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How and Why to Use a Copyright Notice

Updated on March 15, 2013
Using a copyright notice can help authors protect their original works from unauthorized uses.
Using a copyright notice can help authors protect their original works from unauthorized uses. | Source

Copyright protects original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression, such as books, songs, movies, photographs, blogs, etc.

Copyright automatically attaches to such works as soon as they are created, giving the copyright's owner a number of exclusive rights. These exclusive rights include the right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work, and to distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public.

While no action is needed to obtain the copyright, the owner of copyright may find it advantageous to use a copyright notice to protect these rights. Here is how to use a copyright notice, and why using a copyright notice can be useful.


If Bob Smith owns a copyright in a novel first published in 2010, he can use the copyright notice: "© 2010 Bob Smith". He could also use "Copyright 2010 Bob Smith" or "Copr. 2010 Bob Smith". If he is also generally known under his pen name of "Tom Jones", he could instead use "© 2010 Tom Jones".

If Bob Smith first published a novel in 2010 but revised it in 2011, the 2011 edition would be a derivative work of the 2010 novel. He could use the notice "© 2011 Bob Smith" because 2011 was the year date of first publication of his 2011 derivative work. While this would be sufficient, he could also use "© 2010, 2011 Bob Smith" to indicate the work includes material from both years.

Form of Copyright Notice for Visually Perceptible Works

The correct form of copyright notice for visually perceptible works has three elements:

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

What about "All Rights Reserved"?

The phrase "All Rights Reserved" can optionally be added to a copyright notice. For example, a notice may be written as: "© 2010 Bob Smith. All Rights Reserved".

This phrase was once required in some countries to assert copyright, but is for the most part no longer required. That said, this phrase may help discourage some people from making unauthorized use of the copyrighted work by emphasizing the copyright owner has not relinquished his rights.


If the ABC Record Co. owns the copyright in a sound recording first published in 2010, they can use the notice: "(P) 2010 ABC Recording Co.".

Form of Copyright Notice for Phonorecords of Sound Recordings

The correct form of copyright notice for phonorecords of sound recordings also has three elements. The first is the letter P in a circle (rather than the letter C), The second is the year of first publication. The third is the name of the owner of the copyright, or an abbreviation by which the owner can be recognized, or a generally known alternative.

Position of Copyright Notice

The notice should be placed on copies or phonorecords in a way that provides reasonable notice of the claim of copyright. The notice should be permanently legible to an ordinary user of the work under normal conditions of use and shouldn't be concealed from view upon reasonable examination. For example, the notice for books can be placed on the title page, the next page, front cover, back cover, or the first or last page of the book's main body. As another example, for software, the notice can be placed near the title or at the end of the software's printout, or on the user's terminal at sign-on, or on a label secured to the copies or their permanent container.

Appropriate locations are described in Circular 3 of the U.S. Copyright Office.

Why Use a Copyright Notice

An important reason to use a copyright notice is to provide notice to the public that the work is protected by copyright. The notice is especially useful as a reminder to the many people who do not understand that copyright automatically attaches to an original work as soon as it is created. Since most people are honest, providing this notice will prevent most cases of unauthorized use.

Another reason to use a copyright notice is to identify its owner to the public. This helps anyone interested in using the work to contact the owner to seek permission.

The use of a copyright notice can also be a marketing or recognition tool for the owner identified in the notice. For example, if an author writes a series of informative articles on how to improve one's writing style, his copyright notice helps his readers recognize and follow him.

There are also a small percentage of people who are dishonest, and who would willingly misuse the original works of others. Using a copyright notice helps in preventing such people from continuing their unauthorized use of the material. For example, the presence of a copyright notice on a work makes it more likely that such people will cease their unauthorized use of the work upon receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the copyright owner or his legal representative.

Further, in the event litigation is necessary to force an infringer from continuing unauthorized use of a copyrighted work or to recover damages for such use, the presence of a proper copyright notice on a published work that the infringer had access to will mean that no weight will be given to the infringer's possible defense of innocent infringement. This may result in an increase in the amount of actual or statutory damages that the infringer will be required to pay.

Disclaimer: The author has retired from the practice of law. This cursory article is for information purposes only, is not legal advice, and does not establish any attorney-client relationship. The author encourages any reader with questions about how or why to use a copyright notice to contact an attorney.


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