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 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.

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  1. 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.

    • 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!

  2. 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.

  3. Thanks for this article

    For songs where I own the copyright, my notice is copyright 2014 james frost: all rights reserved.

    For other songs which are in the hands of a publishing company, how would I write the copyright notice? Does it become copyright 2014 xxx publishing: all rights reserved ? Or do I still need to have my name attached?


  4. Thanks, its an informative piece. I was actually looking for copyright information as the year 2014 is about to end and wanted to find out, if I have to update my website’s footer i.e.changing the year to 2015. You have addressed the issue about blog, but how about a corporate website? Do I need to change the date to the current year? Please let me know.

  5. Thank you for this great information! I do have a question and would appreciate your insight. I do have a personal blog with a different name/title than my name. So, would it be best for me use that blog name, my own full name, or both when writing the copyright statement?
    I appreciate your insight.
    Thank you!
    – Sherley

  6. The letter c surrounded by parenthesis is not a legal representation of a copyright – it seems to be a placeholder from typesetting days – though some software programs with translate these keystrokes for you. The legal formats are the symbol (the letter c contained within a circle), the word Copyright, or the abbreviation Copr.

  7. I’m gonna answer a few questions, so keep in mind: I’m not a lawyer, it’s just my passion and I’ve experience but only outside courts.

    To be honest I never met person who thought that copying from website is OK, as long as there’s no copyright notice. I only met persons who don’t steal and who steal – regardless of copyright notice. And trust me, years of administering Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, where my main job was copyright and plagiarism issues, allowed me to met thousands of such persons. A lot of them were explaining why they did it and that’s why I find your argument false. I see one good point of copyright notice – when you use somebody’s work as fair use or it’s released on open license, it’s easy to attribute it. I often got into problem “ok, that’s CC, great, so I have to attribute it, but I don’t know who’s the author”.

    @Daryl – that’s some kind of gossip, as USA and international (UCC) law accepts it –

    @Sherley – you need to write there copyright holder. If you have blog ABC which is owned by ABC company and you are working for them, then you could write ABC, as ABC is (could be) copyright holder. I’m not trying to be sarcastic, I just want to show example where name of blog could be placed there. The law says: “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”, so for private blog it will be your name or, as far as I understand it, if a few people write there, there’s list of authors, you could use abbreviation (because it can be recognized). Often newspaper uses such abbrvs.

    @R Madala – old question but maybe somebody will be interested. It’s date of first publication or first publication of derivative work. So when you change your text/website (to the point it’s a derivative), you should set it to current year. When there’s no changes, the date should be the year of the publication of the latest [derivative] work.

    @James Frost – you don’t need to add such notice, but the copyright holder should be written. So it depends on your agreement with publisher.

    @Kaity – why would you want to put copyright notice on the work that’s not published?

    @André Cotte – many copyright laws around the world have _some_ exceptions for educational stuff – limited, but still more extended than for typical user.

  8. There’s really no reason to use “All Rights Reserved” any more. This was a requirement of the 1910 Buenos Aires Convention (BAC) to get copyright protection in the countries that were States Parties to the convention. This is basically the U.S. and most of South America. However, in 2000, Honduras was the last member country of the BAC to also become a member of the Berne Convention, which does not require copyright notices. Thus, while for U.S. purposes including the possibility of eliminating an Innocent Infringer defense if suing, a copyright notice of the standard (C) notice is okay, the “All Rights Reserved” notice is essentially superfluous.

  9. This is my first experience trying to get a book published so please bear with me. Agencies seem very busy these days and as some state, they may respond back and if not then that should be taken as a no (so to speak). The question is; When sending out queries to various agencies for publishing, should my work be copyrighted, or is it ok to trust this part of the process? If I should ©, how do I go about it?

  10. We publish medical journals so i want to know if we have published a old 2014 issue in April 2016, what will be the copyright year. 2014 OR 2016 ?

  11. May be worth pointing out that in the UK (at least) copyright is inalienable. That is, it’s not possible to place an item in the public domain until copyright has formally expired. The only thing which can be done voluntarily is not to pursue any rights under copyright, but unfortunately there’s no snazzy “No rights reserved” phrase. Thus it’s necessary to resort to explicit permissions, although the geeks may be satisfied by a CC-BY licence.

  12. Informative post , I learned a lot from the details ! Does anyone know where my business can get access to a sample a form form to edit ?

  13. @Krzysiu said in reply to Daryl – that’s some kind of gossip, as USA and international (UCC) law accepts it –

    But the cited law says:
    (1) the symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright”, or the abbreviation “Copr.”;

    And ‘(c)’ isn’t “in a circle”

    I note that completely useless copyright notices abound. One “weird name” publisher does © Charles Dickens 2016 and such.