely difficult to get a patent for the concept on a social network site.
How about copyright, could we copyright the concept? That seem to be a lot cheaper option.
Also how does other big sites do it?
They don't, that is why there are so many worthless rip-offs and "one-off" scripts out there. They simply just don't worry about and focus on making their service better than anything that can be mass-distributed by people looking to make quick dollars.
As I said in my first post, you cannot copyright an idea/concept, only the specific expression of that idea. By making your site, you will automatically copyright that expression and you do not need to register it anywhere - it's yours - just stick a copyright notice on the site (even that isn't required). That said, in the US you are able to physically register copyright with the copyright office - the only benefit to that is that you need official registration should you ever need to litigate against someone involved in infringing your copyright.
But you cannot copyright something that doesn't exist and you cannot copyright a concept. You just need to develop your idea and get it out there and work out how to market it. Yes if it's good, people will copy the concept, you'll have to accept that and just make sure your expression of that concept is the one people prefer to deal with.
Thanks for the clarifications, appreciate it.
Think I got a better picture of this now.
It is right that you can't patent idea nor concept.
Just make it go live, use it, market it, need not big.
It will be terrible if someone beats you to it. Just look at facebook.