What should a copyright notice look like?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by U.S. law to authors of “original works of authorship.” When a work is published under the authority of the copyright owner, a notice of copyright may be placed on all publicly distributed copies. The use of the notice does not require permission from, or registration with, the U.S. Copyright Office.

The form of the copyright notice used for “visually perceptible” copies—that is, copies that can be seen or read, either directly (such as books) or with the aid of a machine (such as films)—differs from the form used for phonorecords of sound recordings (such as compact discs or cassettes).

A copyright notice should include all three elements described below.

  1.  The symbol © (letter C in a circle), the word “Copyright”, or the abbreviation “Copr.”
  2. The year of first publication. If the work is a derivative work or a compilation incorporating previously published material, the year date of first publication of the derivative work or compilation is sufficient. Examples of derivative works are translations or dramatizations; an example of a compilation is an anthology. The year may be omitted when a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with accompanying textual matter, if any, is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or useful articles.
  3. The name of the copyright owner, an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of owner.

Here’s an example:  © 2017 Acme, Inc.

While technically U.S. law no longer requires the use of a copyright notice, there are benefits for doing so. Use of a copyright puts everyone on notice that a work is protected by copyright. If your work is infringed, if the work carries a proper notice, it’s very hard for an infringer to claim that they didn’t know the work was protected copyright. An innocent infringement defense can result in a reduction in damages.

For more information, check out www.copyright.gov.

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