How to Write a Copyright Notice

Copyright SymbolOne of the most common questions I get asked is “Does the copyright notice in my footer look ok?”

Though I’m quick to remind everyone that you don’t need to have a copyright symbol or any kind of notice on your work for it to be copyright protected, at least not since 1978 in the U.S., having a copyright footer on your site is probably a good idea just because of the large amount of confusion on this issue and it does put potential infringers on notice, reducing “innocent infringer” claims.

Besides, you don’t want people believing that your work is available for copying freely if it isn’t.

So what should you put in your copyright footer? The formula is actually very simple and there’s only a few things that you’ll likely want to include.

So, this should only take a moment to master though it can save a lot of headaches, time and money down the road.

The Four Elements

Typically, a copyright notice contains four different elements, each of which are brief but important.

  1. The Copyright Symbol
  2. The Year of the Creation
  3. The Name of the Author
  4. A Rights Statement

The copyright symbol is exactly what it sounds like, either the famous ©, a (c) or the word “Copyright”. However, most prefer to use the symbol because it is both smaller and more recognizeable.

There are several ways to make the symbol though, if you’re using HTML you can simply use the “©” command to have the symbol appear what you want. If you aren’t editing a webpage, you can easily create a copyright symbol in Windows by hitting ALT+0169 (holding the ALT key and typing “0169″) and in Mac you simply press Option+G.

The year the work is created is simply when it was finished published (with a blog this is usually the same as when it was finished, thanks @internetcases for fixing my brain lapse). This can be tricky on blogs as they can cover several years. In those cases, you can simply use a hyphen to designate a range, such as “2006-2011″. If you use WordPress (or most other advanced CMSes) you can have the latter date update automatically with just a bit of code.

The name is just your name or whatever you use to identify yourself. It can also be your business name, your site name, your pseudonym or anything else as appropriate so long as it designates who the copyright holder is.

Finally, a rights statement is nothing more than an indication in the rights you hold in the work. If you don’t wish to allow any copying (or just want everyone to ask permission), simply say “All Rights Reserved”. If you use a Creative Commons License, you likely already have this on your site but may want to further clarify with “Some Rights Reserved”. Finally, if you want to give all rights away, simply say “No Rights Reserved” and offer a clear dedication to the public domain.

All in all, it should only take you a few seconds to write a good copyright notice, but if you want any further guidance, here are a few examples below:

Tying it Together

Very quickly, here are a few examples of copyright notices that you can either work from, copy or otherwise use.

Single Year, Real Name, All Rights Reserved

© 2011 John Doe All Rights Reserved

Multi-Year, Real Name, All Rights Reserved

© 2005-2011 John Doe All Rights Reserved

Single Year, Real Name, Some Rights Reserved

© 2011 John Doe Some Rights Reserved

Multi-Year, Real Name, All Rights Reserved

© 2005-2011 John Doe Some Rights Reserved

Single Year, Site Name, All Rights Reserved

© 2011 mydomain.com All Rights Reserved

Obviously, the list goes on, but you should be able to understand some of the ways you can display the notice. You can also, as mentioned above, replace the symbol with the word copyright or a “(c)” though the symbol is usually preferred.

Bottom Line

Since, for most of the world, there’s no requirement for there to even be such a notice, there’s no real rule as to what should be in it.

The main thing is to convey all of the information that others would expect from a copyright notice and the four things above should relay it fine. However, bear in mind it doesn’t have to be in the notice itself, as long as the information is somewhere on your site, as with a Creative Commons notice.

That being said, there’s also no rule that says copyright notices have to be boring. There are plenty of creative ones out there though that is a topic for another day.

18 comments
JSIAJ
JSIAJ

Thank you so much for posting this! Now, I can finally copyright my book!

Kaity
Kaity

What do we do if we're not finished and its not published?

André Cotte
André Cotte

Teachers and students like these short statement that permit to know rapidly if they can use material for the class or project. Thanks for this short article on this and for including the possibilty to use a Creative Commons licence.

André Cotte
André Cotte

Teachers and students like these short statement that permit to know rapidly if they can use material for the class or project.
Thanks for this short article on this and for including the possibilty to use a Creative Commons licence.

internetcases
internetcases

Helpful info Jonathan. Quick tip: rather than the year of creation of the work, a valid notice should use the date of first publication. Those may not be the same year. See 17 USC 401(b): http://e74.us/c0

internetcases
internetcases

Helpful info Jonathan. Quick tip: rather than the year of creation of the work, a valid notice should use the date of first publication. Those may not be the same year. See 17 USC 401(b): http://e74.us/c0

Brenda Speer
Brenda Speer

Good post, Jonathan. Although, as you noted, copyright notice is not required, it's a good thing to post. Benefits of posting copyright notice are that the notice defeats an infringer's claim of innocent infringement (as you stated), and removal of a notice by an infringer subjects the infringer to additional legal penalties for intentional infringement, as evidenced by the removed notice.

Brenda Speer
Brenda Speer

Good post, Jonathan. Although, as you noted, copyright notice is not required, it's a good thing to post. Benefits of posting copyright notice are that the notice defeats an infringer's claim of innocent infringement (as you stated), and removal of a notice by an infringer subjects the infringer to additional legal penalties for intentional infringement, as evidenced by the removed notice.

Lehuongnhu Hue
Lehuongnhu Hue

I want to give you golden star but I do not know how to! However, thank you so much for this article!

plagiarismtoday
plagiarismtoday

Excellent point. It's interesting how blogging has made those two events one and the same though. Just another way technology and copyright are changing each other I guess. Will edit the article soon.

plagiarismtoday
plagiarismtoday

Excellent point. It's interesting how blogging has made those two events one and the same though. Just another way technology and copyright are changing each other I guess. Will edit the article soon.

plagiarismtoday
plagiarismtoday

Good point, I forgot about the removal of CMI argument though I don't think it's been applied to footers on sites as it isn't truly "affixed". Have you heard of a case saying otherwise? I'd love to trumpet that to the moon and back!

plagiarismtoday
plagiarismtoday

Good point, I forgot about the removal of CMI argument though I don't think it's been applied to footers on sites as it isn't truly "affixed". Have you heard of a case saying otherwise? I'd love to trumpet that to the moon and back!

plagiarismtoday
plagiarismtoday

And I say that knowing that "publication" in the copyright sense doesn't neatly fit in with the "publication" on a blog either. Now I need a drink...

plagiarismtoday
plagiarismtoday

And I say that knowing that "publication" in the copyright sense doesn't neatly fit in with the "publication" on a blog either. Now I need a drink...

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