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Copyright Law Explained

What Is a Copyright Notice

A copyright notice does not need to be affixed to a copyrighted work for the work to be protected under the law.

Prior to 1989 including a copyright notice on a copyrighted work was required under U.S. law, but that is no longer the case. Although copyright notice is no longer required, a copyright owner would be wise to include a copyright notice because it prevents an infringer from raising a defense of innocent infringement.

A proper copyright notice consists of the following three elements.

  • © Symbol: Most works should include the © symbol. (Although U.S. law also allows the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation “Copr.”, the © symbol is preferable because it is internationally recognized whereas the other terms may not be). In the case of sound recordings, the ℗ symbol (the letter “p” in a circle) should be used instead.
  • Year of Publication: If the work has been published, the year of publication should be included. If the work is unpublished the notice should indicate the unpublished nature of the work in lieu of a year. When a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work with accompanying text (if any) is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or a “useful article,” the year may be excluded from the notice.
  • Copyright Owner’s Name: The notice should include the name of the copyright owner, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.

For example, a proper notice would look like this: © 2016 Copyright Alliance

Where and how to place the notice: The notice should be affixed to copies of the copyrighted work in a way that gives reasonable notice of the claim of copyright. The U.S. Copyright Office has guidelines to help copyright owners determine the manner and location of affixing the copyright notice to different types of works. More information from the U.S. Copyright Office about proper copyright notice can be found here.

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