Copyright Notice and the Use of the Copyright Symbol

What is a copyright notice or copyright symbol and how to correctly use it.

copyright.jpg
iStock / Getty Images

A copyright notice or copyright symbol is an identifier placed on copies of the work to inform the world of copyright ownership. While the use of a copyright notice was once required as a condition of copyright protection, it is now optional. Use of the copyright notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with the Copyright Office.

Because prior law did contain such a requirement, however, the use of a copyright notice or copyright symbol is still relevant to the copyright status of older works.

The copyright notice was required under the 1976 Copyright Act. This requirement was eliminated when the United States adhered to the Berne Convention, effective March 1, 1989. Although works published without copyright notice before that date could have entered the public domain in the United States, the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) restores copyright in certain foreign works originally published without copyright notice.

How Is A Copyright Symbol Useful

Use of the copyright notice may be important because it informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if a proper notice of copyright appears on the published copy or copies to which a defendant in a copyright infringement suit had access, then no weight shall be given to such a defendant's defense based on innocent infringement.

Innocent infringement occurs when the infringer did not realize that the work was protected.

The use of the copyright notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office.

Correct Form For The Copyright Symbol

The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain all the following three elements:

  1. The copyright symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word "Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr."
  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 textual matter, if any, is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or any useful article.
  3. The name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.

Example: copyright © 2002 John Doe

The © or "C in a circle" notice or symbol is used only on visually perceptible copies.

Phonorecords

Certain kinds of works, for example, musical, dramatic, and literary works may be fixed not in copies but by means of sound in an audio recording. Since audio recordings such as audio tapes and phonograph disks are "phonorecords" and not "copies," the "C in a circle" notice is not used to indicate protection of the underlying musical, dramatic, or literary work that is recorded.

Copyright Symbol for Phonorecords of Sound Recordings

Sound recordings are defined in the law as works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work. Common examples include recordings of music, drama, or lectures. A sound recording is not the same as a phonorecord. A phonorecord is a physical object in which works of authorship are embodied. The word "phonorecord" includes cassette tapes, CDs, records, as well as other formats.

The notice for phonorecords embodying a sound recording should contain all the following three elements:

  1. The copyright symbol (the letter P in a circle)
  2. The year of first publication of the sound recording
  3. The name of the owner of copyright in the sound recording, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner. If the producer of the sound recording is named on the phonorecord label or container and if no other name appears in conjunction with the notice, the producer's name shall be considered a part of the notice.

    Example: See The Image To The Upper Right

    Position of Notice

    The copyright notice should be affixed to copies or phonorecords in such a way as to give reasonable notice of the claim of copyright.

    The three elements of the notice should ordinarily appear together on the copies or phonorecords or on the phonorecord label or container.

    Since questions may arise from the use of variant forms of the notice, you may wish to seek legal advice before using any other form of the notice.

    The 1976 Copyright Act overturned the strict consequences of failure to include copyright notice under prior law. It contained provisions that set out specific corrective steps to cure omissions or certain errors in the copyright notice. Under these provisions, an applicant had 5 years after publication to cure omission of notice or certain errors. Although these provisions are technically still in the law, their impact has been limited by the amendment making notice optional for all works published on and after March 1, 1989.

    Publications Incorporating United States Government Works

    Works by the U. S. Government are not eligible for U. S. copyright protection. For works published on and after March 1, 1989, the previous notice requirement for works consisting primarily of one or more U. S. Government works has been eliminated. However, use of a notice on such a work will defeat a claim of innocent infringement as previously described provided the copyright notice also includes a statement that identifies either those portions of the work in which copyright is claimed or those portions that constitute U. S. Government material.

    Example: copyright © 2000 Jane Brown.
    Copyright claimed in Chapters 7-10, exclusive of U. S. Government maps

    Copies of works published before March 1, 1989, that consist primarily of one or more works of the U. S. Government should have a notice and the identifying statement.

    Unpublished Works

    The author or copyright owner may wish to place a copyright notice on any unpublished copies or phonorecords that leave his or her control.

    Example: Unpublished work © 1999 Jane Doe