How to Format a Copyright Notice and Related Issues

A copyright notice is an easy and effective action (though not technically a necessary action) that the owner of a creative work can take in order to protect its copyright privileges. In the United States, copyright notices do not need to be registered with the copyright office (some countries do not even have such an office), the notices just need to be inserted into the work. The correct way to format a copyright notice is actually determined based on various factors such as whether the work was first published before or after 1978, whether it’s a work purely consisting of audio content, and in some cases even the country of publication. In addition, there is the question of where the copyright notice should be placed. However, most of the details can be summed up as follows: most IP lawyers recommend their clients place a three-part copyright notice on any work that they don’t want others to copy. The three parts:

  1. The 1st part of this notice is a “C” inside a circle: ©. (To generate this emblem, hit Ctrl and Alt and C on a PC keyboard; or hit Option and G on a Mac, or type © in HTML, or type © in XML. Other computer-languages have other codes to generate the ©.) It should also be noted that in the United States, it is acceptable to use the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation “Copr.” rather than the © symbol. However, those words are not sufficient in other countries, so just using the © is the safest decision from a global perspective.
  2. The second part of the notice is the name of the company or individual who owns the copyright, followed by a comma. As an example, an individual named John Doe would simply say “John Doe,” or a company like ours would say, “Web Defense Systems, LLC,” or just “Web Defense Systems,”.
  3. And the third part of the notice is the year that the work was first created or published (2011 for current works, month and day not needed). Some companies are continually update and change their copyrighted works (particularly websites) and so they tate multiple years of copyright (2005-2011, for example). This is fine, so long as the site owner lists the first year the work was created or published.

As a complete example, because we created and own the copyright to the content of this web page, we stated “© Web Defense Systems, LLC, 2011” at the bottom of this and all pages of our website.

The last step is to determine where a copyright notice should be placed. Of course the answer depends upon the type of work in question, as a book would have a very different answer than a film. But the simple answer most IP lawyers give their clients is to place the copyright notice anywhere, so long as it isn’t intentionally hidden or concealed. The law on this is not terribly clear, but it is clear that placing the copyright notice in the very front or very end of a work is sufficient. So for a book, this would be near the title, on the title page, or on either cover. For a film, this could be at the beginning of the movie or at its conclusion. But hiding it somewhere in the middle of a book, film, or any other work would not be sufficient. Likewise, keep the font color and size of your copyright notice legible. So if the background of your work is green, do not make the copyright notice a similar shade of green. Rather, make it stand out in black or white.

There are a few other important details in regards to the placement and necessity of copyright notices. While all of these rules and exceptions can be found in Chapter 4 of Title 17 of the US code (which can be read by clicking here), which details how and where copyright holders should note their claim of copyright within their work, here are three key points:

First, there is the question of whether or not a copyright notice is even necessary! The Byrne Convention Implementation Act of 1989 made copyright notice optional in the USA. In other words, law in the United States no longer requires a notice of copyright to be placed on the work in order to maintain copyright protection of the work. Many other countries participating in WIPO treaties have similar policies and have had such policies since the Berne Convention of 1886. (For works originally published prior to 1978, a copyright notice is required in order to maintain copyright protection in the USA. However, in regards to foreign works originally published prior to 1978 without a copyright notice, The Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) restored copyright to some degree in these works.)  However, Web Defense Systems still highly recommends our clients use a copyright notice, even on new works, for two reasons: (1) there are some countries in which a copyright notice is still required to protect copyright privileges; (2) by having a copyright notice on a work, a potential violator cannot claim he or she did not know the work was copyrighted. This is likely to increase the amount of damages for which the copyright owner can therefore sue the violator.

A second important detail in regards to copyright notices involves audio. Copyright notices for purely audio recordings should be formatted a bit different than video, text, images, software, etc. For audio, the C (or Copyright or Copr.) should be changed to a “P” inside a circle. So if Web Defense Systems produced a compact disk of music in 2011, we would put “(P) Web Defense Systems, 2011.” Note that for movies, which have audio AND video, the C should be used rather than the P. If your computer can’t form a P inside a circle, we recommend just using a (P).

A third important detail in regards to copyright notices is in regards to collections. For example, if an IP attorney advises a client who is a magazine publisher (magazines typically have a collection of images and text which are the property of the publisher, along with advertisements from 3rd parties which are the property of the 3rd party), the attorney would probably recommend the magazine use a single notice of copyright on its title page or contents page. However, the magazine’s advertisers should place their own copyright notice on their individual ads. And if individual contributors to the magazine own the content rather than the magazine (this would be somewhat rare), the individual contributors should put copyright notices on their individual contributions.

Disclaimer: The purpose of our “Knowledge Base” documents is to explain the basics of the subject matter in question and to provide some rationale behind the actions that Web Defense Systems might take on behalf of our clients. We are not lawyers, and the preceding information should not be used in lieu of legal advice.