A copyright notice, either as symbol or phrase, informs users of the underlying claim to copyright ownership in a published work.
Copyright law is different from country to country. Before 1978 all published works in the US had to contain a copyright notice. Until 1989 all such published works in the USA required either a copyright notice or a registration filing within five years of publication. This is no longer the case and use of a copyright notice is now optional in the US, since the adoption of the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988.
Reasons to include an optional copyright notice
A copyright notice may still be used as a deterrent against infringement, or as a notice that the owner intends on holding their claim to copyright. It is also a copyright violation, if not also a federal crime, to remove or modify copyright notice with intent to "induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an infringement". Also worth noting is that copyright notice has never been required on "unpublished" works, the copyright of which may last for well over 100 years.
Inclusion of a proper copyright notice on the originals is also evidence that the copyright owners may use to defeat a defense of "innocent infringement", to avoid "statutory damages", other than in certain cases claiming a "fair use" defense.
Foreign works published in the USA without copyright notice
Certain foreign works published in the USA without copyright notice prior to 1989, which made them public domain, have had their copyrights "restored" under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, provided the rights had not already expired in their country of original publication prior to 1996. This creates the anomaly that foreign works from 1923 to 1989 may be afforded more US copyright protection than domestic US works published in that same period, even though they were both published without any copyright notice.
There are technical requirements as to the information a copyright notice must contain.
Under the 1870 law, in effect until 1909, you had to write "Entered according to act of Congress, in the year _________________, by A. B., in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington." Starting in 1874, you could also write "Copyright, 18_________________, by A. B."
Under the 1909 law, in effect until 1978, the notice for printed literary, musical, or dramatics works had to contain the name of the author, the year, and "Copyright" or "Copr." Other works did not need to include the year and could use the © symbol. In books or other printed works, the notice were required to have appeared on the title page or the page immediately following the title page.
Under the 1978 US law, a copyright notice must contain the copyright symbol (a lower case letter c completely surrounded by a circle), or its equivalent. The word "copyright" or the abbreviation "Copr." are also accepted in the US, but not in other countries. Works distributed outside the US use the © symbol. The copyright notice must also contain the year in which the work was first published (or created), and the name of the copyright owner, which may be the author (including the legal author/owner of a work made for hire), one or more joint authors, or the person or entity to whom the copyright has been transferred. According to US copyright law the copyright notice must be affixed and positioned to give "reasonable notice of the claim of copyright".
Overstatement of rights
Legal scholar Wendy Seltzer has pointed out how many organizations overstate their rights in the copyright notice. For her law class in 2007, Seltzer copied the televised copyright notice of the NFL, during the 2007 Super Bowl, using her rights under fair use. She then posted this snippet to YouTube. The NFL sent an official DMCA request to YouTube that the recording be removed. Seltzer, who had expected this, challenged the takedown, and the snippet was restored. Seltzer has also posted the overreaching claims of Major League Baseball.
- Fries, Richard C. (2006). Reliable design of medical devices. CRC Press. p. 196. ISBN 978-0-8247-2375-0.
- 17 USC § 1202
- 17 USC §§ 401, 402, 504
- As the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, "restored" is a misnomer. "Restored copyrights" include not only copyrights on works that have lapsed and are restored, but also new U.S. copyrights on works that were never covered by copyright copyright, due to failure to meet certain conditions imposed under older U.S. copyright law (such as the notice requirement). Golan v. Holder, 565 U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 873 (2012), at 14 n.13 ("Restoration is a misnomer insofar as it implies that all works protected under § 104A previously enjoyed protection. Each work in the public domain because of lack of national eligibility or subject matter protection, and many that failed to comply with formalities, never enjoyed U. S. copyright protection.")
- 17 USC § 104A
- "Second General Revision of U.S. Copyright Law Enacted by the Forty-first Congress on July 8, 1870". 1870-07-08.
- "The 1874 Amendment to the Copyright Act of 1870 Enacted by the Forty-third Congress on June 18, 1874". 1874-06-18.
- US Copyright Act of 1909, Sections 18 and 19. Wikisource.
- 17 U.S.C. § 401(b)
- 17 U.S.C. § 401(c)
- 17 U.S.C. § 402
- Wendy's Blog: Legal Tags - NFL/DMCA
- Wendy's Blog: Legal Tags - Foul ball: Baseball’s copyright warnings