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How To Properly Display A Valid Copyright Notice

What Copyright Does and Does Not Protect

Basic Overview Of Copyright Infringement

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Transferring Your Copyright

How To Properly Display A Valid Copyright Notice
©2024, Melissa C. Marsh.
Written: 3/1/2001  
By: Melissa C. Marsh

Standard Copyright Notice

For works created after March 1, 1989, it is not necessary to display a copyright notice. Although not required, it is still a good idea to put a proper notice on each copy of your work for three reasons: (1) it may deter people from infringing your copyright; (2) it may protect your copyright in countries that have not signed the Berne Convention; and (3) it can help prove the willful intent to infringe in a copyright infringement lawsuit. Failure to prove the infringement was willful can lead a court to deny you the recovery of attorney's fees and costs.

A proper United States copyright notice should contain the following: (1) the letter C in a circle ((), the abbreviation Copr. or the word Copyright spelled out in its entirety; followed by (2) the year of first publication; followed by (3) the name of the copyright owner. The proper U.S. copyright notice should then be followed by the phrase "All Rights Reserved." which serves to protect the copyright status in certain foreign countries. Thus, the copyright notice should like the following:

Copyright 2001 Melissa C. Marsh. All Rights Reserved.

The Copyright Symbol .

It is common for people unable to generate the C is a circle symbol ( ) to attempt mimicking the symbol by means of a "(C)". Since the courts have yet to approve the use of this, we strongly suggest that the copyright owner use either the actual symbol, the abbreviation Copr. or the complete word, Copyright.

The Date.

The copyright date is perhaps greatest trap for the unwary. One of the purposes of the copyright date, under U.S. copyright law, is to assist members of the public in identifying which works are now in the public domain. To do this, a member of the public would take the copyright date appearing in the notice, add to it the number of years of the copyright term, and thereby arrive at a conclusion as to when the copyright would have expired. But what if the material contained in the work was developed in different years? Do you use the oldest date and deprive yourself of those extra few years of copyright protection? Do you use the present date and risk misleading the public that the entire work is protected by copyright starting from that year and ending at the end of copyright term? Such incorrect statements of fact in a copyright notice could lead a court to conclude that no copyright exists in the work as a result.

So what do you do when a work is created or revised over many years? If only one year is to appear in a notice, it should be the oldest year, associated with the oldest of the matter in the work. In other words, if one must err it should be in the direction of omitting newer years, not older years. Another approach is to put a range of years. For example, if the oldest matter in the work dates from 1998 and if the newest matter dates from 2000, the notice might say Copyright 1999 to 2000 followed by the name of the copyright owner.

The copyright owner.

The third element required in the notice is the name of the copyright owner. The intention is that the members of the general public would, by contacting the entity in the notice, be capable of reaching the actual owner of the copyright. If more than one author created or contributed to a work, then each author's name should be listed.

But what if you want to remain anonymous? Well, since the purpose of a copyright notice is to inform the public and enable the public to locate the author, we strongly suggest you not list "anonymous" or a "pseudonym" in the notice. One way to safely remain anonymous without jeopardizing your copyright is to transfer all of rights in the copyright to your publisher, so that the publisher's name can appear in the copyright notice. Another possibility is to form a corporation or limited liability company, assign all of your rights in the copyright to the corporation or limited liability company, and place the name of the corporation in the notice.

If you have some question as to the name that should appear in your copyright notice, we suggest you seek advice of counsel.

Notice For Works Incorporating Governmental Works

If your original material incorporates any material created by the government, or a governmental employee, then your copyright notice should then look like the following"

Copyright 2001 Melissa C. Marsh. Copyright claimed as to all material exclusive of U.S. Government Works contained on pages xx-xx.

Although publications written by employees of the United States government are not copyrighted, you cannot claim a copyright on them. Instead, you should state in your copyright claim that you aren't claiming copyright on them.

Notice For Recorded Works of Art

If you are claiming copyright protection for something you have recorded, the copyright symbol is not used. Instead use the letter "P" in a circle. The P in the circle symbol represents the legal term "phonorecord," which includes vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs, and the like.

Notice For Compilations and Derivative Works

The copyright notice for a compilation is the same, except that the date should be the year that the compilation itself is published, as opposed to a range of years incorporating the publication dates of each of the underlying works. The date that should appear in a copyright notice for a derivative work, however, when the underlying material and new material is owned by the same author should also include the date of the pre-existing material and as stated above where in doubt err on the side of limiting your copyright protection. If you are unsure, we strongly suggest you consult a competent attorney.

Where the Notice Should be Exhibited

Where the notice should appears depends on the work.

  • Books, Writings, and Advertising Materials. The copyright notice should be placed in the title page, the back of the title page, either side of the front cover, or on either side of the back cover.

  • Packaging. The copyright notice should appear on the front or back side of the packaging (including containers) that display the copyrighted work.

  • Computer Programs. The copyright notice should be displayed in the following three places: (1) at sign-on when the program is executed; (2) on a label securely affixed to the box containing the program and on any floppy diskettes or CD-ROMs used to load the program; (3) in the executable code so that it would be visible if someone attempted to decompile or reverse engineer the program, and (4) on copies so that any print-out of the program will clearly display the copyright notice on print-outs at or near the title and end of the work. If your computer program is distributed with any user manuals or other documentation, it is advisable to also place the appropriate copyright notice on those materials too.

Correcting a Mistake in a Copyright Notice

If you have failed to display a proper copyright notice on works published after March 1, 1989, correct it immediately. If you are still unsure how, consult a local competent attorney.

If you have failed to display a proper copyright notice on works published after between January 1, 1978 and March 1, 1989, there is not much you can do. The Copyright law required a proper notice to be displayed on all works published after December 31, 1977 but before February 28, 1989. Failure to display a valid copyright notice on such works generally led to the forfeiture of the exclusive rights maintained by the copyright owner, unless one of the following three exceptions applied:

  1. the notice was only omitted on a few published copies;

  2. within 5 years of publication, the copyright owner registered the work with the Copyright Office and took corrective measures to add a valid copyright notice after the omission was discovered; or

  3. the failure to display the proper notice was the result of an omission made by a licensee of the copyright owner (however the ability to collect damages from an innocent infringer will be precluded).

If you failed to provide a proper copyright notice on works published before 1978, your work is now considered part of the public domain unless:

  1. a licensee failed to display a valid and proper notice;

  2. the copyright owner failed to display to the proper notice on a "particular copy or copies" due to a mechanical error or mistake (e.g. printing press copyright symbol was damaged); or

  3. the work was only published outside the United States.

Copyright 1999-2024 Melissa C. Marsh. All Rights Reserved. All Information on this website is subject to a Disclaimer and Use Agreement. This information is provided as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. We advise you to seek the advice of competent legal counsel to address your own specific questions, facts and circumstances.

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© Copyright 1999-2024 Melissa C. Marsh. All Rights Reserved