Write a Strong Copyright Notice to Protect Your Work
Remember to Check Your Copyright Dates
Many people write/create content for an employer, who typically--though not always--owns the copyright to anything written by its employees at work ("work for hire").
Ownership of copyright is defined in the legal documents you signed when you accepted the job for the employer. This is the case almost 100% of the time in business and industry. If you create documents, presentations, graphics, spreadsheets, brochures, manuals, or any other such thing, make sure to protect its copyright by considering each new year and how it does/does not affect your copyright statements.
Don't Rely on Luck to Protect Your Work
You Should Put Copyright Statements On All of Your Work
Any of the types of creations listed above--books, papers, images, web pages, software code, software applications, and so on--should contain a proper copyright statement to protect your--or your employer's--rights to this intellectual property.
Copyright notices belong on the title page or the page after that for documents, at the bottom of all web pages (or a link to a copyright page, which is easier to update once), spreadsheets, at the top of each page of software code you develop, and on one of the opening screens of a web-based software application, for example.
If you're not putting copyright notices on your work--whether it's yours or your employer's intellectual property--then there's no time like the present to start including one. Don't worry, it's simple and easy.
There are Three or Four Basic Things That You Need to Include in a Proper Copyright Statement:
- "Copyright ©"
- the year the item was first published
- and the copyright owner's full legal name (you or your employer, typically).
- (Optional, but recommended for international use.) "All rights reserved."
So, the copyright statement for this article would be, "Copyright © 2009 Laura D. Schneider. All rights reserved."
Things to Include in a Proper Copyright Statement
What to Include
How it Looks
1. Indicate that the work is someone's copyright. Include the word and the symbol for the most protection internationally as well as domestically.
2. The year the item was first published and year(s) of any major revisions.
3. The copyright owner's full legal name (the writer or writers or their employer).
4. (Optional, but recommended for international and additional domestic protection.)
All rights reserved.
So, the copyright statement for this example would be, "Copyright © 2013 ABC, Inc. All rights reserved."
How to Write a Proper Copyright Notice
This section goes into detail about each of the points above.
1. Copyright ©
The first thing you should tell people is that you consider a publication (or whatever you produce) to be someone's property and not open-source/free to copy. It's good to say that kind of thing up-front, on pieces that are accessed in a linear fashion, such as a document; or on every page, for pieces that are accessed non-linearly by the user--they might enter or skip from one major area of a website or application to another, for example. The same is true for presentations.
So, how do you tell the reader/user this important information? You begin with stating that it is a copyright. You can use the symbol "©", which is nearly universally recognized, or say "Copyright". Since some countries require one and some require the other, to be safe I recommend using both "Copyright ©".
2. The Year of First Publication of the Item
This may sound obvious, but to many people it is very confusing: simply write the year that the item was first published or released (unpublished drafts don't count). If it was published/released in 2012, then that's the year you specify, even if you started writing it in 2010 and it took you a few years to finish it. If you publish/release another version in two years, you can either put "2012, 2014" or simply "2014" if it is a very significant change from the original, in which case the original would retain its existing copyright date and statement unchanged.
A quick survey...
1. Did you know that published work (even software) that you do for your employer is copyrighted by your employer?
3. The Copyright Owner's Full Legal Name
If the copyright belongs to your employer, their full legal name is usually found on your pay stubs, hiring letter/letter of employment, W2s, medical cards, or other formal communications from your company. This information should also be found in your company's house style guide (in which all of this type of information should also be included). With the exception of "Inc.", don't use abbreviations or acronyms unless the abbreviation/acronym is the most commonly used and recognizable designation for the company.
For example, if your company is sometimes called "ABC Co.", you should instead use their formal name: "Able Baker Charlie, Inc." However, if your company is almost ALWAYS known by its abbreviation or acronym, your company name might better be referenced as, "Able Baker Charlie (ABC), Inc."
If you have any questions or doubts about what name to use, make sure you look in the company's "House Style Guide". If there is none (!), speak with your company's intellectual property person or the company's lawyer to get your immediate question answered, and speak with appropriate management regarding creation of a "House Style Guide" and its promotion ("you're required to follow this as part of your job") throughout the company. Many, if not most, companies state in their offer letter and/or employee handbook that all personnel are required to follow corporate standards found in a House Style Guide.
