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Is a Copyright Notice Required to Protect My Work?

The answer is simple – yes and no, depending on the date your work was published.

Before March 1st, 1989 – Notice Required:
In the U.S., if your work was published before March 1st, 1989, a copyright notice is still required to protect your work.

On or After March 1st, 1989 – Automatic Protection:
Under the 1988 Berne Convention Implementation Act, copyright protection is automatic for original works expressed in a fixed form (for example, a format that can be perceived, communicated and reproduced such as on paper, memory key,  disc, etc.).

This means, if you are a citizen of a Berne Convention country (most countries are members), then your copyright protection is automatic as soon as you put your work in a tangible form.

When copyright protection is automatic, you are not required to use the copyright notice to protect your work.

Although you might not need the copyright notice, here are 6 reasons you should still use it to increase protection:

1. The notice informs the public that the work is, in fact, protected by copyright law.  Without the notice, someone interested in using the work might not know it falls under copyright law.

2. It helps identify the copyright owner if anyone needs to contact them regarding the work.

3. It provides the year of publication which can be important in determining the duration of copyright in some cases.

4. With a copyright notice, an infringer cannot claim that they did not know the work was copyrighted.  If the notice is not present, an infringer could use this reasoning in court and potentially be acquitted of the charges.

5. The notice might act as a deterrent for someone to infringe on the work.  If a person knows the work is protected, they might be less likely to use it.

6. It’s easier for someone to make contact to obtain permission to use your work when a copyright notice is present.

How to Make a Notice of Copyright

There are two types of works – those that can be seen and those that can be heard. Each has a different requirement for presenting the copyright notice.

“I Can ‘C’ You”
For works that can be seen or read (for example, books, film) the copyright notice consists of three elements:
1. The word ‘Copyright’ and the copyright symbol ‘©’.  For countries who are member of the Universal Copyright Convention, the copyright symbol ‘©’ must be present, as the word ‘Copyright’ alone is not sufficient.
2. The date of first publication or creation.  In the case of derivative works (a new work that is based on and uses major aspects of an original, preexisting work) and compilations (new works that are formed by assembling preexisting works) the date the new work was created is sufficient.
3. The owner’s name

Ex: Copyright © 2008 by John Smith.

Exception: The ‘©’ denotes ‘copies’. So when works such as musical, literary or dramatic are fixed in a sound recording (recorded on CD or cassette), they do not require the ‘©’ symbol.

“I Can Hear You”
For phonorecords of a sound recording (a physical object that contains the fixed recordings of sound – not including soundtracks of an audio visual work), the copyright notice consists of three elements:
1. The letter P (for phonorecords) in a circle.
2. The date of first publication or creation of the sound recording.
3. The owner’s name.  If the only name that appears on the label or container of the phonorecords is the producer’s, then they should be included in the notice.

Ex:  (’P’ in a circle) 2008 John Smith Sounds Inc.

As such, it’s always a great idea to include the copyright notice on your work, even if it’s not mandatory to protect copyright.

The above is meant as a general guide to further your copyright knowledge and does not constitute legal advice.  For questions about your specific work, you should consult a copyright lawyer in your country.

Author Bio
Justine Shoolman is the Co-Founder of Copyright Creators (www.copyrightcreators.com), a service inspired by the shortfalls of ‘poor man’s copyright’.  Copyright Creators protects copyright for life with no membership or renewal fees.  Visit Copyright Creators today and you’ll receive 4 free registrations to protect & create proof of your copyright online.

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