If you are the copyright owner, list your legal name in the copyright statement, not a pen name. For example, my legal name is Laura D. Schneider. If my pen name were "SheWritesWell123", that is NOT the name to use in the legal copyright statement as it will provide little to no protection under copyright law. Abbreviating a middle initial is fine, or spell out your name in full for slightly more protection should your work be infringed upon.
One rule of thumb: when signing credit card or check slips, how do you write your name? The answer to that question (in my case, Laura D. Schneider) is what you should use in your copyright statements unless you choose to spell out in full your middle name(s).
This legal name, your employer's or yours, comes immediately after the copyright symbol and year of first publication.
4. All Rights Reserved (Optional but Recommended)
It doesn't hurt to remind everyone that you DO own this work and that they cannot simply copy it or sell it or present it as their own. Also, some countries give extra weight to a copyright statement that ends in "All rights reserved."
2. After reading this article, will you begin putting copyright statements on your work or enquiring of your employer about it?
The Complete, Solid, Internationally Recognized Copyright Statement
So, now that we've got the parts we need and know where to place them, we can say with confidence "Copyright © 2012 Able Baker Charlie, Inc. All rights reserved."
Now, you might think nobody actually does this in real life. Look again. The text on the inside of the magazine you're reading, the evening news broadcast, movies, websites... Copyright notices are everywhere! However, they only need to inform someone that the work is owned, so they are usually placed discretely on the work and sized small enough that you'll need your reading glasses to see it or embedded in graphics to prevent theft.
Whether you write for yourself or an employer, enjoy knowing that you can add value by ensuring that all copyrights--intellectual property--are protected.
For more information on this topic, refer to The Chicago Manual of Style and more importantly to the United States Library of Congress's website about copyrights: http://www.copyright.gov/
YouTube Copyright School (A Very Cute, Informative Video)
Pseudonyms or Pen Names and Copyrights
"Copyright does not protect pseudonyms or other names," according to the U.S. Copyright Office, "...be aware that if a copyright is held under a fictitious name, business dealings involving the copyrighted property may raise questions about its ownership. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this matter."
Having said that, you can copyright your work under a pseudonym or pen name. That work's term of copyright protection is, "the earlier of 95 years from publication of the work or 120 years from its creation." However, if you reveal your true identity in connection with any registration of your pseudonymous works, the copyright term then "becomes the author’s life plus 70 years."
Refer to the U.S. Copyright Office's publication, "Pseudonyms" (http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl101.html) and to the U.S. Copyright Office itself (http://www.copyright.gov) for complete, official information on this subject.
International Copyright Statements
The United States has been a member of the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC) since September 16, 1955. A UCC-compliant copyright notice "should consist of the symbol © (C in a circle) accompanied by the year of first publication and the name of the copyright proprietor (example: © 2006 John Doe). This notice must be placed in such a manner and location as to give reasonable notice of the claim to copyright," according to the U.S. Copyright Office.
Although the Berne Convention (the other principal international copyright convention aside from the UCC, the "Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works"), and a subsequent change to the U.S. law, require no use of a copyright statement on a copyrighted work, using a copyright statement on your work can, "defeat a defense of 'innocent infringement'."
This is why most serious writers and other creators follow the UCC guidelines and include the symbol © in their copyright notices, and it is why I am recommending use of it as well as the word "Copyright", so there can be no mistake.
For More Information
- U.S. Copyright Office
U.S. Copyright Office is an office of public record for copyright registration and deposit of copyright material.
- How To Use Photo References Without Violating Copyright
About the Author
Information about the author, a list of her complete works on HubPages, and a means of contacting her are available over on ==>Laura Schneider's profile page. But wait--please leave ratings and any comments you have about this article so that it can be improved to best meet your needs. Thank you!
All text, photos, videos, and graphics in this document are Copyright © 2013 Laura D. Schneider unless indicated otherwise or unless in the public domain. All rights reserved. All trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.